Plett History Festival Programme Unpacked 

Published: January 19th, 2022

The Third Watercourse History Festival in Plettenberg Bay, which takes place at the Piesang Valley Hall and Wittedrift High School, is sponsored by the Bitou Municipality, WESGRO, The Cradle of Human Culture, and Plett Tourism. This fascinating festival has been designed for those with a passion for history and storytelling.

The main theme for the upcoming festival is Crossing Borders and presentations will cover mainly South African history from the 17th through to the 21st century.  Top speakers include Professor D.J. Culpin on the French traveller Le Vaillant, Ghorinhaqua activist Ron Martin on Khoekhoen resistance, and Nick Mallett on transformation in South African rugby. The programme below outlines the historical journey that visitors can take when attending the festival, along with a range of fun-filled Plett activities to round off the weekend.

Tickets and full programme at

Kitchener’s Revenge: The Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan, 1898 by David Hall-Green

David Hall-Green

Veteran actor, television presenter and tour guide, David Hall-Green has led a colourful life full of adventure and travel. Born in the Eastern Cape, David travelled to London to pursue a career in the theatre followed by a stint cruising the globe as an on-board entertainment director for P&O Shipping Line. He became the first “face on the box” in 1974 when television first launched in South Africa and continued to be a regular presenter for the next 25 years.

In semi-retirement, David became a tour guide for exclusive British tour operator, Abercrombe and Kent, and Rovos Rail of South Africa conducting a number of Cape-to-Cairo tours by train and air. On these tours, passengers would visit Sudan and Khartoum, the site of the historic 1898 Battle of Omdurman, which is the subject of David’s talk at the festival.

Book Tickets

Truly South African – Rebellious, but Religious; Desperado but Devoted – the saga and enigma of Coenraad de Buys (1761 – 1821) by Professor Mike de Jongh

Professor de Jongh expands on the legend and stories of Coenraad de Buys, noted as a “remarkable figure”on the frontier of the Cape Colony. An impressive figure at nearly seven feet tall, de Buys lived a rebellious but religious life which began on a farm in the nearby Langkloof. Professor de Jongh is a prominent anthropologist who extensively researches the early, forgotten or even “invisible” South Africans.

In order to open a window on their history and their descendants’ current lives, he has published widely – both nationally and internationally. His continued collaboration with geneticists at Uppsala University in Sweden has enabled the DNA analysis of saliva samples, completed in the Southern Cape,  which led to the conclusion that Khoekhoen (Khoi) pastoralists migrated to, and settled in, South Africa 2000 years ago. His latest book is Truly South African–the legacy of Coenraad de Buys and the reclusive Soutpansberg Buyses.

Book Tickets

Le Vaillant’s Travels into the Interior of Africa – adapting an African travel narrative to the literary tastes of 18th Century France by Professor D.J. Culpin

Professor Culpin, who will be launching his latest english-language translation of Le Vaillant’s Travels into the Interior of Africa via the Cape of Good Hope at the history festival, is an Extraordinary Professor of French at the University of the Western Cape, previously Reader in French at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. He specialises in French literature with a focus on the literature of ideas and travel narratives.

The subject of his talk at the festival is French traveller and ornithologist, François Le Vaillant who wrote one of the most important 18th century accounts of a visit to southern Africa. During his travels, Le Vaillant made a lengthy stay in Plettenberg Bay where he must have found our indigenous flora and fauna quite wondrous to behold.

Book Tickets

Book launch at Le Fournil de Plett 

Professor Culpin, who will be launching his latest English-language translation of Le Vaillant’s Travels into the Interior of Africa via the Cape of Good Hope at the history festival, is an Extraordinary Professor of French at the University of the Western Cape, previously Reader in French at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

He specialises in French literature with a focus on the literature of ideas and travel narratives. The book launch will take place at Plett’s very own French bakery and restaurant, Le Fournil de Plett.

Entrance is free. 

Alternative Media in the Apartheid Era by Chiara Carter

Journalist and editor, Chiara Carter will discuss the interesting topic of alternative media during the difficult apartheid era. Starting as a political correspondent with City Press in 1996, Chiara has worked with numerous publications over the past two decades.

Her talk will open the doors on alternative media from grassroots newspapers to underground press and pirate radio stations.

Book Tickets

Black October: The Spanish Flu of 1918 in South Africa by Professor Howard Phillips 

Professor Howard Phillips

Covering a topic that could mirror our modern-day pandemic, Professor Phillips will address the Spanish Flu that swept South Africa in 1918 as the First World War was coming to an end and the various factors that affected its rapid spread throughout the country.

Emeritus Professor Howard Phillips is a graduate of the University of Cape Town and London University who taught in the Department of Historical Studies and the Department of Public Health at UCT from 1974 to 2014. He specialises in the history of disease, medicine and health, and the history of higher education.

Book Tickets

Historical Artworks and their Contemporary Relevance for Modern Museums by Andrew Lamprecht

If a picture paints a thousand words, then art-lovers and history buffs can look forward to this presentation by Andrew Lamprecht, the new Curator of Historical Paintings and Sculpture at the South African National Gallery (Iziko). Andrew will discuss the rich holdings of Iziko, his views on historical art, and the ways in which such collections can be made relevant in today’s contemporary art museum.

Andrew has curated over 40 exhibitions and written extensively on both historical and contemporary South African art with a particular re-contextualizing historical collections,  looking at the dialogue between western and African art, “disruptive curation” and  the preservation of knowledge through archives and libraries.

