If 2018 was the annus horibilis of the Overstrand, 2019 could be described as the annus medium (mediocre year), especially in terms of the economic downturn. Local businesses struggled to stay afloat and many had to close their doors. Adversity and change always bring challenges, but as Winston Churchill famously said, “An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”. For every business that closed, a brave and innovative entrepreneur has opened a new one or reinvented an existing business. Several positive community initiatives were launched this year and there was also plenty of good news, including the opening of Hermanus Varsity, the Overstrand’s designation as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, the installation of a world-class smart city fibre network, the steps taken to establish SRAs for both Hermanus and Onrus-Vermont, and the progress made in the ongoing efforts to solve the affordable housing crisis, the baboon problem and the scourge of illegal abalone poaching. These developments provide the building blocks for a more prosperous 2020.
The new year got off to a blazing start, literally, when a flare fired at midnight by a resident of Mooiuitsig near Kleinmond set the mountain fynbos on fire. Firefighting units and volunteers hurried to the scene and community members also jumped into action, collecting food, water and energy drinks for the men and women fighting the blaze in the scorching summer heat.
Schools in the Overberg received their much-anticipated matric results on 4 January. Whereas the Overberg had taken top honours the previous year as the best-performing district out of the eight school districts in the Western Cape, in 2018 it only managed to achieve third place, with a pass rate of 82.4%. However, the schools were pleased with the quality of the passes and the increase in the Bachelor’s pass rate.
Curro Hermanus and Northcliff House College each achieved a 100% pass rate. Hermanus High School’s pass rate was 99.4%, with 80.6% of candidates achieving a Bachelor’s pass and 19 an A-aggregate. Gansbaai Academia had a pass rate of 86%, while Hawston Secondary’s pass rate was 65.9% (down from 78.9% the previous year) and Qhayiya Secondary’s 73% (also down from 83.5% the previous year).
By the time The Village NEWS’s first issue of the year came out on 9 January, the fire that started in Betty’s Bay in the early hours of New Year’s Day was still raging out of control throughout the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, reaching as far as the Kogel Bay Basin and the Steenbras Catchment Area. At this stage, more than 7 500 ha of fynbos had been destroyed. The man accused of starting the fire was arrested and appeared in the Caledon Magistrate’s Court.
On 9 January it was back to school for the Overstrand’s learners. The schools were filled to capacity and many were unable to take in all the learners in need of placement. Due to the influx of new residents in Hermanus, the schools had growing waiting lists, especially in Zwelihle, where Qhayiya Secondary was unable to accommodate more than 300 Grade 8 learners.
By Friday 11 January, gale-force winds were driving three devastating wildfires – in Betty’s Bay, Hermanus and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, and Franskraal. By the end of the weekend, more than 14 300 ha of fynbos had been destroyed and 47 houses completed gutted, while 30 more were damaged. Betty’s Bay suffered the worst damage when the fire jumped the R43 without warning and spread between the homes in Sunny Seas, forcing residents to evacuate and flee the inferno. One resident was severely burnt and later died in hospital.
An inexplicable, explosive boom left the earth trembling and alarmed residents not only in the Overstrand but all over the Western Cape and even as far away as Pretoria. Social media was abuzz with questions and theories, ranging from an earthquake and thunder to a massive bomb explosion. According to Dr Pieter Kotze of SANSA, the real culprit was a meteor that entered the earth’s atmosphere around 20:15. The bright light trail of the meteor could be seen from Malmesbury to Gansbaai and the point at which it burnt up in the atmosphere was east of Hermanus. The loud bang was in fact a sonic boom or shock wave created ahead of the meteor as it travelled through the atmosphere.
Mayor Dudley Coetzee announced at a special council meeting on 22 January that the extensive wildfires had resulted in unforeseen and unavoidable expenditure to the estimated amount of R9,348 million. He also expressed his sincere thanks to the firefighting teams for their bravery and dedication, and commended residents for their cooperation and support.
Hermanus Public Protection (HPP) announced that it would be winding down its operations due to changes in the Property Rates Act, and the Special Rating Area Policy and Bylaw. According to these changes in legislation, the municipality could no longer impose the additional rates for the 2019/2020 financial year commencing on 1 July 2019. These rates had provided HPP with the necessary funding to carry out its mandate of ‘safety in public places’.
