A black spitting cobra (Naja nigricinta woodi) was the last thing a family in Sandbaai expected to find in their home in the early hours of the morning. The snake, approximately 1.6m in length, was first thought to be a ring-necked spitting cobra (rinkhals) as black spitting cobras are not found in the Overberg. The only plausible explanation was that the snake had hitched a ride with a family member who visited Sandbaai from the Cederberg, by slithering into her car or luggage. Luckily, the man who found the cobra behind his bar fridge was wearing reading glasses that protected his eyes from the snake’s cytotoxic venom when it spat at him.
The matric class of 2019 made history when the Minister of Basic Education announced on 7 January that the national pass rate had exceeded 80% for the first time since 1994. Overstrand schools celebrated their results, with Hermanus High achieving a 99.4% pass rate, Gansbaai Academia 89.4%, Qhayiya Secondary 84.7% (a massive improvement on the previous year’s 73%) and Hawston Secondary 80% (also up from the previous year’s disappointing 65%). Northcliff House College and Curro Hermanus each had a 100% pass rate.
Three Special Rating Areas (SRAs) are on the cards for the Overstrand after Hermanus secured the required number of votes to start with the application process to the municipality for the establishment of a Hermanus SRA. A majority of yes votes had already been secured for the establishment of SRAs in Onrus-Vermont and Kleinmond.
Price drops in the open market for recyclable materials compelled Walker Bay Recycling to close its doors. The new owner had taken over the business after the original recycling facility was burnt down during the 2018 riots. The municipality confirmed that plans were moving forward for the construction of a new Material Recycling Facility (MRF), which would be completed in the new year.
As the 2020 harvest season got underway, the pioneering wine farm in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hamilton Russell Vineyards, celebrated its 40th harvest. The history of this world-renowned wine estate dates back to 1975 when Johannesburg businessman, Tim Hamilton Russell bought the 170ha property with the aim of producing South Africa’s top cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines.
Two Orcas named Port and Starboard are believed to be behind the carcass of a bronze whaler shark that washed up on Grotto Beach. Port and Starboard made international headlines in May 2017 when they were linked to the killing of several great whites, as well as sevengill sharks in South Africa. However, it was the first time that the Orca pair had predated on a bronze whaler shark. The 3-metre long female was torn open, with both its heart and liver removed. This orca behaviour was linked to the change in certain shark species’ distributions, as they avoided their traditional aggregation sites for extended time periods.
Human Wildlife Solutions, appointed by the municipality in November 2019 to manage the Voëlklip and Pringle Bay baboon troops, reported having their hands full in dealing with rogue baboons that had been moving in and out of the urban environment for years without management, which made the implementation of the ‘virtual fence’ more difficult. Their rangers were making use of paintball guns to keep the troop together and out of residential areas, which caused some controversy among conservation groups and concerned residents.
A state of disaster was declared on 15 March and life as we knew it came to a standstill when a 21-day national lockdown was ordered by Pres Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday evening 23 March in an attempt to slow down the infection rate of Covid-19. The next day, stores in the Overstrand were filled with shoppers trying to stock up on last-minute essentials. At the time, only 544 people had been infected with the Coronavirus in South Africa, with four confirmed cases reported in the Overberg.
The hard lockdown took effect at midnight on 26 March and was intended to be in force until midnight on 16 April, but was extended by two weeks until the end of April. With the lockdown’s disastrous impact on the local economy, the Overberg community rallied to assist those who could not afford to buy food or did not have adequate shelter. Municipal councillors and the organisers of local NGOs and soup kitchens were inundated with offers of help, including food and financial donations. Several local initiatives also got to work making face masks for essential workers and members of the public.
The lockdown restrictions were eased from Alert Level 5 to Level 4 on 1 May. While the controversial bans on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes remained in place, certain businesses were permitted to resume trading and restaurants could offer take-out delivery service. However, the wine, tourism and hospitality industries, crucial to the local economy of the Overstrand, remained firmly in lockdown and were struggling to stay afloat. By 18 May, more than 70% of the country’s Covid-19 cases were in the Western Cape, where 9 927 infections out of a national total of 15 500 were recorded. The number of infections in the Overberg district stood at 53, of which 24 were reported in the Overstrand.
Pres Cyril Ramaphosa announced on 24 May that the whole country would be moving to Alert Level 3 of the lockdown on 1 June. Preparation was also underway for schools to reopen in phases from 1 June, starting with the return of Gr 12 and Gr 7 pupils.
With the more relaxed regulations, which included the lifting of the ban on the sale of alcohol (but not tobacco) came a call for greater vigilance, as the number of confirmed cases in the Western Cape continued to rise and the peak was only expected in early July. On 1 June the Western Cape recorded 21 103 confirmed cases, of which 124 were in the Overberg and 43 in the Overstrand. By the end of the month, these figures had skyrocketed, with the Western Cape breaking through 60 000 infections, while the Overberg had over 1 000 infections and the Overstrand more than 550.
At the end of June, in an effort to reactivate businesses and save jobs, Pres Ramaphosa announced ‘enhanced regulations’ for Level 3 that included the reopening of cinemas, theatres, casinos, personal care services, accredited and licensed accommodation, conference venues and restaurant sit-down service, while adhering to stringent protocols and restrictions. However, on 13 July the government moved swiftly by reintroducing the ban on alcohol sales and a curfew between 21:00 and 04:00. It also became a legal requirement for citizens to wear a face mask in public. This followed the country’s continued spike in infections which was putting the health care system under extreme pressure. South Africa had moved up to the 10th position of countries with the most infections world-wide, with the Western Cape recording 78 548 cases, the Overberg 2 062 cases and the Overstrand 1 071.
