|This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2011)|
Swellendam with the Clock Peaks (1710m) of the Langeberg in the background
|• Total||58.14 km2 (22.45 sq mi)|
|• Density||300/km2 (780/sq mi)|
|Racial makeup (2011)|
|• Black African||15.4%|
|First languages (2011)|
|Postal code (street)||6740|
Swellendam is the third oldest town in the Republic of South Africa, a town with 17,537 inhabitants situated in the Western Cape province. The town has over 50 provincial heritage sites most of them buildings of Cape Dutch architecture. Swellendam is situated on the N2, approximately 220 km from both Cape Town and George.
Early travellers and explorers who visited the Cape in the 16th century traded with the Khoikhoi people who lived on these shores and in the interior. When the Dutch East India Company established a replenishment station at the Cape in 1652, trade continued inland as far as Swellendam.
In 1743 Swellendam was declared a magisterial district, the fourth oldest in South Africa, and was named after Governor Hendrik Swellengrebel, the first South African born Governor, and his wife, Helena Ten Damme. This outlying settlement soon became a gateway to the interior, and was visited by many famous explorers and travellers including François Le Vaillant (1781), Lady Anne Barnard (1798), William John Burchell (1815) and Thomas William Bowler (1860). In time, a village was established beyond the Drostdy, where artisans including numerous wainwrights and traders settled. Swellendam was the last outpost of Dutch civilisation on the eastern frontier and thus the services of the residents of the town were of utmost importance.
By 1795 maladministration and inadequacies of the Dutch East India Company caused the long-suffering burghers of Swellendam to revolt, and on 17 June 1795 they declared themselves a Republic. Hermanus Steyn was appointed as President of the Republic of Swellendam. The burghers of Swellendam started to call themselves "national burghers" – after the style of the French Revolution. But the Republic was short-lived due to the occupation of the Cape by the Kingdom of Great Britain. With the arrival of British settlers in the early 19th century the Overberg boomed, and Swellendam was soon the heart of the mercantile empire of Barry and Nephews, created by Joseph Barry, which dominated trade in the area up until 1870. The Breede River is the only navigable river in South Africa and ships sailed 35km up river to Malgas to unload and load merchandise.
By the middle of the 19th century, the eastern districts had been colonised by the British settlers and Swellendam was a thriving metropolis. The town served as a useful refreshment station on the long, slow journey up the coast. Today Swellendam is a flourishing agricultural area, and has many attractive and historic buildings which serve as a reminder of its past. The first known sketch of Swellendam was of the Drostdy, by Johannes Schumacher in 1776, when he accompanied the son of Governor Swellengrebel to the town. Today the Drostdy forms part of a museum complex that consist of several heritage sites, namely the Drostdy, the old Goal and Mayville.
In June 2011, the Swellendam Municipality area, which includes Barrydale, Suurbraak, Malgas, Infanta and Stormsvlei, re-declared itself a Republic. This republic is dedicated to the principles of the New South Africa, and celebrates rural life, racial harmony, respect for nature and wildlife, and aims to promote sustainability and an "unplugged" way of life for all to enjoy.
Famous pioneer families of Swellendam
Some of the well known families that settled in the region and have stayed for decades are the Barry family, the Moodies from Scotland, the Steyns, the Streicher family, the van Eedens, the Rothmanns, the Tomlinson and the Dunn family
The region has a predominantly Mediterranean climate. There are long summer days in January and February. During February and March, summer draws to a close, with prevailing South Easter winds. April and May are autumnal months, with milder days and occasional showers. June and July bring the Cape winter, with mild weather, rain and possible snow on the mountain tops. August and September are the start of spring.
Fauna and flora
Three nature reserves are situated near Swellendam, Marloth Nature Reserve, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve and Bontebok National Park. Bontebok National Park is where the rare bontebok was protected when it was close to extinction. The population has increased from 17 individuals in 1931 to a sustainable number today.
The area is home to many wild flowers and fynbos. The 250ha indigenous forest at Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve|Grootvadersbosch is the most noteworthy in the southwestern Cape. Woods like these are rare to find in the Cape this far west of the Knysna forests.
Wildlife such as the formerly endangered bontebok and Cape mountain zebra inhabit the area. Other species include bushbuck, klipspringer, grey rhebuck, Cape grysbok, baboon, mongoose, genet and the occasional leopard, as well as a species of ghost frog and a unique forest emperor butterfly. Over 200 bird species found near the town include waterfowl, the crowned eagle, black eagle, Narina trogon, paradise flycatcher and the Knysna woodpecker.
Witsand, a small coastal town about 50 km from Swellendam is one of the best whale viewing spots on the South coast as it is the largest whale nursery in South Africa. The town is situated at the foot of the Langeberg, and there are many hiking trails, ranging from day-walks to a 5 to 7-day trail.
Building of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in Swellendam
- "Chronological order of town establishment in South Africa based on Floyd (1960:20–26)" (PDF). pp. xlv–lii.
- "Main Place Swellendam". Census 2011.
- "The Swellendam Republic accepts British rule". South African History Online. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
- Rosenthal, Eric. 1978. Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa. Cape Town and Johannesburg: Juta and Company Limited
- van der Walt, J.M.; L.H. Nel; A.R. Hoelzel (2001). "Characterization of major histocompatibility complex DRB diversity in the endemic South African antelope Damaliscus pygargus: a comparison in two subspecies with different demographic histories". Molecular Ecology (Blackwell Science) 10 (7): 1679–1688. doi:10.1046/j.0962-1083.2001.01321.x. PMID 11472536.
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