Muizenberg, South Africa


Welcome to Muizenberg

South Africa's premier holiday resort

INTRODUCTION, by Beryl Baleson

With thanks to Beryl Baleson and Mervyn Rosenberg
Muizenberg is a well-known and well populated seaside resort on the Indian Ocean in the False Bay area of the Cape Peninsula. It developed from a small cattle outpost operated by the Dutch East India Company but assumed a more active role as a Military Post after 1743 when Simonstown became an official port. It is named after the soldier Muijs, who guarded the cattle outpost at the time.
Recreation and leisure living is enjoyed in one of the world's most beautiful bays with long white beaches and the warm Indian Ocean for safe bathing and surfing. Over the past 100 years it became a very popular holiday resort for the Jewish population of Southern Africa.
Between March 9, 2010 and June 11, 2010 a "Memories of Muizenberg" Exhibition was held at the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town where Dr. Mervyn Rosenberg, gave the opening speech hereunder.


Welcome to Muizenberg

South Africa's premier holiday resort

by Dr. Mervyn Rosenberg © 2010

It is the turn of the century, it is summer - it is the holiday season, Muizenberg at its best.
The village of Muizenberg is inundated with visitors from the Transvaal – the wealthy – the mining magnates – Cecil John Rhodes, Sammy Marks, Sir Abe Bailey, and the Oppenheimers to name but a few. All of them have built holiday "cottages". Actually, they are mansions – some of which have been designed by Sir Herbert Baker, who also spends his summers in Muizenberg. Bathing boxes have also been built on the beach front.
The men stroll and discuss business and the women sit on the beach dressed in the high fashions of the time. Children are playing at the waters edge, fishing and sailing toy boats on the vlei.
Olive Shreiner is also a regular visitor as is Rudyard Kipling the poet, who wrote a poem about Muizenberg ...

"White as the sand of Muizenberg

Spun before the Gale"

The locals in the village are going about their business. They need to sustain themselves for the off-season. Frikkie Auret is selling fresh fish – which has just been trekked. His wife runs the dairy, and on the Main Road near the railway station, is John Brown's General Dealer shop.
Many hotels have sprung up in the area - The Marine, The Park, and Farmer Pecks is now called The Grand Hotel. Farmer Pecks is a remnant of the past when Muizenberg was a half-way house to Simons Town.
We move to the 1920's. It is summer. Muizenberg has changed, it is no longer a little village but a growing town, albeit a suburb. It is the swinging 20s, the people now wear fashionable bathing costumes to the beach.
The old hotels are BUZZING and new hotels have sprung up. The big names – the Oppenheimers, the Schlesingers, Sir J.B. Robinson, etc., are still coming to Muizenberg to their holiday homes. Other dignitaries are staying at the new and very posh and modern Muizenberg hotels.
There is a wooden pavilion. There is plenty to do in Muizenberg, dances at night in the hotels, a bandstand next to the pavilion. Surfing has taken off – long 6ft wooden surfboards. Muizenberg is probably where surfing originated in South Africa. Muizenberg in spite of this huge growth and influx of people, has still retained its village atmosphere and character: the local inhabitants are a very close knit community.
The wooden pavilion built in 1911 was demolished in 1929. At the same time the new pavilion was completed. For a while both pavilions stood together, the wooden pavilion was closer to the mountain. The new pavilion was spectacular, an architectural masterpiece designed by Grant: a grand reception hall with seating for 900 people, restaurants, a milk bar. It had everything! A promenade that had been designed in such a way that together with the pavilion and the bathing boxes, a wind free beach was created – the Snakepit.
We move to the late Thirties, Forty's and Fifties – we move to MY MUIZENBERG. There has been a huge influx of Eastern European Jews, There are approximately 600 Jewish families. The local industry, schools and hotels are largely sustained by this community. A magnificent synagogue had been built in 1924, the synagogue is not big enough for the High festivals and summer holidays and an overflow is needed – The Talmud Torah Hall. Even then, there is very often only standing room.
The services are led by Rabbi Weinberg, Cantor Goldwasser, and the Reverend Frank. Who can ever forget Reverend Frank striding down to the beach in his striped dressing gown at six in the morning to swim. He continued to do this every day until he died, no matter what the weather. The Shamash is Mr. Brooks.
There is a Choir that practises every Tuesday night: the choir master is Bennie Galansky. Mrs Goldwasser gives us freshly baked sponge cake and Oros for Tea. Our remuneration for singing in the Shul Choir is one Guinea per year. The Cheder teachers are Mr and Mrs Smolensky and Miss Singer. There are 9 classes every afternoon, i.e. 3x3.
It is the 50s – the Snakepit is the beach for teenagers. Parents are supposed to go to the other beaches such as the Balmoral Beach.
It is in the Snakepit that we play touch rugby and bok bok. It is here that many romances start. Many of those romances have resulted in marriages. It is here that we meet the girls and boys from all over the country. Everyone is friendly and having fun. Everybody sits together no matter what the age.
The beach photographer is taking photographs for Movie Snaps. We are rubbing on Brylcream and olive oil for tanning. We are smoking Texan, Lucky Strike and State Express 555. We are making dates for a night out – to the bop floor – to the milky bar and the Vic Davis Show - to Norman’s Café and the Empire Bioscope – and a walk on the promenade – touching the end for good luck.
It is January and the wealthy holiday-makers are in Muizenberg. The butler, wearing his white jacket and red sash, arrives at the beach followed by an entourage of staff bearing platters filled with freshly fried fish or chicken, for the midday meal.
Leibke, the Yiddish speaking fruit vendor, is selling fruit – Leibke – Leibke. If you don't remember him, he will remember you and your family and who your girl or boyfriend was at the time. Leibke's mother was a domestic in a Jewish household in Muizenberg, he grew up speaking Yiddish before he could speak English or Afrikaans. He was as much a part of Jewish Muizenberg as the Rabbi. His actual name is Sidney, but he was renamed Leibke due to his stature as an honorary Jew. To this day he never fails to phone me on any of the Yom Tavim. His only regret, he said, is that he was not put into the Jewish old age home at Highlands House.
The Empire bioscope: the manager Mr. Philips always wore a tuxedo and black bow tie, whether it was a matinee, Saturday morning double feature or Saturday evening show. On Saturday nights we wore a jacket and a tie.
The Cafes - The Muizenberg of my day did not have restaurants but honest and unpretentious cafes. After bioscope, we would stop off at Norman's Café for a hotdog or hamburger. Between the Empire and Norman's café was the Maccabi Café, owned by Tex. The Maccabi café was the first cinema and was renowned for its pinball machines. It was the hangout for the local ducktails. The adults went to the Majestic Café.
Palmer Road was the business centre of Muizenberg. Mr Schneider was the kosher butcher in Palmer Road. The floor was covered in fresh sawdust. He was able to "Treibe" a hindquarter, i.e. he would remove the vein and the hindquarter would become kosher. Mr Schneider deserved a medal for putting up with my mother and all the other wives. His delivery man rode up and down all day long on his bicycle, delivering meat and returning to exchange it for some real or imaginary deficiency in the order. Both Mr Schneider and the delivery man now occupy a very special place in heaven.
Then there were the Traplers and Mrs Schneider who made fresh bagels, the Zives who sold fish, the Levinsteins poultry and eggs. Mr Brint, a deaf mute, was the shoemaker and an absolute whiz on the races. There were two dairies in Palmer Road, the Millers and Mr Stoch. Mr Stoch delivered his own milk on a bicycle. There was also a third dairy in York Rd.
We bought vegetables and fruit from Mr Raad on the Main Rd or Mr Gallias in York Road. Just down the road was Kents, where you could buy anything. James Morom on the Main Rd sold everything from a pencil to paint. School uniforms were bought from Dankers.
Who can forget the beef on rye from Irene Sack's delicatessen!
There were three pharmacies in Muizenberg – Shagams, Reichlins and Max Rosenberg. The doctors in the area to name but a few were Henson, Gordon, Shapiro, Novis, Blumenthal and Kriegler. The dentists were Henderson, Viljoen and Eisman. Before school we all used to go down to the beach to swim, with a cake of soap and take shower.
I can remember the trekking of fish early in the morning, and my dad taking home fresh harders which my mother grilled for breakfast. In those days one could get fresh Galjoen, Hardes, Hottentot and many more varieties of fish. I can remember the fish cart - the horn blowing announcing their fresh wares. We had an unspoilt and uncomplicated childhood
I lived in Yarmouth Road. On the corner was the boathouse, where the 2nd Muizenberg Jewish Scout movement held its meetings.
If you walked down Yarmouth Road you would pass the homes of Embdin, Singer, Loon, Marcus, Frank, Coleman, Chaits, Glazer, Kaye, Hope, the Luries, Michael Lockitch, Lazarus, Kushner, Miller, Shapiro and Oblowitz. At the bottom of Yarmouth Road lived Gus Levine, one of the characters of Muizenberg. He taught us how to play Beach Bats. Behind me lived the Kastans, Dermans, Silbersteins, Garbs, Blumenthals, Apters, Musikanths and many more. We were all friends - we still are all friends and still see each other regularly.
My memories of Muizenberg are of a very happy time of a very close community, a big family, of relationships that last to this very day. It is difficult to describe this close relationship to anyone who did not grow up in Muizenberg. Muizenberg was so not because of Muizenberg, but because of the people that lived there and the holidaymakers, the camaraderie and love that existed between us, the relationships that were built and still last. It was not a wealthy community: our parents were generally first generation South Africans. But it was a rich community, rich with love and respect.
We felt blessed – we were living 365 days a year in this special place, a place that existed because of a set of circumstances that came together, and will never come together again. A holiday resort built by the British Empire and a set of Eastern European immigrants who were arriving in a new country, and who adopted this holiday resort even as the colonials abandoned it and remoulded it to their image. But these people are all gone, as are all the aspects that made my youth so wonderful.

"We have the berg

We have the lake

The surf and endless sand"

We have all those memories of a wonderful childhood, of a wonderful loving and caring community and of bonds that have lasted forever.
Dr. Mervyn Rosenberg is a third generation "Muizenberger" and has two sets of great-grandparents buried in Cape Town. He is married to Jackie and has two children and three grandchildren. He went to school and cheder in Muizenberg and sang in the shul choir as a teenager. He studied dentistry at Witwatersrand Dental School and has been in dental practice in Cape Town for 40 years. During varsity holidays, he was a beach photographer for Movie Snaps on the Muizenberg beaches.

He is still a member of Muizenberg Shul. One of his great pleasures is to sit in his late father’s seat on Yom Kippur!

Leibke, the Yiddish speaking fruit vendor, passed away in 2012

Joy Kropman, the curator of the Exhibition with Dr Mervyn Rosenberg at the opening.