Posts Tagged With: old harbour

Robey Leibbrandt, the “spy” lived in Hermanus after his release (1948)

Sixty-five years ago, a famous Afrikaner sportsman turned Nazi after attending the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  Heavyweight boxer, Robey Leibbrandt, met and became mesmerized by Adolf Hitler, and the triumphant rise of Hitler’s National Socialists completely took in the young Afrikaner.   Hitler’s aides began to seduce Leibbrandt into acting on their behalf in South Africa.

Strangely enough, both central figures in  the ensuing dramatic events that almost changed the course of South African history, lived in Hermanus for brief periods.  General Jan Smuts, famous statesman and war-time prime minister of South Africa  loved to spend short resting holidays in the village, and the man who almost assassinated him, Robey Leibbrandt, lived here for a short time after his release from prison in 1948.

Leibbrandt was extensively trained in sabotage and espionage, and also underwent rigorous training as a Stormtrooper in Germany.  After the outbreak of war, he was appointed to spearhead Operation Weissdorn – the overthrow of Jan Smut’s coalition government and the establishment of a National Socialist republic in South Africa.  He was secretly landed from a French yacht on the West Coast from where he made his way inland to begin his task.

Leibbrandt tried to assume control of the Ossewa Brandwag and planned the assassination of General Smuts.  When the authorities learned of his plans, top-policeman Jan Taillard was appointed to flush out Leibbrandt.  He was trapped in a daring action and received the death sentence at the ensuing court hearing.  But Robey Leibbrandt did not die on the gallows.  Two days before Christmas he was informed that the Smuts Government had commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.  “How can I hang the son of such a courageous Boer warrior?”  Smuts had asked.    In gaol he often resisted authority. Once he had to be removed from his cell by being incapacitated by tear gas.  When Dr Malan’s party won the 1948 election, Leibbrandt was released.

He lived in Hermanus not long after his release, staying in Magnolia street – several residents knew him in those years.  He helped Kaiser de Kock with boxing lessons.  Boetie de Villiers told me how Robey liked to visit them and enjoyed his mother’s fresh home baked bread.  Douglas McFarlane of Fynbos Park knew Leibbrandt well socially and while they trained as policemen in Pretoria.  He remembers that Robey was a health fanatic and used to sleep on the floor.

Not much was heard of the Rebel leader afterwards.  He tried his hand at business ventures in various small towns, failing to gain significant support for an Anti-Communist Front.  He died in obscurity at Ladybrand of a heart attack in 1966.

Story and copyright: S.J. du Toit

Categories: Hermanus, Hermanus Historical | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Who built and repaired boats in those early years?

Hermanus Fishing boatsWho built and repaired boats in those early years in Hermanus?  You may also ask this question.  John Louis built the harbour house (today the Burgundy Restaurant) and set up boat-building business in the latter part of 1870’s.  John came from Sweden and jumped ship, from a  “Windjammer” where he was employed as shipswright.  He soon became part of the small fishing community and met up with young widow Martha Wessels.  Unfortunately they could not marry as her husband who deserted her years before could not be confirmed dead.

John became known as Sweed Wessels.  He built a second house where Martha and her three daughters lived.  They were happy and her children accepted him as father and the grandchildren called him Oupa.  Coena Haman of Cafe Royal was one of Louis’s grandchildren.

In 1902 a friend, Mr Overbeek presented Sweed with a small cypress tree and the six year old Coenie helped to plant the tree.  It was the same cypress tree that gave the name to the Cypress Tree Tea Garden and when Ethel Rubery bought the cottage in 1928 and turned it into a restaurant.

John was also a keen fishermen and owned two boats – Morning Star and Mabel.  He served in the town council but died at an early age of fifty three.  According to Coena Haman, his son Hennie Wessels carried on building and  mending boats at harbour house but later moved to Westdene.  Martha  moved in with her daughter, married to Lewies Poppies Swart, in the house where the library stands.

The monument left by Sweed Wessels is now the Burgundy, formerly known as The Cypress Tree Tea Garden, and is also a National Monument.

Story and information:  S.J. du Toit                   Photos:  Jeanette du Toit and the Old Harbour Museum

Categories: Hermanus, Hermanus Historical | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hermanus Old Harbour Open Air Museum

old fishing boats

Hermanus Old Harbour Museum

The Old Harbour Open-Air Museum is a provincial heritage site. It is unique in that apparently it is one of only two fishing harbours in the world that has been conserved in tact. Remnants of the vibrant fishing industry are seen everywhere. It is the axis around which the fishing village of Hermanus developed.

The stone and concrete harbour consist of a sea wall, a breakwater, a few historic fishing boats along concrete slopes, the turn stone, gutting tables, brine tanks, “bokkom” stands and reconstructed fishing shacks.

Information and photo:  Old Harbour Museum

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