Land ‘Without Fat’ is an article I wrote for a local leisure magazine exactly 3 years ago this month. For the hell of it I thought I’d take a look at it again....
Round trips: Travelling the Cape West Coast - Land ‘Without Fat’ (part 2)
Malmesbury. Just 65km north of Cape Town (it’s on the N7, slip across from the R27 at Melkbosstrand) and the home of the famous ‘bry’, which Karena du Plessis expands on in some detail (there’s even bry-variants, whether Sandveld, Overberg or Southern Free State brys!) in her marvellous book West Coast – Cederburg to Sea (Struik).
“The bry”, she writes, “gives a warm lilt to country speech and illustrates just how rich and textured the Afrikaans language is”.
Malmesbury, the largest town in the Swartland, is renowned for its grain and wine cultivation, as well as for sheep and poultry farming. It originated around a tepid sulphur spring as far back as 1703 when the first farms were allocated. Then known as "het Zwarteland" (Black Land) probably because of the rhinoceros bush (it turns black in the winter with the rain), it became known as “het Zwartelandskerk”. After being renamed Malmesbury in 1829 – by Cape governor Sir Lowry Cole in honour of his father-in-law Sir James Harris, First Earl of Malmesbury - the town acquired municipal status in 1860.
Although it has developed rapidly over the last few years it’s still a peaceful town with a rural atmosphere. And the Malmesbury folk appear to be a robust, healthy lot obviously reared on Bokomo, sunshine and orange juice (this is, after all, the HQ of Bokomo Mills, the oldest milling company – established 1919 - in South Africa).
The beautiful Swartland Dutch Reformed Church, founded in 1745, is surrounded by a series of wells (collectively known as The Communion Well) dating back to 1750. They supplied water to the members of this congregation (at that time a mere 24 people were living in vicinity to the mineral spring) who gathered for Holy Communion on Sundays. Two of the three remaining wells can still be seen, one in Lewis Stores (during shop hours) in Piet Retief Street and the other in the parking area behind Geard Pharmacy in Voortrekker Road.
Malmesbury Museum (formerly the Old Jewish Synagogue) houses a photographic history of the town, as well as an interesting display on its Jewish history. The local tourism office provides, via email because it’s out of print, the highly recommended Malmesbury Historic Walkabout Route, which is well worth walking and gives a great historical perspective to this town.