As mentioned in another article recently written about Truth Coffee, the premises houses a museum. This is the Prestwich Memorial Visitors’ Centre, and is noteworthy in the historical context of Cape Town and South Africa.
The centre is located in a busy part of town (on the corner of Somerset and Buitengracht Streets), so one can be forgiven for driving past it during rush hour, and indeed not paying it much attention. There is a significance to the location of this building. Since 2003, this particular piece of land has officially been recognised as a heritage site, marking an essential period of South Africa’s history.
A plaque at the memorial site reads:
“Beyond the steel gateways lie the ossuaries of the Prestwich Memorial. These ossuaries house the remains of people who had been buried in and around the burial grounds of the Green Point area – between the second half of the 18th century and the late 19th century. The human remains placed in these ossuaries are from unmarked graves, many of them being slaves and the poor who had been buried outside the formal graveyards. These human remains were uncovered during the course of development in the Green Point area, and brought to the ossuary as a final place of rest. You are invited to reflect upon the ancestors of our city.”
In the 1820s, the land in this area was sub-divided and sold, forming part of the Cape’s developed urban area. When Apartheid became institutionalised, the 1960s saw its black and coloured residents being forcibly relocated to the Cape Flats. These past events made the land a contentious point of debate for many years, and disputes raged on as to who rightfully owned it. During the colonial period, long before political and racial tension surfaced, the area was a burial ground for members of the Dutch Reformed Church, Muslim people, black people, and free slaves.
After many decades of dispute, the human remains were exhumed in 2003. Today, the Prestwich Memorial Visitors’ Centre houses over 2 500 boxes inside the ossuary. This tells the story of District 1, the now-obsolete name given to the neighbourhood under the Apartheid government. It is the hope of the City of Cape Town that the centre serves as a heritage and educational space that firmly roots the city’s past in its evolving present. Outside the memorial is a public square which has been dedicated to preserving local heritage. This space was put to excellent use during the 2010 Soccer World Cup and was a part of the “fan walk”.
The coffee shop is housed in the memorial as part of the building’s sustainability strategy, and offers visitors the space to reflect, as well as enjoy a cup of Truth coffee. So when you pay a visit to Truth and indulge in a divine cup of coffee, take some time to ponder the significance of the space in which you stand.
The memorial site is open on weekdays from 8am – 5pm and on weekends from 8am – 1pm. Entrance is free of charge.
For more information, visit http://www.archivalplatform.org/blog/entry/prestwich_place/
~ Written by: Melissa Claasen. Photography: Melissa Claasen