Future of Stellenbosch at Stake with Rampant Urban Sprawl

To the valiant residents of Stellenbosch protesting against a residential development planned on the historic farm Libertas at the southern end of town, I’d like to recall the words Winston Churchill used when encouraging the Allies to kick Nazi butt out of France in WWII: “It is not just France we are fighting for, but Champagne.”

Sure, Churchill was a prodigious imbiber of Champagne. But what he was really alluding to being at stake in German-occupied France was not the product itself, but the culture of Champagne and – if one were to read between the lines – wine itself.

The aforementioned residential development on 55ha of farmland comprising 1 200 houses is adding to the disturbing urban sprawl that has become a feature of Stellenbosch over the past three decades. And what is at stake here is the region’s image and reputation as South Africa and one of the New World’s great wine addresses, an appellation on which the country’s very wine image is largely dependent.

Reasons for this are plentiful. There is a history of grape-growing going back to 1679, with the ensuing centuries of winemaking and culture creating a vinous legacy and provenance unrivalled by any New World wine region. This legacy is backed by formidable ranges of quality wines, a leading status as wine tourism destination and Stellenbosch being home to some of South Africa’s leading wine estates: Kanonkop, Meerlust, Alto, Rust en Vrede, Delheim, Jordan, Simonsig, Tokara…..where would you like to end?

All this reputation depends on the address “Stellenbosch” and the nature of its fabric spun from all the unique and diverse nuances around that which makes for a compelling and authentic wine address. Change the nature of this address and disappoint in the expectation thereof, and the magic is gone.

For what would France be without Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy – just another grape growing hinterland.

An old picture of Libertas farm in Stellenbosch.

Of course, sprawling residential and commercial developments are not new to Stellenbosch, being as ubiquitous as leaf-roll virus and immigrants from Gauteng. Municipal population has risen from 60 000 in 2001 to a current 200 000. It takes one drive up the Helderberg or Stellenbosch Valley to note the ugly expanse of white-walled villas and gleaming office-blocks where once the vines grew and the grapes ripened. Out on the northern side of town, the slopes buckle under the ever-increasing number of informal shack-dwellings, and these are to obviously increase as more people flock to Stellenbosch seeking work in the growing settled environs.

The current protests against the development of Libertas farm should thus be seen as a final line in the sand. Stellenbosch has reached its limit as far as further commercial and residential development is concerned and finds itself at a fork in the road. Cry havoc and cash-in on the willing payers for land and further sprawl. Or take the back road and re-look that upon which its actual prosperity rests, namely that status as the capital of the country’s wine industry which needs protecting at all costs and not just from Stellenbosch residents.   

It might not be Champagne, yet, but Stellenbosch is worth fighting for.

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3 thoughts on “Future of Stellenbosch at Stake with Rampant Urban Sprawl

  1. Where must the child that
    – Was born in Mediclinic Die Boord
    – Played at Kralien and Kandas
    – Schooled at Eikestad and Paul Roos/Bloemhof
    – Educated at Stellenbosch University

    Live one day?

    Or maybe such a child is not Stellenbosch enough and must leave the town come his/her 21st birthday.

  2. I grew up on farm Tweespruit. That too has partly become an estate. Sad to see a lot of the farms being developed for residential use. I can understand that some of the farmers must struggle to survive in these tough times and need to find other ways to sustain themselves. My dad also had a business in town, otherwise he would have had to sell very early after purchasing.

    I hope you don’t mind if I post this write-up on the Facebook page- Stellenbosch Down Memory Lane- as someone mentioned this.


    Shane Waldeck

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