The inside story of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront

1985 Pierhead Festival

There are many stories that won’t make it into the book and there is one that I would like to share here. It’s about the Pierhead Festival. Just before Christmas 1984, I invited David Jack and Muller Coetzee (Fisheries Development Corporation) to lunch at one of my favourite restaurants, Rozenhof in Kloof Street.

We had all worked on the Waterfront Steering Committee since 1979 and the drive to see the restoration and redevelopment of the Waterfront was almost moribund. Government had other priorities. Then, as coffee came, I suggested holding a festival at the Pier Head to generate public demand for access to the area. It was a long shot — SA Transport Services were more than likely to turn it down. Dave and Muller agreed it was a good idea worth pursuing. I used the Christmas break to come up with a plan.

Pierhead Festival 1985
Pierhead Festival Easter 1985: A festival where the primary goal was to gain public support for the development of the Docks as a public asset. Since 1966 and the Suez Crisis, the Docks had been closed to the public unless you were visiting Royal Cape Yacht Club or the Harbour Cafe.

I’d forgotten what happened next until, researching for The Waterfront Story in the files from Gawie Fagan Architects, I came across the minutes of a meeting I had chaired at the Civic Centre on 18 January 1985. I vaguely remember a meeting but had no idea that minutes had been taken. The fact that Gawie hadn’t been at the meeting shows how good his intelligence was!

The meeting was attended by all the tenants of the Pier Head area — because their agreement was critical, as well as representatives from I&J (including CEO Charles Atkins), Peter de Tolly (Deputy City Planner) and others. There was wide support and most discussion revolved around getting agreement from SATS’ Bertie Heckroodt.

We used the Mayor’s office and Mayor Sol Kreiner to get permission and I do remember that we ended up with two months to organise a festival… with no funding.

I quickly organised a Festival Committee to give us some legitimacy and asked Harold Gorvy to chair it — he was the senior partner at Arthur Anderson and served on many boards as a director. Most importantly, he was a director of Pick n Pay… and I needed their support. I needed Pick n Pay Catering to recreate the Tavern of the Seas which had been so popular at all the Cape to Rio yacht races and I needed PnP to sponsor a “wraparound” on the Cape Times — providing unprecedented publicity on the day the Festival opened.

Harold set up a meeting for me with Raymond Ackerman, who was sold on the idea and took me down to meet Nick Badminton, then the regional manager… and we were in business!

The Festival ran for 17 days. It opened on a Thursday, was closed for Good Friday, and run for three weekends and two full weeks. It was exhausting.

One of the funniest stories came on the first night. The very popular Cape Town band, Late Final, were on the bandstand. One of the band members went behind the stage to relieve himself at the quayside. As he stood there peeing into the water, he heard muffled cries for help. An inebriated festivalgoer had fallen into the water and was trying to clamber up the quay.

The second day, the Saturday attracted over 22,000 people and our lack of festival organising experience started to show. There was a small entry fee and arranging for small change wasn’t something we had catered for. We had no float! As the day wore on, we exhausted small change from all stalls and they were running out too.

Early Sunday morning we tried to come up with a plan. PnP couldn’t help. Thank goodness for telephone directories — we found that our bank manager’s home number was listed and we waited until 7am to call him … “We need cash! Can he open the bank?” Yes, we were naive. “Get some money ready for me, I’m on my way,” he said. He collected the money and dashed off, returning 30 minutes later with bags and bags of coins. We were saved! He had gone to City Tramways. Does one find bank managers like that today?

Bust by the Liquor Squad

The bar had been given to Diamond Liquors to run, because they had an established relationship with PnP Catering. I know nothing about liquor licences and trusted them to sort everything out. Those were the days when it was illegal to sell or serve liquor on Sundays, although special permits could be obtained. We sold liquor on Sundays… because what’s a meal or a festival without drink?

After the second Sunday the guy from Diamonds called me to say they had been visited by the liquor squad on Sunday and given a warning. He said I needed to do something. I said, “No ways!” I wouldn’t know where to start, he had to sort it out because we can’t have a “dry Sunday” for our last day. He called again on the Friday morning — “Had I organised it?” I went through the roof. But he said there was nothing he could do.

So I started phoning politicians, not that I knew many personally. It was the day of president PW Botha’s budget speech and all MPs were in parliament. Eventually I managed to speak to Dr Lapa Munnik, a former Administrator of the Cape Province and member of the Cabinet. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said. At about 3pm I had a call and a gruff voice asked, “Mr Momberg?” When I said it was, he said, “I’m from the Liquor Board. I’ve told the guys to take the weekend off.”

Sunday arrived and we cautiously opened the bar. The first people to arrive were Dr Lapa Munnik and his family. I started walking towards him when he waved and strode up to the bar, bought a bottle of wine, and proudly plonked it down on a table. Then he turned around with a broad smile to greet me. I thanked him. And then I went to PnP to tell them that the Munniks were our guests for the day.


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