The Ghosts of Roeland Street

Roeland Street is situated in the exciting East City Precinct of Cape Town. The East District is home to Roeland, Buitenkant, Darling, Canterbury and Harrington streets. It is one of the major design hubs of the city. The street teems with innovation, creativity and life. It is steeped in history, as well as tragedy.

Roeland Street is the main artery of the exciting East District of Cape Town, the long stretch of road intersects Buitenkant, Canterbury and Harrington streets and is a thoroughfare to the South African seat of government, the parliament. The late Nelson Mandela was the last president to use the Roeland St. entrance, until this year when President Cyril Ramaphosa allowed the road to serve as his tarmac carpet for the grandest political event of the year — his first speech as leader of South Africa — the State of the Nation Address.

Ramaphosa’s new dawn continues to draw parallels with the past, as does this street and the district it forms part of, which teems with life, creativity, innovation and is steeped in history, as well as tragedy.

Roeland Street Prison/Archives

The high, rugged stone perimeter wall of the Western Cape Archives is reminiscent of fortresses of yesteryear but it was not built to defend, or keep people out. In fact, its purpose was quite the opposite. Today, the outer wall and main entrance of the Archives are all that is left of the Roeland Street Prison. The construction of the prison was completed in 1859 and naturally it was the setting of more than a few interesting stories during its time.

Ominous: Roeland Street Prison’s Main Entrance

The International Flu Epidemic of 1918 hit the prison and struck down prisoners and wardens without impunity. To cope during this trying time, the prison was turned into an auxiliary hospital. Prisoners were cured and saved from their deathbeds, unfortunately, for some, the cure merely saved them for the gallows.

The first execution at the prison took place in 1923 and the final one took place nine years later on 13 August 1932. A black flag was raised shortly after every execution. On these days crowds would gather to watch the flagpole.

No one had managed to escape from Roeland Street Prison until September 1946 when a hacksaw blade was used to cut through the bars of a second-storey cell. 11 men who were awaiting trial leapt to the freedom of a side-street on that day.

Roeland Street’s famous jail was deemed surplus to requirements after the construction of the more modern Pollsmoor Prison. The prison department vacated the building in 1970 and after years of limited use, it was demolished and replaced by the Archives.

Viglietti Motors/Scuderia House

Expensive: Viglietti Motors

Viglietti Motors (now known as Scuderia South Africa), the home of world renowned Italian car makers Ferrari, in Cape Town had its showroom next to the Cape University of Technology (CPUT) Roeland Street campus for many years before it was demolished in 2016. It was also the scene of a tragedy.

In 2014 a drunk driver crashed into the storefront of Viglietti Motors, unfortunately a forty year-old man was killed in the crash, he was one of four people sleeping in front of the store, which protected the homeless from the elements. The driver of the car was charged with culpable homicide.

There is a project being executed on the site vacated by Viglietti’s by the NMC Construction Groups’ Design and Construct team. The project which should be completed in early 2018 will be home to ‘Scuderia House’.

The building will consist of 6 parking levels (5 basement levels and 1 above ground) and 7 floors of commercial space which is expected to be occupied by internet giant Amazon. Hopefully some of the parking space will be open to the public as there is a dire need for parking in the city

Deep: The Construction Site of Scuderia House

The Kimberly Hotel

Cape Town’s third oldest bar, the Kimberley Hotel, so named because it was the point of departure for the horse-drawn carriages making the trek to the diamond mines of Kimberley, the capital city of the Northern Cape. The hotel was established in 1895 and sits on the corner of Roeland and Buitenkant street.

The Kimberley Hotel (centre)

It is far from being a 5-star establishment but the pub and grill in the building, ‘Barney’s Bistro’ offers good food (I recommend the Chip Roll), drinks and accommodation all for a reasonable price.

It is filled with interesting people – backpackers, tourists and locals – and is highly favoured by students, because it offers them a 10 percent discount. In July 2013, a University of Cape Town (UCT) drama student celebrating her 21st birthday with friends and family, accidentally fell to her death. The girl had been sitting on the railing of the first floor balcony before she fell. Since the accident the Kimberley no longer allows patrons who are not renting a room onto the balcony.

Roeland Street has something for everyone and is well worth a visit. Come explore, delve into its creative spaces, enjoy the coffee, food and have your carpets cleaned.

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