The History of the V&A Waterfront

A Bit and Bite of V&A Waterfront History

South Africa has a rich, ancient history. This is where it all began – the Cradle of Humankind. However, this country’s documented history only stems from the arrival of Europeans in the Cape, a relatively new and recent event.

The southern tip of Africa invariably conjures up images of Cape Town’s iconic features like Cape Point, Cape Agulhas, Table Mountain, Table Bay, its harbour, and the immensely popular V&A Waterfront. When Jan van Riebeeck and his three sailing vessels landed at the Cape in 1652, the harbour and the waterfront didn’t exist yet.

In lighter vein, we’d like to add a few van Riebeeck facts with which you could impress fellow Trivial Pursuit players:

  • Van Riebeeck’s name was actually Johan; Jan is an abbreviation.
  • Jan/Johan set off from the Netherlands, bound for the Cape with five ships. The last two, the Walvisch and the Olifant, only arrived in the Cape of Storms somewhat later, because they had to conduct 130 burials at sea, while en route.
  • He arrived with a company that consisted of 82 men and 8 women, amongst them his wife and son.

Origins of the V&A Waterfront 

Two years after van Riebeeck’s arrival, a jetty was built in Table Bay for loading and offloading ships’ cargo and passengers. Later, in 1858, when the Cape was under British rule, 30 ships in the Bay were wrecked during a severe winter storm. As a result, Lloyds of London would no longer insure ships at anchor in the Bay.

In 1860, work commenced on the first step of what was to eventually become Cape Town harbour and the V&A Waterfront, when Queen Victoria’s son, HRH Prince Alfred, symbolically tipped the first load of stone with which the harbour’s breakwater was to be built. The basin that was created was thus called the Alfred Basin, which would be followed with the Victoria Basin in the following period, until 1920.

After a delay, due to the First World War, land for the Foreshore was established, allowing for urban expansion. The port, harbour, and waterfront became tatty, shabby, and run down, as the years passed, so action became necessary to address this eyesore in an otherwise incredibly picturesque waterfront.

Redevelopment of the area surrounding the Victoria and Alfred Basins began in 1988, with the founding of a wholly-owned subsidiary of Transnet – the Victoria and Alfred (V&A) Waterfront (Pty) Ltd – a most fortuitous move, as it turned out. Today, the inimitable V&A Waterfront is home to the most sought-after residential, retail, harbour, entertainment, and tourism mixed-use developments in the country, much to the delight of all who visit here.

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