Old Harbour, Hermanus during FynArts 2017

Contested space – Hermanus Old Harbour

Photo above – caption:  Old Harbour, Hermanus. Sculpture installation by Richard Forbes for Sculptures on the Cliffs, FynArts 2017   (R.Smith)

Contested space – Hermanus Old Harbour

‘Old Harbour joins Sculpture on the Cliffs Exhibition’

The Old Harbour was the scene of some unusual activity on Friday as the first of the artworks that will form part of the Sculpture on the Cliffs Exhibition for Hermanus FynArts 2017 was installed. This is the first time that the Old Harbour heritage site, by kind permission of the Old Harbour Trust, will be used for the exhibition, which in previous years saw the large sculptures installed at Gearing’s Point. This year’s group exhibition will comprise eleven sculptures, three of which will be placed at the Old Harbour and eight along the cliffs of Gearing’s Point.

The first one, which in the end took two days to install, is Richard Forbes’ Sonar Sound – a huge, circular, mild steel piece which resonate a gentle chime as a call to the whales and a hail to the fishermen to come home safely. The sculpture pays homage to the history of the Old Harbour, which over 100 years ago was the hub of the local fishing industry that supported most of the village’s inhabitants.

The disc was transported by Richard in a trailer from Johannesburg and arrived in two halves that had to be carried down to the harbour from the parking area and then welded together. This was no easy task, as in total the disc is 3 metres in diameter and weighs 500 kg. And that is only the big disc, not the smaller one and the base that supports the whole.

“It was a rather challenging installation,” says FynArts Festival Director Mary Faure. “First they built the base, then they welded the two halves together, but in order to do this the dish had to be upside down. Turning it over proved impossible because of its immense weight, even with ten people attempting to lift and flip it.”

Additional assistance was required and on Friday evening Lien Botha, curator of the exhibition, called on Kleinmond welder Geoffrey Visser, who joined the team on Saturday morning to complete the installation.

“Rings were welded around the edges to which the strongest climbing rope was tied for the workers to  grip with gloves and yank the disc upright before flipping it over with an almighty crash,” says Mary.

“Then they dragged the hollow disc to the base and that’s where the most precision was needed – to angle the disc, drag it closer to the base and place a hole, probably not much larger than 5 cm in diameter, over the holding pin! This took some time, strength and coordination.”

Finally, by Saturday afternoon, the sculpture was securely installed. Although the disc now lies horizontally on the base and not vertical as originally intended, Mary says it should still chime when the wind blows as a small amount of oscillation is possible.

“The rusty colour of the steel echoes the earthy tones of the rocks, while the circular shape reflects the circumference of the bay,” says Mary. “With time, the corrosion from the salt will erode the mild steel and slowly take this large, man-made sculpture away, reminding us that all is impermanent.” (Hedda Mittner, The Village Voice, 25 April 2017)

Sculpture at Old Harbour is a ‘monstrosity’ {sic}

"It was with utter dismay that I saw and read about Old Harbour joins Sculpture on the Cliffs Exhibition in your edition of 25 April 2017. To use a revered heritage site such as the Old Harbour for installations like the "Sonar Sound" monstrosity is beyond comprehension. Who on earth serves on the Old Harbour Trust to have given permission to such travesty? If it were a very temporary effort in aid of some festival or good cause, it would have been abhorrent enough, but to erect such eyesores to "be left to erode over time" is nothing short of a crime against the inhabitants of our town and the many thousands who visit this splendid place. Did the Municipality not step in to prevent this? I have been visiting Hermanus for the past 65 years and have had property here for the past 35 years, decades during which I enjoyed the world-renowned view of the Old Harbour and all of its romantic atmosphere. To clutter this gem with a lot of steel pretending to be some form of art is a very sad day indeed! To have it on a permanent basis is, to say the least, very tragic for our community, and I believe something has to be done about it." (Johann du Plessis, Letter to The Village News, 25 April 2017)

Response to above letter by Mr Johann du Plessis in The Village News

dated 25 April 2017 to the first installation of the Sculpture on the Cliffs at Hermanus FynArts 9-18 June 2017

Mr Ples, as I shall refer to complainant for easy reference, I find your naive gurgitations utterly inappropriate, especially in a cultural heritage context such as the Old Harbour site. However, I shall rather use this opportunity to sketch the contextual background for the benefit of the broader public and the project. Drawing our attention and stimulating debate is indeed a critical function of contemporary art in a society as it questions the status quo – this installation therefore already succeeded on a basic level. It has become good practice to rejuvenate sites with reversible temporary artistic expressions, performances and activities as a way of re-negotiating the contested past.