On 22 July, local restaurateurs, supported by the deputy mayor and several councillors, joined a nationwide peaceful protest, ‘Million Seats on the Streets’, initiated by the Restaurant Association of South Africa (RASA) to highlight the crippling effect that the alcohol ban and 9pm curfew were having on the industry’s efforts to survive and save the jobs of their staff.
A series of cold fronts and accompanying rain storms boosted the level of the De Bos Dam by almost 13 percentage points to 48%. There was more good news when both the Klein River and Kleinmond lagoons breached due to above average rainfall experienced in the region in June and July.
The Women’s Day long weekend presented accommodation establishments and tour operators with the first opportunity in more than 125 days to welcome guests, albeit under strict lockdown conditions, including inter-provincial travel restrictions. With thousands of domestic tourists streaming to our towns at the height of the whale season, the local economy received the boost it so desperately needed.
Although South Africa now held the 5th position among countries in the world with the highest number of infections, Premier Alan Winde said all indications were that the Western Cape had passed its peak of infections. On 10 August the province had a confirmed total of 98 656 cases, the Overberg had 2 935 and the Overstrand 1 416 cases, of which only 111 were active.
There was a palpable sense of relief and excitement amongst business owners and the public as the more relaxed Level 2 lockdown restrictions came into effect on 17 August. The Cape Whale Coast embraced the #HermanusIsOpen campaign to welcome visitors back, as the focus of the pandemic now shifted to urgent efforts to assist economic recovery.
The much-anticipated extension of the famous Hermanus Cliff Path at Poole’s Bay suffered a blow after the municipality stated that it does not have the authority to implement a right of way servitude across private property. This followed several attempts by the Cliff Path Action Group (CPAG) over the last three years to have the 12 km-long Cliff Path connected between Sea Road and Mickey Way near Mollergren Park.
With the number of Covid-19 cases continuing to decrease, a semblance of normalcy started to return to life in the Overstrand. The Heritage Day long weekend was a huge success, with accommodation establishments reporting good occupation numbers. Wine farms, restaurants, retailers and tourism operators also reported brisk business.
Whale Coast Conservation (WCC) chameleon rescue volunteers spotted an injured Cape grysbok lying under a tree on the field near the old circus grounds in Main Road. A coordinated rescue operation followed and the grysbokkie was taken to the vet, who not only discovered that she had a fractured bone in one hoof, but was also pregnant. She was kept overnight in a kennel at the Fernkloof Nature Reserve before a compassionate farmer in the valley agreed to take the pregnant bokkie in and care for her until she’d given birth and recovered fully.
The University of Pretoria’s Mammal Research Institute, which monitors the South African population of southern right whales, published the findings of their 41st annual whale survey. In total, 136 females and calves (68 pairs) and 29 unaccompanied adults were counted and photographed between Nature’s Valley and Muizenberg over three days. The total of 165 southern right whales marked the second-lowest number in the past 32 years.
Over 300 people from across the Western Cape gathered at the wall of the Theewaterskloof Dam for a thanksgiving service to express their gratitude for the dam not only being full, but overflowing for the first time in nearly a decade. The De Bos Dam also reached 100.25% after excellent rains.
Conservation authorities expressed their concern after large quantities of plastic pellets, known as nurdles were found on beaches from Cape Infanta to Muizenberg. The municipality urged the public to assist with collecting washed-up nurdles on Overstrand beaches and handing them in at designated spots to prevent them from polluting our shoreline and ending up in the marine food chain.
The establishment of the Hermanus Special Rating Area (HRSA) is concluded with the signing of the final financial agreement between the newly-established Hermanus Public Protection (HPP) NPO and the municipality. The new-look HPP ushered in a new era for Hermanus public safety by offering not only foot and vehicle patrols but also clean-up services.
Hermanus High School matrics celebrated their last day of school after a most difficult year with a Valedictory ceremony at the school, followed by the traditional jump into the ocean from Piet se Klip in their school uniforms.
The Overstrand pulled out all the stops to make the coming summer season a success for local businesses, while at the same time ensuring that lockdown restrictions are adhered to. This included the ‘Seats on the Streets’ campaign, allowing restaurants to apply to the municipality for permission to seat customers on pavements and other public areas, thereby creating more space for social distancing. This initiative tied in with the bigger #HermanusIsOpen campaign to lure visitors back to our shores.
After giving birth safely on 8 October, the story about the rescued grysbokkie had a happy ending when she and her six-week-old fawn were released back into the Fernkloof Nature Reserve after convalescing on a farm in Hemel-en-Aarde.
South Africa was awarded 77 Blue Flag status sites for the 2020/2021 season, including 48 beaches, 6 marinas and 4 boats. In the Overstrand, Grotto Beach celebrated a remarkable 20 consecutive years – one of only two beaches in the country that hold the record for being awarded the longest uninterrupted Blue Flag status. Hawston and Kleinmond beaches also received Blue Flag status for the 15th consecutive year, and Castle beach in Pearly Beach for the second year running. Onrus beach was awarded pilot Blue Flag status.
As the Cape Whale Coast prepared for a busy summer season with thousands of visitors, the Western Cape Government expressed its deep concern over the increasing number of Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations. This resurgence quickly escalated to a full-blown second wave in a matter of weeks, prompting Pres Cyril Ramaphosa to announce new measures on 14 December to contain the surge, save lives and protect livelihoods. In addition to Nelson Mandela Bay, the Sarah Baartman and Garden Route districts were declared Covid-19 hotspots.