Oukloof was a coloured settlement established as a Dutch Reformed Mission Station in 1921 in Riebeek Kasteel when a prominent white farmer George J Euvrard Snr donated a portion of his land for the purpose of building a coloured residential area. This was not an act of philanthropy but rather a move to appease growing racial sentiments from white residents who wanted separate living areas for the coloured people in the valley.
Through the century, many white farmers had settled in the area buying up land for agricultural use and forcing coloured people off the land. Coloured people resorted to either living on the farms where they worked or on small pockets of open land not yet occupied by white settlers. Many white farmers complained about coloured people living too close to them. The Euvrard family, who owned large portions of agricultural land in the valley, proposed that the town be segregated and coloured residents only be allowed to live in a designated residential area in the town.
The donated land was situated in a valley on the periphery of the town, overlooking a scenic backdrop of the Swartland vista. An old coloured location in the town, known as Die Rug [The Back], already existed adjacent to the newly acquired land and together this area became known by its inhabitants as Oukloof. Some coloured families were also living in the white area across the “border” today known as Van Riebeeck Street.
A small Mission Church was built for the coloured community on the hill overlooking the Oukloof valley. Services were held on a Sundays and during the week the small hall was converted into a school. Here coloured children were educated up to standard 6.
The Dutch Reformed Church took over the administration of the land and enforced strict racial and religious guidelines for the coloured community. Coloured people were not allowed to own the land in the new location but they were given plots of land to build their own homes. White people on the other hand were allowed to own land in Oukloof but were not allowed to live there. Many white farmers bought land in Oukloof and built houses for their farm workers.
Oukloof soon became a tight knit community centred around the Dutch Reformed Mission Church. Ouklowers were mainly farm labourers while many of the women worked as cleaners for the white families in Riebeek Kasteel.
Each plot was big enough to grow vegetables and farm livestock. They did not earn much but with their animals and vegetable gardens, they were able to be self sufficient. Many families recall how they exchanged their eggs and vegetables at the local shops for flour, sugar and coffee. Things they couldn’t grow themselves. The town did not supply milk, so few families owned cows and goats providing them with milk.
Women made bread in their wood burning stoves, butter and jams from seasonal fruit growing in Oukloof. This was a community with generations of families living together.
For them, Oukloof gave them a sense of belonging. A place they could call their own.
In 1942, the Dutch Reformed Church transferred the land to the Village Management Board on condition that the land remains a coloured area and a formal housing scheme be built. The Board started introducing stricter regulations on the Oukloof community. The coloured people were now required to purchase coupons to buy water and were allowed access to water in the morning and evening. If they missed the allocated water times, they either had to go without or borrow from neighbours who had rain storage tanks.
Since Oukloof was situated in the town of Riebeek Kasteel, shops and places of work were all within walking distance. Relations with white residents and farmers were what they would consider “amicable” or as Oom Wil van der Merwe likes to refer to “like a woman’s dress in the wind, some days up and some days down as the wind blows”.
While coloured people were allowed to shop and walk freely in the town during the day, they also remember how things started changing as more white people started moving into the town.
Racist tensions continued to grow and one incident in particular created uproar amongst the white community when Mr Laubscher, a white resident, let out one of his houses to the coloured principal of the Mission Church school in the white area. Mr Joseph Africa had battled to find accommodation on arrival in Riebeek Kasteel in 1948 and was forced to live in Riebeek West for two years, cycling five kilometres to Riebeek Kasteel every day until he finally found accommodation with Mr Laubscher.
The Group Areas Act:
The Group Areas Act of 1950 allowed the white run Village Management Board to further marginalise the coloured community in the town.
This attitude was a reflection of the national picture of discrimination against people of colour at the time.
Coloured people’s movement became restricted with separate entrances in shops and curfews prohibiting loitering and walking around after dark.
White Residents living close to the location started complaining about the amount of coloured people living in Oukloof and soon the Village Management Board also started restricting the number of coloured people allowed in the coloured settlement.
Nearly a decade after it was first proposed, all discussions regarding the new housing scheme for Oukloof ceased. Instead the Village Management Board now set its focus on the complete removal of the coloured community from the town. This was in keeping with the attitude and support of the white community and the Dutch Reformed Church.
When the Mission Church put in a request to the Dutch Reformed Church for additional classrooms for the coloured mission school, the mother church council instead offered land on the other side of the railway line, nearly two kilometres out of town, for a completely new school building for the coloured children. The Mission Church agreed to the plan and a year later, in 1954, a new primary school was opened. Adam Julies remembers how as a child he had to collect stones and rocks for the foundation of the school.
The children from Oukloof had to walk two kilometres everyday to school during the scorching summers and freezing winters. In an interview with Annet Daffnee, she recalls “Nobody really had shoes in those days, only the principal’s children. My brother would use cardboard boxes to wrap around my feet during winter so that the frost wouldn’t bite. “
The rumours of a move from Oukloof began to spread in the community.