The fountain, the foundry and the City

Irina Botha, Rosebank

Your report on Rondebosch Fountain (“Hope for Fountain,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, March,7) raises two important questions, firstly, why does the City of Cape Town show so little interest in the heritage of Cape Town, and, secondly, why is it not willing to pay for any repair or replacement?

The Rondebosch Fountain was a landmark, a beautifully-crafted piece of Victorian architecture cast in the 19th century and generously donated to the Rondebosch community by the Moodie family.

At a simple level, the fountain was a large piece of street furniture, but, either way, it is, without question, the responsibility of the City.

It was wrecked nearly four years ago in August 2015, and the foundry that originally made it no longer exists. This fact has been known for a couple of years, but the City remains content to keep repeating, mantra-like, “the foundry that made it no longer exists.”

In the absence of any further interest from the City, a concerned local man, a Mr Teichmann of Heritage Castings (whom I must point out I do not know), volunteered to recast the fountain.

He went on to manufacture and complete the project at his own expense, with little or no interest from the City.

With its considerable reach and resources, it is strange that the City should have been unable either to repair or to commission a replacement fountain, even after a firm offer of help.

The unavoidable conclusion is that the City is simply not interested in the project, not the local councillor, nor the so-called heritage department, nor indeed anyone else from the metro.

What does apparently interest them, however, is to legalise the acceptance of donations to fund some sort of belated project for the fountain. With no contract from the City for Heritage Castings, the City can shrug off its responsibility to pay and Capetonians will be asked to foot the bill from their own pockets.

The begging bowl is being readied. Like when the City wanted water-pressure reduction valves during the water crisis, although, in that case, the begging bowl was passed to big business.

The southern suburbs are regarded as a cash cow by the City. The new rates valuations in this large area range from 40 to 100% more than three years ago. That’s from 13 to 33% per annum at a time when property prices are static, at best, and often lower than their high in 2016. Be that as it may, what do we get for it?

From the hundreds of millions collected from the southern suburbs, the City is unwilling to pay a modest R1 million to replace our landmark. But wait, they’re busy planning to accept donations! We can pay extra again.

We cannot buy heritage, we make it, but then it must be cared for.

The fountain was a beautiful thing adding lustre to the streets of Rondebosch.

We Capetonians are fortunate in having so many beautiful things which are now sadly being neglected by the so-called City fathers, and, it must be said, by some residents who do not appear to care.

It is time for those of us who do care about Cape Town to ask the hard questions and to demand proper answers. Where is our fountain?

Marian Nieuwoudt, Mayco member for spatial planning and environment, responds:

When the Rondebosch Fountain was destroyed in a motor vehicle accident in 2015, it was so badly damaged that it could not be repaired.

A lengthy process of creating a replica of the original fountain has been undertaken since then. The destroyed fountain had been repaired and cobbled together over the many years that it stood in the heart of Rondebosch.

The new fountain will show the fountain as it was originally cast and will be different in some details to the fountain that was destroyed. It will be in its original colours and its details will be as crisp as the day the original was bolted together when it arrived at the Cape Town docks from Scotland.

The City is currently processing a generous donation of funds from a heritage body in order to permit it to accept these funds to pay for the replica. This is a legal requirement to enable the funds to be properly accounted for on the City’s financial books.

Also, a landscaping plan is in its final stages of preparation. This is not only to give the fountain a gracious setting as befits its provincial heritage status but also an attempt to protect it from damage by future errant drivers.

The City cares deeply for Cape Town’s heritage and works very closely with individual property owners, heritage bodies and Heritage Western Cape on a daily basis in order to do so.

While this project has taken longer than originally anticipated, I am confident that the wait will have been well worth it in the end.