Roadtrip to the Overberg, first stop: Genadendal!
My sister, who lives in Pretoria, came to visit me last week and we were blessed with magnificent spring weather so I jumped at the chance to be a tourist in my own region and took her somewhere off my usual beaten track in the Overberg: Genadendal and Greyton. I can’t remember the last time I was there and that’s a shame because they’re both lovely villages and only 90 minutes from Cape Town.
We first stopped for breakfast at the Peregrine Farmstall Restaurant on the N2 National road – this is a must-do whether you’re hungry or not. What started as a simple little shop in 1964 has evolved to a modern restaurant for light meals and excellent coffee, and the farmstall shop next door tempts one with many road trip snacks, jams, and other goodies. Our tummies full and a bag of goodies in our hands, and off we drove into the heart of the Overberg. Our eyes were dazzled by the yellow canola fields as we drove through the countryside. Photos cannot do this sight justice – fields and fields of yellow as far as the eye can see, it’s an annual delight that draws photographers from far and wide and most of them take far better photos than we did!
I was especially keen to visit Genadendal as this is the oldest mission station in South Africa and a significant place to explore and learn about the cultural and spiritual heritage of this country.
This Morovian Mission, the model on which many subsequent missions were based, was established in 1738 and first named Baviaanskloof (baboon ravine). The Morovians had a particular zeal for mission work and it was thought that their ambitions here were futile but the founder, Georg Schmidt, persevered and founded a strong congregation. He taught the locals to read and write which greatly worried the farmers because they feared that education would threaten their supply of cheap Khoikhoi labour. When Schmidt began to baptise his converts, he came up against the Dutch Reformed Church clergy of the Cape who were horrified because he was not an ordained minister. Consequently he was forced to abandon his work and in 1744 after seven years in the region, he left the country.
In 1791 the mission was re-established by the Morovians and in 1803 renamed Genadendal which means ‘dale of mercy’ in Dutch. The first Teachers’ Training College in South Africa was built there in 1838 but in 1926 was closed down by the Department of Public Education who argued that coloured people didn’t need tertiary education if they were going to be employed on local farms. This was a recurring theme in the 20th century as Apartheid South Africa did everything in its power to prevent people of colour from elevating themselves from being mere labourers by means of education. The village is now somewhat forgotten and impoverished – too few tourists, little industry beyond the famous honeybush tea and upkeep of the museum and associated activities.
At the end of the road leading into town is the museum complex with its large open Church Square surrounded by original well-maintained buildings, and a short stroll into a forested area.
Of particular note is the Genadendal Mission Museum, spread through 15 rooms in three buildings. The museum collection, the only one in South Africa to be named a National Cultural Treasure, in 1991, includes unique household and medical implements, books, tools, and musical instruments, among them the country’s oldest pipe organ, which arrived in the village in 1832. Wall displays examine mission life in the Cape in the 18th and 19th centuries, focusing on the early missionaries’ work with the Khoekhoen.