Continuity and change in the cultural landscape of Table Mountain

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Table Mountain is an inherently physical and natural landscape that also holds deep cultural meaning, symbolism and value for generations of Capetonians, past and present. The first detailed accounts and artistic representations of Table Mountain come from the early European discoverers, sailors and colonists who travelled to the Cape. These visitors, prejudiced by imperial rhetoric, were polarised in their perceptions of the Mountain between those who viewed it as a heavenly paradise and others who considered it a hellish purgatory. When science and logic eventually subdued the myths and mysteries associated with the ‘Dark Continent’ of Africa the polarised conception of Table Mountain’s cultural landscape was transformed into one of savagery and opportunity. indeed, from the sixteenth to eighteenth century, Table Mountain was effectively a microcosm for European attitudes, assumptions and evaluations of Africa. In the 1990’s Table Mountain's cultural meaning is still divided between those who seek to conserve and preserve its natural and spiritual integrity and those who believe that utilising the Mountain’s landscape as a material asset is the best means for ensuring and justifying its survival. A post-modern perspective highlights the broad range of economic, spiritual, ecological and community based values the Mountain holds for Capetonians and South Africans in general. Set against this viewpoint, Table Mountain, under the structured management of South Africa National Parks, is increasingly becoming a modernist cultural landscape governed by principles of universality, order and control. The ideological clashes that arise from these contrasting interpretations of the Mountain result in the defining characteristic of Table Mountain’s cultural landscape in the 1990’s being one of conflict and reproach. Ultimately by marrying the local and nationalised concepts within the South African landscape tradition to the broader frameworks of landscape study in wider geography, this thesis formulates an eclectic approach to studying a deeply meaningful and complex cultural landscape.

Includes bibliographical references.