History and Society
The CWCBR has an extremely rich prehistory with fossil finds indicating that this area has unrivalled potential from a palaeontological perspective. Fossils were first found on the Samancor site near Langebaanweg in the late 50's. When mining operations ceased the West Coast Fossil Park was created in 1996 and now operates in the abandoned works area. The Fossil Park is a joint venture between Billiton and the SA Museum. It is developing into a site for research, education and tourism. The site itself is extensive and covers over 700 hectares.
Fossils of a wide range of larger mammals have been discovered, including the Agriotherium africanum, an African Bear, the Hipparion, a three-toed horse, illustrated below. These finds have great scientific importance as it is the richest Pliocene vertebrate fossil deposit in Southern Africa.
The educational aspect at the West Coast Fossil Park provides a small fossil exhibit and on-site tours and enables visitors to experience a live fossil dig. The site is developing into a tourist attraction with additional attractions such as a mine museum, nature tours, horse tours and a picnic area.
The West Coast Fossil Park has international, national and local importance. It has unique attributes that suggest that it should become a central feature of the CWCBR.
Further west, at Kraal Bay on the Langebaan the fossilised footprints of a hominid were discovered in 1995. The footprints are dated as 117 000 years old and thus are representative of a group of the earliest anatomically modern humans.
The skull of an early hominid, now known as "Saldanha Man", was found on the farm Elandsfontein, near Hopefield.
Justice cannot be done to the fascinating history of the West Coast in a few lines. It is however a history divided between that of the San and Khoi peoples inland, for whom we unfortunately have few records, and that of the coastline as it became more colonised. The KhoiKhoi were settled in the area from 200 to 400 AD according to archaeological finds, and involved in herding, hunting and whale trapping. Human habitation of the area however stretched back to the middle stone age, as rock tools dating back 125 000 to 30 000 years attest.
Saldanha Bay was used for whaling from the 15th century (by the Basques). It was the site of a number of famous battles, including a sea battle between the Dutch and English in Saldanha Bay in 1791. The Bay was used continuously as a naval base and for fishing and guano collection (on Malgas Island) from the early nineteenth century.
At that date the beauty of the West Coast was highly appreciated, as a passage from the 1863 log of Captain Semmes of the Alabama (now mythologised in song) indicates;
"I looked forth, from the eminence on which I stood, upon a wild, desolate and yet picturesque scene. The ocean was slumbering in the distance, huge rocky precipices were around me, the newly risen sun was scattering the mists from the hills, and the only sign of life save the Alamaba at my feet, and the ox-team of a boer which was creeping along the beach, were the screams of the sea-fowl, as they whirled around me, and from time to time, plunged into the still waters in quest of their prey. A profusion of wild flowers, bloomed in little parterres among the rocks…" (Quoted in Burman & Levin)
Much of the West Coast culture focuses on the sea. A unique cuisine using Crayfish, Perlemoen (abalone) and dried fish developed in the small fishing villages. The latter is the Cape Bokkom, a salted dried Mullet that has been prepared for centuries.
There are a number of architectural gems on the west coast. These are simple buildings, such as the Geelbek farmhouse, the Yzerfontein municipal offices, and some original cottages in Paternoster. Of interest are the circular lime kilns, used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for lime production from mussel shells.
A newer, vibrant culture associated with the arts, and the wildflower season, is now centred in Darling.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC CHARACTERISTICS OF THE POPULATION
Some of the important socioeconomic characteristics of the CWCBR area are set out below:
- The predominant language in the CWCBR area is Afrikaans. In the Saldanha Bay Municipal area the first language of residents was 87% Afrikaans, 6% Xhosa and 4% English. (Saldanha Bay 2003)
- The average household size in the CWCBR in 2001 was is 3.65, with a range from 2.7 in Milnerton to 6.3 in Malmesbury.
- There are high levels of poverty and sharp inequalities in household incomes. In the Cape Peninsula in 1997 the average income per head of whites was R 30 700, while it was R 14 102 for coloured people and R 8.876 for Blacks. (Wesgro)
- Within the CWCBR in 2001 there was a huge range of average individual incomes, from R900 in Witsand to almost R12400 in Melkbosstrand.
- The official unemployment figure for the Western Cape Province, 18,4%, is substantially lower than that of most other parts of the country. The unemployment rate for Cape Town is 20%, but with a higher of 30% for black residents.
- The unemployment levels within the CWCBR range from 3% in the "rural" areas to 54% in Du Noon, with an average of 13% in 2001 – illustrated in figure below. This is lower than the 18.9% average for the Western cape Province as a whole. There is also a wide range of level of economic activity from 46% in Llinge Lethu to 81% in Witsand.
- Along the West Coast as a whole unemployment is 12.6% on average. The influx of migrant job seekers to the Vredenburg-Saldanha complex and the fishing industry (Bek and Taylor, 2001; McCarthy et al., 1998) has resulted in an increase in this figure.
- There is a sharp difference in unemployment levels, with Africans at 26% and whites at 4%.
- The average infant mortality rate of the Province is 29 per 1000 births. The HIV infection level of the province is 7.1%, about a third of the national average.
- Further details of the socio-economic profiles of the population are provided in a specialist study "Population Dynamics and Characteristics of the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve".