The word “fallow” means more or less the same than “braak” in Afrikaans:
“dormant or inactive”, “cultivated land that is allowed to lie idle during the growing season”, “left untilled or unsown after ploughing”
When Stellenbosch was established, the Braak lay on the western periphery of the town, a piece of open, unused land.
Within the first four years there were 40 families living in Stellenbosch, and buildings started filling the surrounding plots.
‘n Small agricultural community
There were two big attractions to living in the small Stellenbosch community, residents were exempt from paying tax for the first year, and landowners had full legal ownership of their land, which secured a home for their children and grandchildren.
This mentality was interesting because the Cape was not specifically a ‘colony’. In some respects it was only a military and administrative outpost, a distant place where few efforts were made towards permanent settlement outside the protection of the peninsula.
Die Braak becomes the town square
As the town developed, the Braak became the town square, as well as the place where the local guard (Burgerwag) practiced shooting and drilling (read about it here).
The Kruithuis was built and the diagonal Mark street developed (where local produce was traded). Later simple tenements were built for slaves in Herte street, testifying to the tragic history of slave practices here.
Today the Braak is geographically (and in a way culturally) ‘central’. It carries the footprints of all the people of Stellenbosch, the Rhenish missionaries, the slaves, the Hollanders; car guards, shopkeepers, wedding-goers and churchgoers and pupils going to the JP Olivier art school.
To read more about the P.J. Olivier art school (the old Rhenish building), located next to Die Braak, read our blog about Stellenbosch’s three red school buildings. You might also remember the Van der Stel Festival, which was held to commemorate Van der Stel’s birthday – read about it here.
‘nDromer is a young Stellenbosser who loves writing about the everyday things that often go unnoticed. She likes dusty books and seeing how the past isn’t always what it seems. She has written about Stellenbosch, it’s heritage and it’s people almost every week since 2015.
Article and main photo: Y Coetsee 2016
Sources: Stellenbosch Drie eeue (1979).
Harper Collins dictionary