At a housing stakeholders’ meeting with then Premier Helen Zille the role-players agreed to work together to establish an integrated housing project scheme on the Schulphoek site similar to that of the Conradie Better Living Model that was being developed in Pinelands, Cape Town. The focus would not be on providing free housing but rather on creating housing that could be rented or bought with the aid of government subsidies. The barriers that first needed to be overcome,however, included negotiations by the provincial government with the owners of the land to buy it back at a reasonable price, and the cooperation of the community to move off the land they had occupied illegally and move to alternative sites to enable development to take place on the Schulphoek land.
Another red tide in the ocean, though not as large or strong as the one experienced in 2017, raised concerns for local abalone farms. At the same time, the dry hot weather facilitated algae blooms on the banks of the Klein River Estuary, leading to the dying of fish in large numbers. Environmental experts said the health of the estuary was also being jeopardised by continuous, excessive extraction of water and the inflow of chemical pollutants from farms.
In our 6 March issue of The Village NEWS, we reported on the proposed development of a safari park by Craig Saunders, the owner of Elephant Adventures, on his property, Lamloch Farm near Kleinmond. The development proposal included plans for a manor house, 20 chalets, a restaurant complex, tented camp and boma, staff quarters, and animal stables and enclosures. Species considered for introduction were elephant, buffalo, antelope and other game, leading to an outcry from conservation and animal rights groups.
It was a historic moment for our town when the official opening of the home-grown Hermanus Varsity was celebrated at the Old Synagogue building, its administrative hub. The ribbon cutting was done by Dr Sindiwe Magona.
18 – 19 March
Hermanus played host to the 16th Absa Cape Epic, the most televised mountain bike race in the world and a highlight on the professional racers’ calendar. Stage 1 set off from the Race Village at Hermanus High School and followed a tough 111 km route through Hemel-en-Aarde. Stage 2 took the riders towards Elgin and the eight-day stage race ended at Val de Vie in Paarl on 24 March.
One of Fisherhaven’s famous ‘wild horses’ was killed when a VW bus travelling on the Middlevlei Road between Hawston and Fisherhaven collided with the pregnant mare known as Star and two foals, one of which was also seriously injured. The driver of the bus and his three passengers escaped without major injuries.
Another feral horse, the stallion known as Streetfighter, was killed when it collided with a car on Farm Road in Fisherhaven. The driver and two passengers were fortunately unharmed but the two incidents within less than a week led to renewed pleas from residents and the Rooisand Horse Watch for safety measures such as improved street lighting, signage boards, secure fencing along the R43, a cattle grid at the entrance to Fisherhaven and a reduction of the speed limit.
The development of an affordable housing scheme on the Schulphoek land took another step forward with the creation of a steering committee. This was achieved when Helen Zille returned to Hermanus for another round of talks with the housing stakeholders’ group. The steering committee was tasked with scrutinising the three proposals received thus far for the proposed development.
26 – 28 April
Athletes and adventure seekers converged on Hermanus for the HI-TEC Walkerbay Xtreme, a three-day adventure sports festival that included events for the whole family. With the action centred in the heart of Hermanus between the old and new harbours, the spectator-friendly events included trail runs, MTB challenges, a night run and an open-water swim.
Nearly four months after a wildfire raged through the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, the learners, boarders and staff of Camphill School were still unable to return due to the smoke and toxic gasses emitted by the peat fire,which continued to smoulder underground. The children had been temporarily housed in the Sandbaai Hall since January. On 1 May, a 25-member Working on Fire team set up a base camp at Camphill along the Onrus River, an environmentally-sensitive wetland, to put out the peat fire by employing a unique spike they developed when asked, in 2015, to assist in fighting underground peat fires in Indonesia. This was the first time the spike was used in South Africa.
Overstrand residents went to the polls to cast their vote in the national election, which was won by the ANC (57.7%), followed by the DA (20.8%), EFF (10.8%), IFP (3.4%) and FF Plus (2.4%). In the provincial elections, the top 3 parties were the DA (58.98%), ANC (20.96%) and the Zwelihle-based Land Party (11.0%).
The Western Cape Police Ombudsman launched a formal investigation to determine if police stations in the Overstrand were adequately staffed and resourced to carry out their duties efficiently and effectively. Ombudsman Johan Brand undertook to study written submissions, conduct interviews and do research before compiling a report.