Book Tickets

History and Heritage Attractions to enjoy during the festival

Was South Africa involved in the murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme? by Madi Gray

Madi Gray

Former anti-apartheid activist in Sweden, Madi Gray asks a controversial question: In February 1986, a week after condemning the apartheid system at a People’s Parliament in Stockholm, Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme was shot dead on the street. Was South Africa involved?

From the first, questions were asked about a clandestine South African involvement. Cape Town-born, Madi Gray left South Africa in the 1970s to continue to struggle for democratic change in South Africa, joining the anti-Apartheid movement in Sweden. She freelanced as a journalist, public speaker and editor and, for the past 20 years, has guided several thousand Swedish tourists through South Africa, stopping in Plettenberg Bay along the way.

Book Tickets

The Return Fleets of the Dutch East India Company (1602-1795) by Dr Dan Sleigh

Dr Sleigh presents an illustrated talk on the colourful (and aromatic) world of the fleets of the Dutch East India Company on their heavily laden return journeys from the East. He covers an amazing assortment of passengers, the dangers and challenges that these fleets encountered, their crews, maritime replenishment and more.

For example, did you know that the Dutch East India Company flute, Maria, was returning from Ceylon when she was almost completely wrecked by a storm and beached on Robberg in August 1788? Part of its cargo, mostly pepper and textiles, was washed and dried out and stored in the Old Timber Shed.

Dr Sleigh retired as the provincial coordinator of Conservation Education in the Western Cape Department of Education and has received several awards for history and literature and an “Orde van Oranje-Nassau” (knighthood) from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Book Tickets

The Significance of Interracial Friendships in the Apartheid Era by Vivien Bickford-Smith

Vivian Bickford-Smith is an Extraordinary Professor in the History Department at Stellenbosch University and Emeritus Professor in Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town. Much of his work has been on modern South African history, especially urban history, social identity and the relationship between film and history.

His current project is on the interracial social networks in South African cities that contributed to apartheid’s demise: how such association was possible despite prohibitive racial barriers, who was involved, why and with what consequences?

His publications include Cape Town: The Making of a City, Cape Town in the Twentieth Century, The Emergence of the South African Metropolis and most recently Illuminating Lives.

Book Tickets

Workshopping Community Histories by Josette Cole

Former anti-apartheid activist and sociologist Josette Cole delves into this interesting, varied topic. Since the 1970s Josette has slipped seamlessly between the worlds of social activism, reflection, writing and theorising about life as observed and experienced under apartheid and in the space beyond 1994.

She is the author of a number of works including Crossroads: The Politics of Reform and Repression – 1976 to 1986, Khayelitsha: New Home, Old Story and The Struggle for Home Ownership in New Crossroads, amongst others.

Book Tickets

VIP Dinner at Wittedrift High School with Nick Mallett

Former South African rugby captain, coach and Supersport personality, Nick Mallett will address a gala dinner in aid of the Plett Rugby Club.

Book Tickets

The Use of Historical Characters in Fiction by Martin Hatchuel

Together with writer, researcher and book editor, Mike Kantey, entertaining Knysna historian and journalist Martin Hatchuel will discuss the use of historical characters in fiction. Aspiring writers, history enthusiasts and book-lovers should enjoy this dialogue.

Martin is a freelance writer and communicator, sometime horticulturist, with an earth sciences background. As the first tour guide on Knysna’s Featherbed Nature Reserve and ultimate owner of a birdwatching concession in the Wilderness National Park, Martin eventually turned his talents to writing and communication, working with Mossel Bay Tourism and publishing both a children’s book, It’s a Pity I didn’t Bring any Swords and a novel, Belthar’s Garden.

He recently returned to Featherbed Nature Reserve following the devastating 2017 fires to rehabilitate the Knysna sands fynbos.

Book Tickets

Early Khoikhoin Resistance to Dutch Colonization by Ron Martin 

Heritage Consultant, chairman of the SA First People’s Museum Foundation and a member of the Gorinhaiqua Indigenous Council, Ron Martin will present an interesting talk on Khoikhoin resistance to Dutch colonization.

Genetic evidence, gathered and studied by fellow festival speaker, Professor Mike de Jongh, has indicated that the Khoikhoin migrated to, and settled in, southern Africa – a unique, and sometimes overlooked, First People.

What did their encounters with the Dutch settlers look like? Ron Martin discusses this in what is sure to be a fascinating talk.

Book Tickets

Current Insurgency in the Mozambican Province of Cabo Delgado by Piers Pigou

One of the interlocutors at the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Piers Pigou will speak on the current insurgency in the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, a true incident of “Crossing Borders”.

Piers is currently the senior consultant for the International Crisis Group in Southern Africa and, prior to this, he served as the program manager at the Foundation for Human Rights, as a senior associate for Southern Africa at the International Centre for Transitional Justice, as the director of the South African History Archive and as a research and advocacy coordinator at the Institute for Democratic Alternatives in South Africa/Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

Book Tickets

For a well-rounded Plett visit, there are a variety of natural and historical opportunities for sightseeing: Robberg Nature Reserve offers both a look into ancient history and a splendid slice of sun, sand, and sea, while hiking, birding and mountain biking abound.

Plettenberg Bay has recently received six international Blue Flag beach awards for 2021/2022 and there are any number of marine activities to enjoy.

Our animal sanctuaries are known to be some of the best in the country and, for a sparkling end to the day, pop in at one of Plett’s wine estates.