Salt River’s street art and history with colourful Kate

Salt River’s street art and history with colourful Kate

Leading the way in a hot-pink jersey, Kate mirrored the vibrant colours splashed across the walls of this part residential and part industrial suburb, ten minutes drive east of the mother city.

Graffiti and street artists are making Salt River an open-air art gallery. Rainbow-coloured, black and white, political, endearing, geometrical, sobering, realistic, abstract, tiny and colossal.

As Petru Lotter’s long mural on Dryden Street Primary School reminds us of the area was the home to San hunter-gatherers and Khoi pastoralists. In 1510 they killed Portuguese seafarers, who were stealing their cattle and children for their voyage home.

Fast forward to the late 1650s and the Dutch East India Company. The first governor, Jan van Riebeeck, warns in his diaries of the hippos in this area where he came to fish and hunt. A small village develops on the river bank, looking quite Dutch with its windmills.

Its thanks to the late 19th century development that created Salt River as we know it. During the British era, Salt River became Cape Town’s first industrial area, along with adjacent Woodstock.

The British imprint is still evident in the Victorian terraced houses for the workers.  The street names hark from the UK, typically poets (eg Coleridge, Pope and Kipling), but also cities (eg London, Durham and Chatham). The big roads have the royal names – Victoria Road (Main Road) and Albert Road.

Apartheid unsurprisingly left its mark too. Salt River was declared for “Coloured” and “Indian” residents.  Some of the nearby District 6 residents move here before being forcibly removed.

The largest mural portrait in Cape Town is here. It is of Imam Haron, the Islamic religious leader and anti-apartheid activist who died in police custody. It was commissioned by Community House on Salt River Road and painted by local artist Rizah Potgieter a few years ago.

Expect more political murals on local legends by local artists in the area thanks to the Salt River heritage society; they have already three.

I couldn’t believe that I, a Capetonian, had never ventured into the area before. Walking through the streets, one can really appreciate the how the intricate layers of history have converged to produce what is today a vibrant community. I’ll be back!

Annabel Moore

Post grad student and Culture Connect volunteer