The long-awaited Draft Fernkloof Protected Area Management Plan (PAMP) opened for public comment on 31 May. This public participation process followed a revision of the original management plan for Fernkloof that led to a public outcry, including 400 letters of objection and 16 000 people supporting an online petition against the proposed developments within the reserve.
Two more feral horses from the Fisherhaven herd were killed when a car travelling on the R43 collided with them near the turn-off to Fisherhaven. The driver, a firefighter from Kleinmond, was taken to hospital with minor injuries. Rooisand Horse Watch commented that conflict between the stallions in the herd, which developed after the first horse, a mare, had been killed at the end of March, led to the accident. It is believed that the stallion known as William was chasing the younger stallion, Diamond, when they both ran into the road.
The newly-formed Hermanus Baboon Action Group (HBAG) met with the municipality to discuss the escalating problem of baboon management in Voëlklip. Mayor Dudley Coetzee gave HBAG his assurance that as soon as the agreement between the municipality, the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board, and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development was finalised, the municipality would act immediately to address the problem.
7 – 17 June
Hermanus awoke from its early-winter slumber when throngs of people flocked to the many art exhibitions, music and ballet performances, demonstrations, workshops, and food and wine events presented during the Hermanus FynArts Festival. This annual event had become a highlight on the cultural calendar and a huge drawcard for visitors to Hermanus.
The Village NEWS published an explosive report by journalist John Grobler, whose 18-month-long and ongoing investigation revealed a decade of debilitating mismanagement of South Africa’s fisheries’ sector under former President Jacob Zuma, which had driven the illicit abalone industry in the Western Cape deep into the arms of Chinese transnational organised crime syndicates.
Creation Wines was named as one of the Top 50 Wineries at the inaugural World’s Best Vineyards (WBV) event in London. More than 1 500 nominated wineries from 17 countries around the globe were represented at the WBV and the winners were chosen by a prestigious international voting academy. Creation was one of only three South African wineries to qualify for the Top 50 list along with Vergelegen and Delaire Graff Estate.
The learners and personnel of Camphill School were overjoyed to return to the farm for the first time since they were evacuated on 11 January to escape the inferno of flames that ripped through the valley. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of Working on Fire, the Overstrand Fire Department and Environmental Department, the peat fire has finally been extinguished.
The Village NEWS team again excelled at the annual Forum of Community Journalists’ (FCJ) Excellence Awards for 2018 held in Pretoria. In one of the toughest competitions to date, with community newspapers from around the country taking part, The Village NEWS distinguished itself by coming second in the coveted Independent Newspaper of the Year category (we’d won the trophy last year) and second in the Front Page of the Year category. Elaine Davie was the winner in the writing category: Human Interest. Taylum Meyer was awarded second place in the photography category:Best General Photos, and humour columnist, Murray Stewart came second in the writing category: Column of the Year. Hedda Mittnerand De Waal Steyn were finalists in respectively the Column of the Year and Editorial Comment of the Year categories, while Murray was also a finalist in the Headline of the Year category.
Generous rainfall in July saw the level of the De Bos Dam rise from 38.6% at the end of June to 44% at the end of July. Although the level was lower than that of dams in other regions in the province, Overstrand Municipality’s Deputy Director of Engineering and Planning, Hanré Blignaut said Greater Hermanus was less dependent on water from the dam than before, thanks to the 10 boreholes that were able to meet 30% of the total demand. Two further boreholes being sunk at Gateway were also expected to come online within the next few months.
When the Kleinmond Estuary started to breach, locals rushed to the beach to watch it break through to the ocean, cameras clicking. It was the first time in four years the estuary had breached, due to the drought experienced in the Western Cape during that period.
After more than 18 months of wrangling over who was responsible for the management of baboons in the Overstrand, the municipality received a mandate from the provincial government stating that it was the municipality’s obligation to manage these animals. In terms of this agreement, once ratified by the Western Cape cabinet, the municipality would be able to use the R2 million budgeted for baboon control measures to curb this contentious problem, which had left residents at their wits’ end.
Hermanus was bursting at the seams as a surge of visitors came to enjoy the Kalfiefees and other attractions and activities over the Women’s Day long weekend. The economy of the whole region benefited and businesses received a welcome boost after a slow and difficult winter. It was as if Christmas had come early this year!
