Friday, May 14, 2010

A Story about the Cape Town Zoo

Cast of Characters:
Nick Shepherd
professor at the Center for African Studies, University of Cape Town

a gardner who maintains the zoo grounds

a student at UCT

Ronald and Richard Gere
squatters who live in the Lion's cage

The City Council of Cape Town,
whose intentions are documented in the

The Groote Schuur Zoo Site Redevelopment Proposal



Act 1: Animals and People

[1.23] This is an old zoo. What we can do is imagine where the animals used to be. This looks like a funny shaped concrete swimming pool; there used to be water in here and crocodiles.

[3.00] Come and look very carefully -- on the ground, all around -- and tell me if you can see something that looks like an animal. You see his eye, his teeth, and his paws and there’s his curly tail and his ferocious claws. These are pictures of lions.

[12.30] Zoos are metaphoric landscapes. They often materialize a set of complex ideas around nature and culture and wildness and domesticity. This zoo told a little evolutionary tale from crocodiles to hyenas and foxes through to apes and leopards, through to lions. A biogenetic story as you walk through it with lions on the top.

When they closed to zoo in the 1980s people started living in the cages because there was a big problem with housing. And what did they do? They didn’t say: “oh we’re so pleased that these people have some kind of a home.” Instead they put these bricks in so that no one could live there.
Look carefully at the bricks, some of them have been patched up. People wanted to live here and they would made a hole through the bricks. But then someone else would come and find out that people were living there and brick it up again…and then someone would bash a hole again…and then someone would brick it up again.

A bit of a crazy thing…

[3.06] It’s a nice place to stay here…to rest, to do your things.

[0.33] I like it, because I’m sleeping at night here, and it’s keeping me safe from all the wrongdoings and from all my enemies. I don’t know who is my enemies but there are plenty people who are chasing after you without you knowing.

This place is a very good place because it keeps me safe. I go out in the morning, I go collecting my scrap. [2.36] If I get some iron, about 250 kg that is the loot, obviously. They pay you two rand per kilo. So multiply 250 times 2 so that is 500 bucks. I’m satisfied with that.

[??? between 0.33 and 1.57] I go to the scrap yard and then I have something to eat. I’m just doing my thing, I’m safe here. I’m just going with the flow, that is what I do. My family stays in Athlone but I’m independent. I don’t want to go to them, because I’m an adult and I’m looking after myself.

[1.57] This is not actual my workplace, I just come here and I rest a little bit. I collect the small things and then I put it together and when it becomes big then I take it with the other stuff and take it to the scrap yards in Woodstock and then I get some money and then I get myself something to eat and some fags you know. I don’t smoke drugs but I drink a beer. And then me and my friend we have a good time. Maybe with a woman as well.

[3.21] Many years ago I did work here with PWD, the Public Works Department. That was in the time of De Klerk, when De Klerk was the state president. This was a zoo for apes and that kind of stuff.

[3.54] There were lions as well.

[4.21] I don’t know where they took the lions.

[23.03] All kinds of people moved into the lion’s den. In the middle of last year a group of students moved in and they used it as an informal exhibition space. The National Parks, which is the administrator, came at the end of last year and cleared everything out.

[0.48] Friends started coming here, because there were seats here at one point. And those seats were the most comfortable seats on campus. They were padded and all.

[1.17] If you want to smoke, you come here. It’s off campus. And if you try and smoke on campus you get busted. We like a few other spots as well: the tree on the other side, the thrown. The thing is…this place is indoors. We used to have a place which we called the eagle’s nest, on the roof of the UCT graduate building. But that is blocked off now.

[2.48] The history of this place is that it is the lion’s cage. We had a theory that they kept slaves in here. Not a lot of people know about it. When we did find out about it, we didn’t find ‘this is dedication to anyone’ or anything like that. It’s just this place.


Act 2: "Africanness"

[9.38] The point of this landscape is that it’s an exemplary landscape. It is meant to physically embody a set of big ideas.

[8.50] This zoo is built by Cecil Rhodes, a British imperialist and expansionist who had two countries named after him, and who lived in the late 19th century. Rhodes refurbished Groote Schuur; he owned all this land and the zoo was his private menagerie project. His idea for the menagerie was that it should contain animals from all over the British Empire.

[21.30] Rhodes was very specific about the fact that the zoo should be open to the public, but to a very particular public: a middle class [white] settlers public. It was to be a place where people would come to promenade on Sunday. He had the animals brought in and he was gifted a lot of them from all over the Empire: peacocks from India.

[10.01] The menagerie was first built in the 1890s under Rhodes and rebuilt in the 1920s…at the same time the university campus was built.

[3 – The Existing Site] The majority of the site is characterized by mixed woodland and open grassland typical of the lower slopes of Table Mountain. The woodland includes mature specimens of both indigenous and exotic trees. On the lower portion of the site are several defunct animal cages and structures which formed the old Groote Schuur Zoo. These buildings are located on several level terraced areas which are divided symmetrically by a tree lines path with paving features of intricate pebble patterns and stone steps leading towards the magnificent stone faced Lion’s Den.

[15.50] The most important thing about the design is the points of prospects and the axes. With the main university site the axis cuts from the flag tower at the University hall down the steps across the rugby field and then to the Summer House and that’s where the design is worked from.

[17.13] The site-of-prospect thing is really important; the idea is that you stand here and you gaze out …and what you’re looking at is Africa. Then you could ask the question: well if that’s African what is this? The idea is that this is not quite Africa. This is a provisional part of Africa.

[33.22] [Outside,] there was nature; there was wild nature and it wasn’t at all relaxing. It was experienced as threatening and awful and for relaxation you certainly wouldn’t go to wild nature. What you wanted to see were visible signs of human interventions, edifices of artificiality and human presence. Because you lived in wild nature and it was horrible!

[18.55] What Rhodes tried to do was to create a hybrid landscape.

[After 10.18] It is meant to be a little bit of all sorts of things. Englishness, the oak trees; a sense of location, the [indigenous] silver trees and the fijnbos; then the stone pines, which stand for southern Mediterranean classicism. Utterly weird, isn’t it?! But that’s the combination they were going for. And the lions are meant to be wild Africa. That’s the local referent. It’s a commentary about imperial power.

[After 18.55] [Rhodes] had this idea that the British empire had run somehow out of steam at the end of the 19th century and what it need was a little transfusion of wildness, of Africaness.

[17.57] The way I think it work is like this: there was a settlers’ society with the Cape as point of arrival. There was a lot of anxiety as with any settler’s society around notion of place and home, space, landscape, ownership and claim to territory. And there was a very specific set of anxieties around notions of Africanness. What Rhodes did here is to create a landscape like home. A little bit of Europe is created botanically, and through the animals, a biological empire is created as a form of mediated Africa.

[6.09] Do you recognize this? It’s a part of Dutch national history; it’s the outline of the castle inCape Town, a pentagonal star, a 17th century Dutch fortification plan. The Dutch built these all over the world where they had interests; it’s the symbol of Holland’s empire. You can go to places such as Curacao and see a fort built according to this plan. The way that it works is that it is about fields of fire, so you can catch any enemy in a cross fire.

[7.30] It is interesting because it’s a very local symbol but transnational at the same time. The castle in Cape Town used to be the first permanent building constructed at the Cape. And later it became the apartheid military headquarters.

During the struggle period this was the symbol of apartheid and now it is a tourist attraction.

Act 3: Looking Ahead

[23.40] No one knows what to do with [the zoo]. The university wants to turn it into a parking lot. But it is a bit tricky; because since there are monumental structures, they’re protected.

[1 -- Introduction] The Rhodes Will...provides that a portion of the Groote Schuur Zoo site, in extent approzimately 13 placed ‘at the disposal of any person to be utilised as a park, open to all members of the public.”

[4 – Development Proposals] The [current] development proposals...aim to conserve the existing man-made and natural landscape whilst encouraging its use by the public.

[4.1 – The Lion’s Den Restaurant] The lion’s den will be converted into a family restaurant with take-away facilities for hikers and visitors to the parkland. This can be achieved by enclosing with glass the existing barred cages behind the stone enclosure, creating an all weather dining area and utilizing the stone structure for additional dining space and kitchens. A wooden deck will extend over a portion of the lion’s enclosure creating a fair-weather dining area with...a magnificent panoramic view of Cape Town. An upgraded access road will provide for physically disabled patrons.

[4.2 – Parking] Parking facilities and toilets will be provided on the converted teraces of the Zoo site. The conversion of the terraces to provide parking will be carried out with a minimum of disturbance to the existing landscape by removing the defunct cages, resurfacing the area with brick paving, and linking the terraces by widening the existing pedestrian ramps. The arrangement...will provide 70 parking bays on the existing terraces with very little disturbance to the established landscape.

[4.6 – Zoo Relics] A suggestion has been made that one or two of the defunct cages be retained as relics of the former zoo. However, these massive cages are in a very poor state of repair, difficult to screen and architecturally without merit. It is therefore recommened that they be demolished, but that the level terraces on which they stand be retained and converted to parking or grassed over to provide a suitable space for future amenity use.

[5 – Development Control and Programme for Approval] A hiererchy of control will ensure that the development and management of the site will always be in keeping with the aims of preserving the present character of the site for future generations, as intended in Rhodes’ Will.

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