The herb gardens

In collaboration with the Khoe San Active Awareness Group we decided that we wanted to plant four medicinal herb gardens, at sites where indigenous people were once executed or tortured by colonial settlers. Members of the local Khoe community refer to these spaces as sacred sites that need to undergo a process of healing and reconciliation. Each herb garden would facilitate this process, becoming a living memorial to the events that took place, while celebrating the wealth of indigenous knowledge regarding the medicinal properties of wild herbs that grow in the Western Cape.

The local Khoi community would be responsible for the planting, maintenance and naming of each site, and we hope that each memorial will eventually be recognised by the city of Cape Town, and included on future cartographic representations of the city.

Memorial sites (listed in the order that they were used as places of execution):

1. A patch of grass in front of the westerly corner of the castle (Buitenkant/Darling Street)
STATUS: Permission denied.

2. In a small park opposite the ‘Strand Street Quarry’ (Strand Street).
STATUS: Planted as an act of guerrilla gardening.

3. The site historically referred to as Gallows Hill (Ebenezer Road/Somerset Road).
STATUS: An invitation to collaborate with the architects currently developing the area.

4. The Cape Town archives (Roeland Street).
STATUS: Pending. A decision will be made following further deliberations.

Strand Street
Planted on the 15th of February

The first herb garden was planted on Strand Street on Monday the 15th of February. We are not 100% sure if this location refers to the exact site of execution, but it was probably very nearby. In an interesting addition to the history of the site, one of the neighbours pointed out what appear to be the traces of a train track running alongside the new herb garden. She described these tracks as those that were once used to transport stone from the slave-powered quarry, down to the castle below.

The finished garden was much bigger than we had expected, uncovering an existing frame of overgrown stonework to create a terraced garden that probably completed the original plan for the site. Judah & Levi from the Franschoek Medicinal Herb Garden led the process of planting with a wealth of horticultural expertise (and few words!).

The site was dedicated to Sara Baartman, and a plaque was made that read: This indigenous herb garden was planted by the Khoe and San community of Cape Town to facilitate the process of healing and reconciliation at a former site of execution and torture.

It was nice to see how the project seemed to receive so much support from the local community, who quickly offered to provide a future supply of water and keep an eye on the garden’s progress.

Gallows Hill
An invitation to collaborate with the architects currently developing the area

Potentially the most exciting development of the whole project came while trying to gain permission to plant a herb garden at the site historically referred to as ‘gallows hill’, now a car park being redeveloped as a ‘non-motorised transport hub’ for the World Cup. Due to the building work we were unable to plant the herb garden during the festival, but we did manage to persuade the architects and the city-planning department to invite the Khoe and San community to play an active role in the redevelopment of the area. A preliminary meeting looked at current plans for the area, discussed where the herb garden could be planted, agreed that the planning department would cover the costs of planting the garden, and set a timeframe for future developments.

In addition the existing plan to erect a series of information plaques relating to Cape Town’s heritage were discussed, with the planning department agreeing in principle to the idea of creating an extra (at present non-existent) plaque, that would focus on the indigenous people of the Western Cape. The Khoe San Active Awareness Group has been asked to liaise directly with the city heritage department to realise this project.

All of this was much more than we had ever hoped to achieve. An opportunity for the indigenous community of Cape Town to be directly involved in city planning processes, and the way in which the heritage of Cape Town is presented to the public. We only hope that Bradley van Sitters and the Khoe San Active Awareness Group find the necessary support to ensure that this opportunity does not go to waste.

Herb exhibition
Wednesday the 17th of February

An exhibition of medicinal herbs was hosted by Simeon Goldstone and Naftali Bushwak and presented at the castle, the one location where our request to plant an indigenous herb garden had been categorically denied. The memorial text was printed onto T-Shirts that were worn for the intervention.