Hermanus High School competed against Overberg High School in the annual Inter-Schools for the 25th and final time. The schools decided to discontinue this traditional sports day as Hermanus High had grown too big. The memorable day ended on a high note for Hermies, as they won all but four of their games against Ovies.
David Watson, a well-known resident and avid hiker failed to return after he went for an early-morning walk in Vogelgat Private Nature Reserve. Search & Rescue teams were immediately deployed and, together with David’s friends, local trail runners, firefighters and AMS helicopter personnel, searched the terrain throughout the afternoon and night. Sadly, the 75-year-old’s body was found early the next morning near the beacon on Maanskynkop.
A new board of directors for Hermanus Public Protection (HPP) was elected at the 21st Annual General Meeting, after the outgoing board reached the unanimous decision to resign. This followed the termination of the agreement between HPP and the municipality, which meant the discontinuation of the levy that had provided the income for HPP to continue with its safety services from 1 July 2019.
Western Cape Police Ombudsman Johan Brand released an impactful report, which emphasised the serious need to address the poor police to population ratio and vehicle allocations for detectives in the Overberg cluster. However, the main focus of his report was on tightening up police strategies to deal more effectively with abalone poaching. The Ombudsman’s recommendations included categorising abalone poaching as a ‘serious crime’ and ensuring that cases are investigated by the Organised Crime Unit of SAPS.
Fibre network supplier, Lightstruck started digging trenches in Northcliff, Eastcliff and the CBD as part of the rollout of their fibre optic network in town which will provide world-class, high-speed connectivity. The project will eventually comprise 403 km of fibre cables that will enable a total of 9 628 sites to have access to their network. In addition, Lightstruck undertook to provide all academic institutions in Hermanus with free fibre connections as well as creating free WiFi hotspots in Zwelihle.
During a series of public engagements in the Overstrand by Western Cape Human Settlements Minister Tertius Simmers on 8 September, he confirmed that the provincial government was in the process of finalising the deed of sale for Schulphoek after a price of R31.7 million had been agreed upon. As a provincial project, the municipality would be the custodian of the land but the provincial government would have to manage the development. He said the first phase of the 7 500-unit development, based on the Better Living Model, was expected to start in the second quarter of 2020.
The Overstrand Municipality announced that a new recycling centre would be built next year, consisting of three different facilities: a transfer station for the black bags of household waste, and a garden refuse area where garden refuse will be chipped, before both are transported to the Karwyderskraal Dumpsite; and a Material Recycling Facility (MRF) for the clear bags of recyclable materials, which will be sorted for recycling purposes in much the same way as had been done by WalkerbayRecycling before the facility was gutted last year during the riots.
In our 25 September issue, The Village NEWS reported that below-average winter rainfall figures had left the De Bos Dam level at just over 44%. With the warm and dry season setting in, residents were urged to double up on their water conservation efforts. Level 2 water restrictions remained in place and the municipality warned that stricter measures might have to be considered in the short term.
After a public meeting to inform residents of the details and procedures involved in the application to have Onrus-Vermont declared a Special Ratings Area (SRA), voting opened and was later extended until the end of December. A successful outcome in order to proceed with the establishment of the OVSRA would be 50% +1.
27 – 29 September
It was a bumper weekend for Hermanus, with the annual Whale Festival, the Hermanus Wine & Food Festival, the Ubumnandi Music Festival, the GetSavvi Walker Bay 7s and the Build it 7s Rugby Festival drawing large numbers of visitors.
At the annual Mayoral Awards evening, special recognition was given to local residents who were making a difference in their communities by inspiring and empowering others and by making a positive contribution to the rich tapestry of the Overstrand. The coveted Lifetime Award went to Dr Robin Lee and Dr Anina Lee, the Achievers of Excellence were Jorika Rabie and Natasha Bruiners, and the Woman of the Year was Jami Kastner. The Environmental Conservation award went to Sean Privett, the Entrepreneurial Achievement award to Di Rattle, the Tourism Development award to Peter Kastner, and the Junior Achievement award to Izaan Newman.
With its new mandate from the provincial government, the Overstrand Municipality appointed Human Wildlife Solutions (HWS) to operate the virtual fence programme to keep baboons out of residential areas in Hermanus and Pringle Bay. This new development was welcomed by the Hermanus Baboon Action Group (HBAG). A 3-week blitz by HWS in 2017 had resulted in the Fernkloof baboon troop being kept out of the suburbs for more than 90% of the time. Back then, however, there had been no mandate or budget to continue with the programme.
