History

Mamre is on the West Coast about 50 km north of the Cape Town CBD, but still within the boundary of the City of Cape Town. Used by the VOC as a cattle outpost, the Dutch Governor of the Cape established it as a military outpost in 1701. The function of this outpost, which was then called Groenekloof was to protect the settlers’ livestock against indigenous groupings in the area who claimed the land that was occupied by the Dutch settlers. The Groenekloof cattle and military post survived until 1791, after which it was unoccupied by Europeans until 1808 when the British granted the right to establish a mission station to Moravian missionaries from Genadendal. Groenekloof was the second Moravian mission station in southern Africa and was renamed Mamre in 1854.

Freed slaves and Khoi groupings at Mamre

Mission records show that the approximately 700 people who sought permission to settle at Groenekloof between January 1839 and December 1852 were mostly former slaves. After the emancipation proclamation of 1834, slaves in the Cape were forced into a four-year apprenticeship which ended on 1 December 1838. On 2 December 1838, Groenekloof held a thanksgiving ceremony. Although slaves formed the majority of the newcomers at Mamre, the Moravians had originally focused on converting indigenous Khoi groupings. Even before freed slaves arrived at Mamre, there is strong evidence of close working and family relationships between free Khoi communities and slave apprentices who worked together on surrounding farms before they were emancipated.

A sketch of Groenekloof Mission Station by James Backhouse circa 1840. Source: Ludlow, 1992

Life on the mission station

The mission offered people of colour a different kind of life to private farms and the city. They were given the opportunity to learn a trade, become educated and farm on mission land. This generally meant more independence and better work than being a permanent farmworker. Some men still chose to work as seasonal farmworkers. At the mission, grain and livestock were predominantly farmed for local sustenance, with excess supply being sold at markets in Cape Town and Malmesbury, and the mission station controlling most profits. Families looking for better living conditions and resources made up 64% of those arriving at Groenekloof between 1839 and 1843. The mission provided a space where families that were broken up by the institution of slavery could re-connect and build a life together.

Today, in addition to its colourful history, Mamre also hosts the Mamre Wild Flower festival annually in September.

References

Ludlow, E. H. 1992. “Missions and Emancipation in the south Western Cape: A case study of Groenekloof (Mamre), 1838-185”. Unpublished Masters’ Thesis [University of Cape Town].

Beck, P. 2016. “A short history of Mamre’s Moravian Mission Station”. 4 September. The Heritage Portal.