It takes just 45 minutes to travel back in time to 300 years ago.
Back in the day, long before this fertile valley caught the attention of Jan van Riebeeck and his cronies from the Dutch East India Company, the inhabitants were a Khoi-San tribe, known at the time as “Cochoquas” or “Proper Saldanhars” who lived off the land and had a very nice life.
Then in 1652 the Dutch colonized the Cape, and like all colonisers they spread out, explored and with little or no regard for local inhabitants, they took over.
France, Britain and Portugal all added to the history of the Cape, but the people who made the biggest and lasting impression on Mamre were the Moravian Missionaries.
Who are the Moravians?
The Moravian Church was founded in the Czech Republic in 1457, and is said to be the first breakaway from Catholicism. By the 1670’s the movement was pretty much destroyed as a result of persecution and wars.
The rebirth occurred in Germany in 1720, and by 1730 missionaries from Herrnhut in Saxony, East Germany were sent out to spread the word. The first Moravian Mission Station in South Africa was established in Genadendal in 1792, and local people were trained to become teachers and ministers.
In 1808 the Moravian missionaries were given three farms in the area around Mamre. They were not really interested in the politics of the Cape, nor were they mad about the Dutch or British who governed there. They wanted to spread the word of God, convert the followers of Islam, and build a community, teaching skills like farming, carpentry, brick laying and leather tanning to the local people.
After their strong Christian beliefs and values, community, respect and education appear to be the cornerstone of the Moravian lifestyle. They were way ahead of their times in their thinking and ideals. They created communities that embraced people of all nationalities, races and status, who worked and lived together peacefully.
More astonishing was that in the days when women were not permitted to vote, and children should be seen and not heard, the Moravians not only allowed ordinary men or women to be affirmed and chosen as priests, they also believed that the spiritual and educational life of children was of high importance.
They taught skills and work ethics that empowered people to create better lives for their families, and taught others how to become teachers . Good succession planning way before the expression was coined.
The Mamre Moravian Mission Station is a collection of nine historical buildings.
The oldest building, The Parsonage, was built in 1697.
In 1822 the Church was completed and is the fifth oldest church building in South Africa. In 1887 the impressive Marcusson Organ was brought from Norway and is still used today.
The Cook House dates back to 1700, and visitors can arrange to bake bread in the old fire place.
Other buildings include the Old Shop which serves lovely teas and baked goods, the Long House which brings the military history of Mamre to life, the Mill, Acorn House and the school.
The Mission Station is a peaceful place. The whitewashed buildings on either side of the wide road are shaded by old oak trees, or look out onto open areas of wild flowers and colourful gardens.
On one side the view is of the hills in the distance, and a charming path winding next to to the stream. To the other side a hill rises up leading to walks, views and the cemetery.
We took this path, stopping to explore the remains of an abandoned house halfway up the hill, then spent an hour walking through the graveyard. The names on many of the headstones are Germanic, some dating back to the 1800’s, and they all tell stories, some very sad.
The Wild Flowers
Flower season is between July and October, with August and September generally offering the most spectacular displays.
Many flowers will not open on an overcast day, but when the sun is shining the optimum time is between 11am and 3 pm, so plan accordingly.
Please walk carefully through the fynbos and try to avoid standing on the plants. Do not pick any plants or flowers , they are there to be enjoyed by everyone.
Tour guide Reginald Josias 083 528 6120 [email protected]. Reginald grew up in Cape Town and was sworn into the Moravian Church as was the tradition if you wanted to stay in Mamre as a citizen at the time. A registered Tour Guide, Reginald is a mine of information regarding the history of this area. I found him to be very professional, well prepared and an absolute gentleman.
Gay Alexander [email protected] 083 615 3749 . Gay is a resident of Mamre and she knows almost everyone in the town. She has numerous stories and anecdotes about growing up in Mamre and offers guided tours that are informative, personal and include stories that have been passed down to her through the generations.
How to get there.
Mamre is just 60km from Cape Town. Take the N7 until you see the Engen Swartland One Stop Petrol station,and just beyond that take the left turn to the R304. Travel for 4.8km until you reach a T junction and turn right. Continue on this road for 17.8km, through Atlantis, past the first turning into Mamre.
Look out for the sign on your left that says Mamre Historical Moravian Mission. Drive through the stone walled entrance and follow the road to the traffic circle. Go round 3/4s and you are at the entrance to Die Werf.
Thank you to West Coast Way, Reginald and Gay for giving me the opportunity to experience Mamre.