Who are we?
We are a close community of around 120 families from surrounding areas, as well as ex Protea villagers (see history below) who formed the roots of Good Shepherd-Protea. We are always pleased to welcome visitors to our beautiful little church.
History of the Chapelry
Most people in Cape Town, as well as visitors from around the world, will have seen the little stone church across the road from the main gate of Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden; perhaps a few will even have ventured inside. The Church of the Good Shepherd-Protea, blessed with beautiful surroundings, stands on the grounds of a former farm called Protea.
Protea farm, originally called Bosch Heuvel, was originally granted to Jan van Riebeeck, and stretched from the Liesbeeck River to Wynberg Hill. Although he built a house on it, he never lived there as the house burnt down soon after its completion. Later the farm was bought by Honoratus Maynier, who renamed it Protea.
When the slaves were released in 1834, they were allowed to establish a settlement on the farm as long as they continued to work for the landlord, and so Protea Village was established. The farm was then bought by Sir Lowry Cole, the British Governor of the Cape, and in 1848, when Bishop Robert Gray arrived in the Cape, he rented the farm.
In 1851, Miss Burdett-Coutts, a great Victorian philanthropist, purchased the farm for the Bishop for the princely sum of £4000, and renamed it Bishopscourt. Bishop Gray established a school, held prayer services and exercised pastoral care for the 83 villagers.
A church is born
In due course, the villagers asked the Bishop if they could build a church on the farm and so The Good Shepherd (so named by the Bishop Gray in 1865) was built by the villagers, and opened by Bishop Gray in 1864.
Outgrowing the chapel
By 1881, the chapel was too small for the congregation, and it was decided to build a larger church 50 metres north of where the original chapel stood. The people of Protea Village collected the Table Mountain sandstone and provided the labour. The rebuilt church was opened in 1886 by Archbishop West Jones after a great procession from Bishopscourt.
Stained glass window
In the early 1890’s, Archbishop West Jones’ niece, Alice Allen, came to Africa to work as a missionary in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). After contracting malaria she returned to Bishopscourt where she died in 1897 and was buried in the graveyard of the church. The Archbishop donated the stained glass windows installed behind the altar in her memory.
Outgrown once again…
By 1903 the church was again proving to be too small. A new north wall was built and the church widened by two metres.
In 1913 Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden was established and three stone cottages – still standing today – were built opposite the church to house members of the community who were employed as staff. In the first half of the 20th century, the farms in the area were gradually taken over for housing, and the need for farm labour reduced. This forced the inhabitants to seek other employment and most of the men became fishermen, going to sea on the trawlers operating out of Table Bay.
1964 Group Areas Act, evictions and heartache
The community’s darkest hour came in 1964. The area was declared White under the infamous Group Areas Act and almost overnight the community was removed to the Cape Flats, their houses torn down and their belongings trucked out with them to the new areas. Returning fishermen found, to their great shock, a wasteland where their homes had once stood; their families gone – they did not know where to, and the church closed.
But their faith kept them strong
Through this upheaval and heartache their faith remained strong, and on the community’s insistence, the church was re-opened for services on the last Sunday of every month. Former villagers travelled from all over the Cape Flats to attend these services. At first this involved a train journey, followed by a long walk from Claremont. However in 1969, Professor Brian Rycroft of Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden provided transport from the station. More recently, a taxi service, paid for by the church, has been arranged.
The church was fully reopened in 1978 in a service conducted by Revd. Ian Eve. He returned to Good Shepherd-Protea in 2003 to celebrate the joyous 25th anniversary of the re-opening of the church.
Rebuilding the church
In 2008, not just because the congregation was growing, but also to preserve the structure, the church needed to be rebuilt and expanded. The roof beams had to be replaced, a closed porch added and the vestry increased in size. An intense fundraising campaign to raise R3 million proved successful, thanks not only to many members of the congregation, but also to other families in the area such that, in early 2010, the restoration programme was completed.
Archbishops and Good Shepherd-Protea
Good Shepherd-Protea is the closest church to the home of the Archbishops (in recent times, Desmond Tutu, Njongonkulu Ndungane and Thabo Makgoba) all of whom have been known to slip into services quietly.
End of Group Areas Act and return of Protea Village land
Although the Group Areas Act fell away in 1994, it was to be another 11 long years of struggle before, on Heritage Day 2006, 86 of the original Protea Village families were granted the land back, 40 years after their forced removal. There is now on-going discussion on how best to re-settle the community.
Aunty Frances and family
Every church’s greatest treasure is its people, and ours is no exception. No history of Good Shepherd-Protea would be complete without mention of Aunty Frances, known to many as Hatta (Frances van Gussling). Aunty Frances lovingly washed and ironed the church linen and made tea since the early years of Good Shepherd-Protea; tasks which are still performed by her family to this day. She was one month short of 99 years old when she died on 4th January, 2008. She is buried in the church graveyard.