The gathering of clouds
Friday the 19th of February, 11am

A guided tour of //Hui!Gaeb (an indigenous name for Cape Town that could be translated as ‘where the rain clouds gather’) was conducted by Bradley van Sitters of the Khoe San Active Awareness Group, accompanied by traditional Khoe healers, herbologists and the chief of the Gorachoukhoe. The tour was scheduled to last approximately three hours and include a hands-on workshop about medicinal indigenous herbs, an introduction to the Khoe language, and performances by Jethro Louw from the Khoi Khonnexion.

The journey started at Deer Park, before traveling to each of the four ‘sacred sites’ of execution (listed in connection with the herb gardens). Each participant collected a stone from Deer Park to be placed at one of these sites, referring to the Khoe tradition that you should always leave something behind at a sacred site to help heal the memory that resides there, while reflecting on the first part of our journey, which followed the path of a river that once carried stones down into Cape Town.

At each sacred site a short ritual was enacted and various members of the local Khoe and San community were invited to speak, offering a mix of personal, historical and political viewpoints. The language lesson and Jethro’s full-length performance were held at the Khoisan take-away, during which refreshments were served.

The tour had two functions. For festival visitors it was a rare occasion to engage with the local Khoe community, their customs, and their concerns, while for Bradley van Sitters it was the first time he would publicly present what we had been doing to the wider Khoe and San community, opening up this process for debate.

Due to the length of the procession not everybody was able to stay for the entirety. The festival visitors eventually left the tour, leaving primarily representatives of the Khoe and San community to complete the procession. It was interesting to watch how the purpose and presentation of the tour shifted as the audience demographic shifted, eventually taking on a more political and religious tone.

One interesting moment came when a smart-shirted man was invited to speak on behalf of the ‘king’ (A. Messelaar, head commissioner to the royal house of his majesty Adam Kok V). This was received with a formal clapping of hands, something that felt completely alien to the context and delivery of the procession. It made you wonder if the accumulation of political influence always results in the Europeanisation of an indigenous culture. Another memorable (and contrasting) ‘sound-effect’ came when Bradley van Sitters was teaching everybody how to produce the clicking sounds used in the Nama language (closely related to the Khoe/San languages). The take-away and adjacent subway was filled with the beautiful chatter of clicks.

The buchu fountain
Throughout the city centre
Tuesday the 16th of February until Thursday the 18th of February

Documents have been found suggesting that indigenous inhabitants of the Western Cape provided sailors with the medicinal herbal infusion known as ‘buchu water’, to cure them of their ills after many months at sea. In remembrance of this a portable ‘buchu fountain’ was wheeled through Cape Town, a temporary roaming memorial and an act of reconciliation to/for the indigenous people of the Western Cape. The fountain took the form of a modern water dispenser that had been filled with fresh buchu water and strapped to a beer trolley. Pedestrians were free to help themselves to the medicinal infusion.

Bradley van Sitters, Garlic Brown and AFA Negus performed the intervention, with Zinzile Nannan documenting the proceedings.

The intervention was certainly a great success in terms of reaching a large and varied audience (it is estimated about 750 people drank from the fountain), but we would have liked it if there had been more variation in the way the memorial was presented to the public. The team chose to stay with the fountain at all times, directly engaging with their audience. We had hoped that there would also be times when the fountain would simply be placed in position and observed from a distance, allowing pedestrians the space to interact with the monument on their own terms; A more subtle approach that uses the fountain as a catalyst for reflection, subverting existing narratives and relationships within the space, and preferring to leave some questions unanswered.

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3 Responses to “Living memorials”


  1. 1 Monica February 10, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    I am trying to get in touch with Bradley van Sitters. He sent me a connection to a web site but, after my computer crashed, I couldn’t find it. He knows me from UCT where we were all discussing a development and planting around what had been an old cemetery. My name is Monica and he will probably remember me. Please ask him to send me an e-mail.

  2. 2 Kaspar February 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Hiya Monica. Sorry for the delay, we’ve moved our website. Did you get my email with contact details?


  1. 1 Infecting The City Festival – Documentation « treacleonline Trackback on July 12, 2010 at 2:37 pm

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