Iziko Orientation Centre at Groot Constantia
This exhibition covers various aspects of the estate, past and present. Panels with aerial views of the farm explain the Constantia Valley and layout of the farm. This is enhanced with a scale model of the Groot Constantia estate.
There are panel displays of the Khoe-San people, the first inhabitants of the Cape, and a fascinating and informative timeline inter-relating information on Groot Constantia with South Africa. There are also panels on the botany of Constantia Valley and the famous oak trees on the farm. The importance of wine farming in the early Cape economy and the role of Groot Constantia as the earliest wine farm in South Africa is traced.
A particular focus of the exhibition is rural slavery and the basis it provided for wine farming at the Cape. For the very first time there is an attempt to trace the lives of Groot Constantia’s slave men and women. The challenge in trying to discern the voices of individual slaves at the Cape is that the historical record is largely lacking. As members of the working classes of the Colony at that time, their specific histories were not documented. Instead, the presence of slaves at Groot Constantia, as elsewhere on Cape farms, is refracted through lists of slave owners’ possessions, estate transfer documents and court cases. The new exhibition includes slaves’ work on the farm - from labourer to cellar master to musician – their places of origin, many of their names and their medical treatment. Reference is made to a planned slave escape of 1712 when some 23 slaves led by an Eastern exile priest, Santrij from Java, gathered at Groot Constantia where Santrij lived. A visual highlight is a late 18th century drawing of a slave depicted with Groot Constantia’s owner, Hendrik Cloete senior. The slave, who may be the owner’s personal attendant, and named only Jacob in the historical record, supports Cloete’s long clay pipe – a depiction indicative of the indulgence demanded by slave owners at the time. For more information about the slave history of Groot Constantia, visit the Heritage of Slavery in South Africa website.
Other panels deal with the farm’s owners and the famous ‘Vin de Constance’. Noted here is that Napoleon was supplied with Constantia wine while in exile on St Helena and that King Louis Philippe of France and Frederick the Great of Prussia ordered quantities of Constantia wine. There are further panels on the architectural development of the farm over the 300 years of its existence. Alfred de Pass, benefactor of the Groot Constantia house museum, whose donation of furnishings and decorative arts, forms the nucleus of the exhibition in the house, is also commemorated.
Thijs van der Merwe
Tel: 021 464 1261