SOUTH AFRICAN WAR PRISONERS and AFRICAN PENGUINS? Dr Dawn Gould

On the surface there is no obvious connection between these two subjects yet there are details which show mankind up in a poor light.   Being a prisoner of war was an ugly situation to find oneself as, at times, were the inhuman way in which the penguins were treated as they began settling in along a part of the Simon’s Town coast.

 

Italian Prisoner of War WC Archieves

At the beginning of the 20th century there was an area called Bellevue near the sea just outside the town of  Simon’s Town.  As the South African War 1899-1902 (also known as the Anglo Boer War) proceeded captured prisoners had to be placed somewhere.  Bellevue became one of the Prisoner of War Camps on the Cape Peninsula.  There was another camp at Green Point, Cape Town. Far from home and family the camp must have been a place of hatred, despair, sadness and mental pain.

 

 

As the War continued some of the men sent to Simon’s Town were at first placed aboard a ship in the Bay. Then with the Bellevue area organised a new landscape appeared. Army tents were used for eating and sleeping.  Eight men lived in each tent which had wooden floors and were divided into four sections.   There were cook houses and ablution blocks.   Meals were cooked on primus stoves and food eaten in the tents.  The wounded were sent to the Palace Hospital. Later forty seven men would be buried in Simon’s Town Old Cemetery.

There were guards and other officials about the Camp and permission was gained for the prisoners to sell whatever they made from any material that could be found.  In this way they managed to gain some pocket money. Post, if there was any, was delivered after having been gone through by various officials.  Eventually as the war came to an end the prisoners began, in late June 1902, to leave the camp. The area itself was closed in 1903 and  in time became a part of a golf course.

In 1983 African penguins (sometimes still called jackasses) were suddenly reaching False Bay from Dyer Island, near Gansbaai. The coastal land where they chose to settle was just a short way from the above  former prisoner of war camp.  At the time of the birds arrival the sea offered plenty to eat but as time passed commercial fishing, marine pollution, habitat destruction began to have an effect on the now settled colony.  Every so often too human aggression against the penguins would be reported.  Still these attractive birds kept raising their young and attracting much local and tourist attention so close to nature.

The Boulders offers the birds a certain amount of beach shelters as the area is made of inlets between the large granite boulders.  Recently artificial nesting boxes have appeared in the hope of offering the birds and their eggs greater safety.  Still one gathers that there are perhaps too many humans around at the breeding sites.  Today the penguin area is protected by Cape Nature Conservation.