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  • Writer's picturejoyce hampton

Huguenots - in South Africa Part 1

The global diaspora of French Huguenots includes those who travelled to South Africa. Within the pages of my book – The Story of the Huguenots: A Unique Legacy, can be found the stories of just some of the families that accepted the chance to begin again in a far-off land.

 

The Dutch East India Company had decided to encourage Huguenots to emigrate to South Africa, particularly if they were from a farming background as they valued and needed the skills of smallholders, including sheep and crop farmers. The immigrants were required to take the Oath of Allegiance to the company and were offered free passage on condition that they stayed for at least five years; they could take on as much land as they could reasonably work. They were provided with an advance so that they could purchase the necessary tools and seed, which, as part of the deal, they would not have to make repayments on until the first harvest. They could be released from the agreement only if the company chose to do so and on condition that they paid their passage home. The six-week-long journey was hazardous for various reasons: storms, pirates, and, above all, illness – particularly scurvy. The Dutch East India Company also encouraged the Huguenot migration to South Africa because they held the same strong religious beliefs. Upon arrival, they were given a warm welcome by the governor Jan van Riebeeck, and his French-born wife, Maria de la Quitterie.

The Huguenots settled into life in South Africa mainly in an area approximately 60 kilometres northeast of the Cape and the Berg Valley, which later became known as Franschhoek (Dutch for ‘French corner’). Amongst the arrivals was Francois Villion, who together with others such as du Plessis, Roubaix de la Fontaine, de Chavannes, de Villiers, du Pré, Le Roux, and Rousseau chose to settle on the furthest tip of this continent. Some of these names are amongst those listed who subsequently became governors of the Dutch colony.





However, as the soil was more conducive to vines they started to turn their attention to vine planting, cultivation, and wine production. In 1693 when John Ovington visited the Cape, he noted:


Their vineyards have been established over an area of more than seventy-five English miles, yet they still have their eyes on large pieces of virgin soil before them. In this district they farm with livestock, plant maize, establish vineyards and improve everything conscientiously for the greatest benefit .... Their vineyards, which they have multiplied to a large variety of cultivars, can now also provide the passing ships…

 

It had taken the Huguenot settlers the best part of three years to clear the land for cultivation. Goodwill and friendship helped them achieve this, but gradually they began to grasp that they had not fully understood the full terms and conditions of their future in South Africa, nor the role they were expected to play within its society. The Dutch East India Company expected them to merge into the local community and become ‘good Dutch farmers’ whereas the Huguenots had believed they would be able to continue to maintain their own French way of life and, in particular, their own French language. 

Until their French pastor Pierre Simon departed, they had been able to retain their French identity, but once he had left, they were no longer allowed to have their own French-speaking pastors or primary school teachers, leading to the disappearance of the French language within two generations. Despite this, Huguenot settlers did make a success of their lives in South Africa and they became affluent farmers during the 18th century. Indeed, their settlement still thrives today with well-known, world-class wines being produced from their vineyards. The lasting concession they had to make was in accepting their slowly diminishing French way of life and language, leading to their children being taught the Dutch language, and agreeing to their church services being held alternate weeks in Dutch, then French

 

The building of the Huguenot monument was started in Franschhoek in 1942. The architect was JC Jongens, a young Dutch immigrant. It was completed in 1945 for £22 000 and inaugurated on 17 April 1948. Coert Steynberg sculpted the central statue of a young Huguenot woman who personifies religious freedom.


The magnificent Huguenot monument is set in a rose garden with the mountains forming a stunning backdrop to the edifice.

There is a great deal of symbolism within the monument and its environs from the three arches representing the trinity to the roses reminding us of the exquisitely tasting rose water that the Huguenots produced from the autumn damask rose.  

 

If you have enjoyed this blog, please look out for part II, which will be posted next month.

 

 

 

 

Further Reading

 

 


The Story of the Huguenots: A Unique Legacy

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Vince Rockston
Vince Rockston
20 avr.

This is very interesting. You speak of the French Huguenots cultivating the land and reluctantly integrating with the Dutch colonists. What about the native Africans? Did they benefit from improved schools, farming techniques and the thriving economy? Or did they resent having their land confiscated? It's sad to think how these humble, godfearing folk worked faithfully and did their best, but inadvertently laid the foundation of cruel racial strive centuries later.

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