The objective behind the City’s Heritage Management initiative to restore heritage buildings and to construct a new Visitor’s Centre in Mamre was to boost tourism interest in the area. The spin-offs included a way to alleviate poverty and promote self-sufficiency in the community through skills transfer programmes. But it also involved rekindling traditional construction skills, mud-brick making, harvesting of alien trees and revival of the craft of thatching for social and economic development.

According to the Ossie Asmal, director: environmental resource management department, City of Cape Town, since the completion of the Visitor’s Centre, many of the local contractors have found employment on the restoration works currently underway at the church werf (a Provincial Heritage site dating back to the 18thcentury) under the supervision of Cape Town-based architect and heritage consultant Graham Jacobs.

According to Andy Horn, architect of the Visitor’s Centre, some of the team member have also used their new skills to restore the thatch on one of the few remaining intact historic dwellings in the village. “The restoration of the Mamre Mill and the ongoing restoration work on the historic church building demonstrates the way in which local communities can take charge of their future”, says Jacobs. The restoration work on the historic church building is run by the Mamre Restoration Group (MRG), an empowerment skills development initiative for locals. Jacobs says that he “believes that projects like these are the only way of making heritage and sustainable development both relevant and effective at grass roots level”.

The City of Cape Town’s Environmental Resource Management Department (ERMD) has developed guidelines for Mamre to ensure sensitive design solutions for new developments in the proposed Urban Conservation Area as well as sensitive alterations to historic fabric and although a more sensitive approach to new work in the proposed Urban Conservation Area has been seen, this is an ongoing debate and will continue to be so until the Urban Conservation Area can be formalised which will allow the City stricter measures in terms of legislation. Currently only buildings older than 60 years have general protection under the National Heritage Resources Act.

See the full feature in the October/November 2011 issue on p62.