June 18th, 2011 — Viva the Republic!


As the sky lanterns drifted perilously near the thatched roof of the Drostdy Museum, the Revolution of Swellendam looked like it may begin with the sort of conflagration that would hit International Press, as some of the oldest buildings in South Africa were in danger of burning down in dramatic fashion.  But the wind lifted them gently and they skimmed the roof, and the audience breathed a collective sigh of relief as they floated delicately into the cool autumn evening sky.

Citizens of the Greater Republic of Swellendam had gathered outside the beautiful building to listen to the Proclamation and Exhortation to the Citizens, which re-declared the Greater Swellendam area as a Republic, exactly 216 years after the first declaration. It had been a wonderful day, which had celebrated all that it is good about country life and living in South Africa.

In the new shopping mall, opened only 20 days previously, young people from the community performed: the Barrydale “Blikkies Band” featured amazing drumming gymnastics on their recycled paint tins, and also demonstrated their talents as ‘riel dansers’,  two groups of young dancers from Railton, the local township, sang and performed traditional cultural acts, and the Psyclonics, an award winning hip hop group were stunning in their home choreographed act. A group of local musicians formed a band for the day “The Republicans” – and they were so good that it is unlikely that they will be just a one day wonder.

Under the oaks at The Old Gaol Restaurant on Church Square, with its fine views of the dramatic Moederkerk, an old fashioned kermis took place – traditional roosterkoek were baked over the coals, there were arts and crafts, home made sweets, cakes and fresh produce, buskers – the trees were wrapped in colourful Republic colours, and the atmosphere was one of family, fun and friendship.

But the final and most splendid part of the day was reserved for the evening, when, as the sun set in glorious fashion behind the Langeberg Mountains, which form the backdrop to this most unpretentiously beautiful country town, the Curator of the Drostdy Museum, Johan Kriek, stepped forward in full costume to read the Proclamation of the Republic of Greater Swellendam.

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, Johan Kriek, Curator of the most revered Museum of the Drostdy, of the Municipality of Greater Swellendam,  representing Bountiful Barrydale, Beautiful Buffeljags, Incredible Infanta,Magnificent Malgas, Splendid Stormsvlei, Stunning Suurbraak, and Superlative Swellendam, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Greater Swellendam Tourism Organisation  and the laws of the Republic of South Africa, do hereby proclaim that on this day, June 18th 2011, 216 years after the original declaration, The Greater Swellendam area has once again become a Republic.   From henceforth every June 18th will be declared Republic Day, a day of fun, frivolity and balloons, and I call upon children, families, educators, librarians, public officials, farmers, fairy godmothers, musicians, and all the people of the New Republic to henceforth observe this day with appropriate celebrations, ceremonies, dancing, and joyousness.”

Fuelled by gorgeous youngberry liqueurs from Wildebraam Berry Estate, the newly fledged Citizens arose and enthusiastically repeated the Exhortations.  Cannons were fired, champagne corks were popped and a new era was ushered in.

Arise, then, citizens of the Republic of Greater Swellendam

Arise, all those of you who love, protect and believe in the power of peace and love and new shopping malls !

Say firmly:
‘Our sons and daughters shall continue to wage war and achieve victory on the fields of tou trek

Our berries and birds and bonteboks will stand firm in the forefront of uniqueness

Our history and heritage will not bow down under the yoke of commercialism and five rand shops

We will celebrate our eccentricities and strange ways and embrace and welcome all those who sojourn in our land

We will offer a magnificent place of feasting, soft places to rest weary heads, and service on a golden platter to all those who come with their English pounds, American dollars and Euros

We will promise to maintain and preserve the beautiful land with which we have been endowed, respecting the animals and birds with which we share it. “

Arise all citizens of the Greater Republic of Swellendam and Go forth and have fun!

Brainchild of the Greater Swellendam Tourism Organisation, who have been working to find a way to unite the seven towns which comprise the Swellendam Area, and to create an awareness of the variety and richness of the area which will equal many of the other better known destinations, the launch of the Republic is the beginning of a mission to establish the area as one which celebrates country life, simplicity, good food, home comforts, friendship, outdoor adventure, hospitality at its best and unparalleled service.  “Unplugged” is the word which perhaps best describes the thinking behind this – already the area is well known for its Unplugged Festival in February, and Joubert Tradauw wine farm in Barrydale has one of the best wine labels in South Africa – Unplugged 62.

An Ambassador scheme was announced at the evening: this scheme is designed to encourage local people to learn more about their area and to be able to help passing tourists and visitors with service and information. More schemes are in the planning stages, for example a passport and border control are being created.

Hout Bay had success in declaring itself a republic some years ago, but what Swellendam has that Hout Bay hadn’t is the fact that Swellendam has a historical precedent.

Swellendam’s New Republic has a mission and an aim: it is a “A Republic of community, unity, love, art, music, good food, and beauty. A Republic in which people show that they care about one another and about the environment in which they live, that they treasure wildlife and nature. A Republic which draws together the towns and villages that make up the Greater Swellendam Area – Barrydale, Buffeljachts, Infanta, Malgas, Stormsvlei, Suurbrak and Swellendam”

By Amanda Shackley of Impangele in Swellendam


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