Hermanus High School matric learners celebrated their last day of school with the traditional valedictory ceremony, before passing through a guard of honour as they walked out of the school gates and headed to Piet se Klip at Bientang’s Cave to jump off the rocks into the ocean in their school uniforms.
With the level of the De Bos Dam at 43.96% (against 68.07% at the sametime last year), the municipality announced that Level 3 water restrictions would be implemented from 1 November. This followed less than expected rainfall during the winter season and very little ground moisture resulting in less run-off into the De Bos Dam.
Dr Els Vermeulen, Research Manager at the Whale Unit of the University of Pretoria’s Mammal Research Institute, reported that the Whale Unit’s 40th Aerial Survey revealed only 190 females and calves (95 pairs) and 10 unaccompanied adults along the coast from Nature’s Valley to Muizenberg. This was the second lowest number of southern right whales spotted along our shores in October since 1995, and showed a massive decrease from last year’s all-time record high of 536 cow-calf pairs on the same stretch of coastline. Vermeulen said scientists would be spending the next few months researching the reasons behind these fluctuating numbers.
Just when we thought that the rainy season was over, the heavens opened and within a matter of hours Main Road in Hermanus was impassable due to a number of blocked drains that caused major flooding in the CBD. The unexpected spring storm brought with it more than 135 mm of rain and gusting winds reaching speeds of up to 138 km/h. The new Board of Directors of HPP and the Steering Committee of HRSA (Hermanus Special Ratings Area) formed a collaborative partnership to drive the establishment of an SRA, while ensuring the continuation of safety and security services. They undertook to work together to achieve a sustainable solution for keeping Hermanus a clean and safe environment and a sought-after investment and tourism destination.
Venues across the Overstrand were packed to the rafters as Springbok supporters gathered to watch the Rugby World Cup final against England. Audiences could hardly contain their exuberant joy as the Bokke streaked ahead to win the game 32–12 and lift the cup as world champions.
UNESCO announced that the Overstrand had been designated as Africa’s first Creative City of Gastronomy, joining Cape Town and Durban as the only other two cities in South Africa to be included, respectively, as designated Creative Cities of Design and Literature. The UNESCO Creative Cities Network was launched in 2004 and includes seven categories. The Overstrand is now one of 37 cities in the world that has received the Gastronomy designation.
Overstrand Municipality announced that designated areas known as ‘dog zones’ would be introduced early in the new year on three Overstrand beaches (Kleinmond,Grotto and Pearly Beach) for a trial period of six months. The news was welcomed by dog owners, but the municipality emphasised that the bylaw ‘all dogs must be kept on a leash’ would still be enforced during the holiday period.
In anticipation of Council’s rejection of the proposed plan for the construction of an astronomy facility on Rotary Way, the Hermanus Astronomy Centre (HAC) developed an alternative proposal for an Astronomy Education Centre with self-guided displays at Gearing’s Point. The original proposal for a 288m² facility on Rotary Way, which was incorporated into the Fernkloof Nature Reserve Integrated Management Plan in 2016, had been fiercely opposed during the public participation process.
An announcement was made in the Western Cape Parliament that the SAPS would be reclassifying abalone poaching as a serious priority crime to be investigated by the SAPS Organised Crime Unit. This followed a report by Police Ombudsman Johan Brand in October, in which he found that SAPS had a duty to assist in the fight against illegal abalone poaching. The news was welcomed by the DA’s spokesperson on Environmental Affairs, by conservationists and fishing communities.
With the drop in prices for recycling material and the rise in running costs, Walker Bay Recycling (WBR) struggled to stay afloat. After announcing that the business would close its doors, the owner decided instead to scale back operations and stay open for as long as possible. He said residents were welcome to bring their dry recyclables, especially plastic and glass to the facility in Arum Street in the Industrial Area.
The voting period for the Hermanus Special Ratings Area (HSRA) opened and homeowners were urged to cast their votes before the cut-off date at the end of January 2020. Meanwhile, the voting period for the Onrus-Vermont Special Ratings Area (OVSRA) was extended until the end of December. A 50%+1 vote is needed for the establishment of both the HSRA and OVSRA.