This is indeed a premature response to a carefully curated site specific exhibition which will eventually comprise of eleven works, with magic nuance and special threads making sense of the past in the present through diverse mediums. Mr Ples simply could not practice patience to wait long enough to experience the completeness of  the cultural expression as intended for June 2017. It deals with many issues on various levels such as: environment; memory; identity (personal and collective), heritage; gentrification; values and meaning-making in the present.

When observing  the key words Mr Ples chose in his letter by which he described the first installation in the Old Harbour titled “Sonar Sound” by Richard Forbes, for this year’s Sculpture on the Cliffs exhibition, one can hardly breathe under the weight of such negativity on one page.

Mr Ples, your words dismay, monstrosity, travesty, abhorrent, crime, clutter, sad and tragic, are words one would associate with a truly catastrophic event such as when many fishermen and their families, who lived in Hermanus providing fish to the community operating from the Old Harbour, were forcibly removed to live in Mount Pleasant under the Group Areas Act during 1966. Most of these words would have been appropriate if uttered at that time.

This “monstrosity” Mr Ples, is one art intervention of more to come, some of which remembers and honours the sounds and hardship of the working class who had to make space for lifestyles of the privileged. They who were part of the authentic heritage of Hermanus – before commercialization and gentrification started changing the character of the village to become a tourist construct.

According to Fransen , the village of Hermanus was an informal settlement since 1850’s when Johannes Michiel  Henn and his family of fishermen from Herriesbaai, now known as Hawston, started using the landing place for their fishing activities with their boat the “Nellie”2 and in 1860 bought a plot and built a cottage opposite the present Swallow Park to become the first permanent residents of Hermanus. James Warrington3 built the second house followed by John Patterson with the third.

In SJ Du Toit’s Hermanus Stories ⁴, reference is made to four Henn fishermen, Daan, Mike, Patat & Piet who were still operational at the Old Harbour between 1925 and 1940 after which the abundance of fish just disappeared. Part of the fishing technology employed at the time was the drying of bokkoms on Erf 816, between the market and the Godfrey Cottages.

From the settlement clustered around the Old Harbour rocky cove, consisting of fisherman’s cottages, tenant accommodation and holiday cottages of inland farmers and townspeople, a formal village was established in 1886. The Old Harbour became a more sheltered landing place for small boats since 1885 with the construction of a mass concrete harbour wall and facilities such as fish gutting tables, boat ramp and winches.

Hermanus Old Harbour with Marine Hotel in background

Fig 1 – Old Harbour with Marine Hotel in background. Circa 1915   (OHM)

According to Frans Hendrick’s ⁵ there was always an abundance of fish in the Old Harbor. “People came with lorries from the Strand to buy Cape salmon and other species.” The road being the only link with the urban environment and the coastal town of Hermanus, due to the resistance of Sir William Hoy against the construction of a railway line. Hoy was General Manager of the Railway and patron of Hermanus. This resistance would contribute much to the gentrification of Hermanus in its later evolution which resulted in it becoming an exclusive holiday resort town for affluent people in the 20th and 21st century.

Fishermen on the Market Square, Hermanus

Fig 2 – Fishermen on the Market Square. Circa 1920. Notice Royal Hotel in background.   (OHM)

Between 1963 and 1966, Hermanus was declared a “White” Group Area, proclamation 329 (a) of 25 December 1966. During this period forced removals from central historic Hermanus took place. Those affected moved either to Mount Pleasant just outside of town, or to Hawston further out. “Black” access to the coastline was limited to a stretch along Skulphoek. “Coloured” graves in Hermanus were destroyed and access to graves beyond Hoy’s koppie denied.

You see Mr Ples, not everyone’s spatial experience of Hermanus  is as romantic as yours. Heritage is one way of dealing constructively with people’s lived experiences through memorialization, artistic expressions and performances, for instance.  It is also a way of showing respect to all the communities whose stories make up the history of a village. If a temporary sculpture offends you Mr Ples, you may look the other way.



  1. Fransen, Hans.  Old Towns and Villages of the Cape: A Survey of the origin and development of towns, villages and hamlets at the Cape of Good Hope.  Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2006.
  2. “Nellie”. It is believed that Michiel Henn’s boat could be a relic from the sunken HMS Birkenhead.
  3. Warrington, James.  Family of the partner of participating artist Hannelie Coetzee.
  4. Du Toit, SJ.  Resident Author of Hermanus who published, among other, a series entitled Hermanus Stories I, II and III.
  5. Fransen, Hans.  Old Towns and Villages of the Cape: A Survey of the origin and development of towns, villages and hamlets at the Cape of Good Hope.  Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2006.