Eastern Blvd, which cuts through Ward 57, renamed Nelson Mandela Blvd by Mayor De Lille

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Jul 15, 2011 No Comments ›› Brett Herron

On Friday 15th July 2011, Mayor De Lille officially renamed the Eastern Boulevard to Nelson Mandela Boulevard. The timing of the renaming coincides with the weekend when the world celebrates the former President, culminating in Mandela Day on Monday 18 JUly 2011.

Cllr Brett Herron, Mayoral Committee Member for Transport, Roads & Stormwater and the ward councillor for Ward 57, made the following speech on the occasion and assisted the Mayor in cutting the ceremonial ribbon.

On behalf of the City of Cape Town it is my great pleasure to welcome you here this morning on the occasion of the re-naming of the Eastern Boulevard to Nelson Mandela Boulevard.

I returned last night from the South Africa Transport Conference which took place in Tshwane this week, where quite coincidentally and fortuitously for me, a very interesting paper entitled “Building the Foreshore Freeways: The politics of a freeway artefact” was presented by Lisa Kane of the Centre for Transport Studies at UCT. I learnt a lot about the history of the Eastern Boulevard, a major road I live very close to, travel on every-day and, like many people I am sure, have not given much thought to.

This road’s history; which as Ms Kane pointed out is a story influenced by tensions between levels of government, between modes of transport, across professional boundaries and by the inevitable South African politics of race. It’s a very long story, but I will share some of the highlights.

The story of the Eastern Boulevard dates back to 1940 when the City Engineer and the Town Planner sent a telegram to Paris to Monsieur Beaudouin, who was the Chief Architect to the Government of France, requesting that he travel to Cape Town to provide planning advice on how best to use the 480 acres of land, we now know as the Foreshore, between the existing City and the sea.

He travelled for three months to get here and put together a Parisian inspired scheme with straight, wide boulevards stretching east and west designed to ensure that the approach to Cape Town by sea would be most impressive – with vistas in all directions. This is most certainly why we have two roads, that look nothing like a Parisian boulevard and are really freeways, being called Boulevards. Beaudouin’s plan became the City Council’s preferred scheme and really the start of professional and political tensions since the Railway Administration, who were co-beneficiaries of the land, were not happy with the council’s plan and commissioned their own scheme. Protracted tensions were further complicated when in 1944 the National Government was lobbied to intervene and so a Foreshore Investigation Committee was established.

By 1949 the tensions between the players had still not been resolved when Solly Morris was appointed City Engineer, at the young age of 37, and by 1951, eleven years later, Solly and his team had developed their own ideas which proposed relocating the Eastern & Western Boulevards and adding a ring road (which ultimately became De Waal Drive) to the plan.

This new plan called the “Metropolis of Tomorrow” replaced the grand boulevards and vistas with a plan for a modern city, emphasising speed, economy and overcoming congestion.

The controversy continued however, and in 1956 the Provincial government established another committee to specifically focus on the location of the Eastern Boulevard. This did nothing to resolve the disagreements and the Province ultimately threatened the funding of the project and declared the Eastern Boulevard, which would cut through what they called the “slum” of District 6, a fait accompli.

Solly Morris remained opposed to the location and in particular to the impact on District 6; but the National and Provincial governments eventually insisted and the Eastern Boulevard has the “dubious distinction of being the cause of the first large scale demolitions in District 6 starting in 1960”.

Today our mayor will re-name this Boulevard to honour former president Nelson Mandela. Having learnt some of the history of this road, which was at the centre of political and professional power struggles, and which ultimately physically divided the once vibrant community of District 6 and also inflicted the pain of demolition on this community, it is even more clear to me that the re-naming to Nelson Mandela Boulevard could not be more fitting. Mr Mandela has many attributes we should celebrate, but he is certainly the world’s most iconic figure for reconciliation and today we make a profound gesture towards furthering our commitment to reconciliation and inclusion.

Welcome, and thank you.

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