Muizenberg is a settlement near Cape Town city, famous for its long white sandy beach (around 20 km), adorned with brightly-coloured “bathing huts”. Here visitors can stroll at length, or enjoy coffee or a meal at one of the beach-side restaurants. We love to have breakfast at Knead, famous for their excellent crispy croissants and delicious muffins, and their generous English breakfasts. Live Bait, or Lucky Fish and Chips are other popular places for a meal.
The area harbours several significant historical sites, including Het Posthuys (the Post House) which is one of the oldest buildings in South Africa.
It was erected in 1763 by the Dutch East India Company, and went on to experience a chequered existence as a police station, stables, a brothel, a hotel, and a private house. But in the 1980’s it was recognised for its historical significance, and restored with funds from Anglo American Corporation. One of the first post masters was Sergeant Muys (Mouse), hence Muysenbergh, and thence the name “Muizenberg” (Mouse Mountain).
Rhodes’s Cottage, once a holiday home for the British explorer-mining magnate, Cecil John Rhodes, stands near Muizenberg Station. This is where he died in 1902, aged only 48.
Rhodes founded the De Beers diamond company in 1888, and it still retains prominence today. He entered the Cape Parliament in 1880 and became Prime Minister in 1890, but was forced to resign in 1896 after the disastrous Jameson Raid, an unauthorised attack on Paul Kruger’s Transvaal (Boer) Republic.
He achieved a great deal during his short lifetime, founding, with his British South Africa Company, Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe), which the Company named after him in 1895. Rhodes University in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape is also named after him, and he set up provisions for the Rhodes Scholarship which is funded by his estate. He also put much effort into realising his dream of a Cape to Cairo Railway through the British territories in Africa.
The Battle of Muizenberg took place here in this little settlement in 1795, resulting in the first British Occupation of the Cape. This was during the Napoleonic Era, and in response to the French invasion of Holland. It was deemed a valuable strategic colony at the southernmost tip of Africa, supplying fresh water and provisions to the ships trading in the East, and the last thing the British wanted was a French takeover of this vulnerable Dutch-governed outpost.
A recent wonderful find for me was the graceful Italian Casa Labia. Here I attended a creative writing workshop, and continue to enjoy concerts with my music-loving friends.
This beautiful old villa was built in 1929 to “reflect the spirit of 18th century Venice” by Count and Countess Natale Labia. It was a wonderful space in which we aspirant writers could let our imaginations take wing, to the sound of the surf and the shushing of the wind in the elegant palm trees. Occasionally a suburban train rumbled past, wending its way along the picturesque “False Bay” coast (originally mistaken for Table Bay) to Simonstown in the south, and across the Peninsular to the city of Cape Town in the north.
This is also where weddings, film shoots, gala dinners and cocktail parties take place, either in one of the salons or in the beautiful garden or restaurant. Concerts are held in the elegant salon both during the mornings and of an evening, when everyone is elegantly attired in honour of this venerable venue.
Surfing is thought to have originated at “Surfers’ Corner” in Muizenberg. Even Agatha Christie apparently took the train here every day to surf, when she came off nursing duty.
The Muizenberg beach is where my husband and I took a bracing walk early one summer morning, along with many others, walking their dogs, jogging, swimming and surfing.
Two sun-burnished treasure-hunters armed with metal detectors added to the excitement. Patiently, listening out for the signal that something metallic lay beneath through headphones, they swept their apparatus over the wet sand. Once a signal was detected, they dug feverishly into the briny mud with large perforated metal scoops, used like a sieve. I engaged with one of these characters, who clearly find this laborious task rewarding, for they are there almost every day. He showed me a wide silver ring that he had found that morning, and told me about other similar finds, along with coins. Some he takes to collectors’ stores, others are simply spends on a cuppa. Finders keepers is the rule here, so don’t expect to recover any metal valuables should they slip from your fingers during a summer dip!