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Nelson Mandela, Presidential Inauguration, 10 May 1994

Built in slavery days, a bastion of colonial and apartheid expression, the Old Granary has undergone a metamorphosis: What was an ugly old caterpillar just a few years ago, flaking, decaying and dangerous, has become a beautiful butterfly, fundamentally re-purposed toexpress the post-colonial work of the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.

Living Legacy
One of Cape Town’s oldest and most storied buildings, presumably built by slaves and strongly associated with the setting down of colonial roots, has undergone a physical and spiritual metamorphosis to become the new home of the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation. Situated in the historic core of the city, a stone’s throw from the old fortified castle, City Hall and the Grand Parade, the Old Granary has retained its architectural integrity while being retro-fitted to suit the needs of a modern foundation and its work.
The Old Granary is where the Foundation runs its programmes, houses its archives, mounts exhibitions and engages in dialogue through hosting events such as seminars, workshops, debates and press conferences. The Foundation took occupation of the Old Granary in 2018. It is anticipated that the Foundation will complete its settling-in process, and that all aspects of the building will be fully operational, by 2020.

If the walls could talk…

Scholars distinguish between societies with slaves, where slavery was widely practised without being central to the economy or social fabric, and slave societies. Colonial Cape Town was a slave society.

Within a few years of the first settlers from Europe arriving to establish a victualing station on the sea route to the East, in 1652, they realised that they’d receive little co-operation from indigenous people to carry out their plans. The first ship to disgorge an enslaved human cargo in Table Bay did so in 1658. More than 60 000 slaves were brought to Cape Town over the next 150 years. When slavery was finally abolished in 1838, the slave population stood at approximately 38 000 people.

Some of these slaves would have known the Granary building in Buitenkant Street well.

Little is known about the labour used to construct the building, but it is highly unlikely that slaves did not do the dirty work. When the British occupied the Cape in 1806 the population comprised 9 307 slaves, 6 435 free inhabitants and 800 liberated slaves. Although the British abolished the slave trade the following year, the ownership of slaves continued – and British traders continued to profit from “liberating” slaves being trafficked by other nations and selling them off as “prize negroes”, ostensibly to serve fixed term labour contracts.

It is known that the business plan for the commercial bakery to be developed on the Old Granary site included slaves ferrying fresh bread to the garrison, a few hundred metres away – and that slaves and prize negroes would have passed through the building when it was used as a customs house, like other newly-arrived “cargo”.


Dutch occupy Cape Town


Construction of stone fortification, The Castle, completed


Construction of “Slave Lodge” completed


Dutchmen prohibited from marrying slaves, besides female slaves with Dutch fathers


Stellenbosch slave uprising quelled


First of three smallpox outbreaks decimates indigenous people; acute labour shortage


Census of Cape non-indigenous population: 510 settlers and 6 279 slaves


Slave Lodge re-built


Slave trade in the Cape opened to private enterprise


Britain first occupies the Cape


Promulgation of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in Britain


“Hottentot Proclamation” introduced in the Cape to regulate use of the Khoisan labour


Apprentice Ordinance allows white farmers to “apprentice” workers’ children


Codification of the Cape Slave Trade Law


Cape Town becomes part of British Empire


Cape enacts “ameliorative” laws regulating treatment of slaves by owners


Cape parliament passes law providing for appointment of “Guardian of Slaves”


Emancipation of slaves (Cape slaves indentured as apprentices for further four years)


Former slave owners prohibited from punishing former slaves


Four year apprenticeship period for former slaves ends

The receding tide

The imposing Old Granary building appears immovable at first glance. Its massiveness belies the shifting sands on which the site was first developed, close to the then-Table Bay shoreline, and structural weaknesses that led part of the first floor to collapse (and the customs department to move elsewhere), which have long since been addressed.

When the Dutch East India Company first settled an advance team in Cape Town with a view to supplying passing ships with fresh meat, vegetables, grain and water, they built a rustic fort on the shore. This fort was subsequently replaced by the fortified Castle, completed in 1679, the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa. Today, due to land reclamation, Table Bay has been pushed back and the Castle and Old Granary are relatively far from the sea.

Early paintings and sketches of the Granary place the Granary in relatively open space, a stone’s throw from the Grand Parade, where slaves were sold, and a newly-liberated Nelson Mandela first addressed the nation in 1990.

A house with many rooms

Bakery, customs house, grain store, courthouse, post office, public works office, engineer’s department, prison… The Granary has performed various functions over the years.

The site was first developed as a residence/bakery with warehousing, by an entrepreneur, Mr Jacobus Hendriksen, formerly employed as a baker for the occupying forces. Hendriksen spotted the opportunity to privatise the supply of bread to the Castle and military barracks a stone’s throw away. The site was one of 15 “along the ditch of the Buitenkant” signed off for auction by the Earl of Caledon, Governor of the colony, in December 1808. Hendriksen had plans to buy additional portions of land and build an industrial bakery, but sold the property back to the colonial government in 1813.

Although tenders to construct a new customs house were advertised in 1811, it was decided to refurbish Hendriksen’s property for that purpose, the customs house moving from its dilapidated premises at the Castle to the Old Granary in December 1813. The building functioned as a customs house for seven years.


There was a growing sense of insecurity over food security in Europe at the time, with crop failures in Europe in the late 1700sexacerbated by economic competition between Britain and France. In order to prevent France from controlling the sea routebetween Europe and the East, the British “occupied” the Cape in 1795 ahead of the Napoleonic Wars. One of the first thingsit did was send nearly half of Cape Town’s stock of grain to England. Then, Cape Town experienced a severe drought…

Fabric of the building

Neo-classical meets Cape-Dutch

The Dutch East India Company is sometimes referred to as the world’s first multinational company; it employed skilled and (mostly) unskilled people from all over Europe, and conducted global business. Many of its employees ended up settling in Cape Town.

Two of the three former company men credited with conceiving and developing the neo-classical Old Granary were of German extraction (Anton Anreith and Herman Schutte), and the third was French (Louis Thibault).

Anreith, primarily responsible for the sculptures adorning the building, studied sculpture, woodcarving and mathematics in Freiburg.

Although Schutte is said to have worked in an architect’s office before leaving home, he joined the company as a common soldier, losing his left eye and hand in an accident at the stone quarry on Robben Island. He overcame these challenges to become a master builder. Among his other work that is still functional today is the Mouille Point lighthouse.

Thibault, from Paris, studied architecture and military engineering before coming to Cape Town as a member of a Swiss mercenary regiment employed by the Dutch East India Company to defend the Cape from British attack. By the time his regiment departed for Ceylon, in 1785, Thibault had fallen in love and chosen to stay.


The Old Granary is described as ofneo-classical design, although it doesn’tfeature columns or pillars associated with the style. It would perhaps be more accurately described as containing neo-classical, Cape townhouse and Cape Dutch elements – and the façade has undergone changes over the years such as the installation ofextra windows.

Neo-classical architecture first appeared in the 1650s as a counterpoint to the flamboyant Baroque anddecorative Rococo styles. It harks back, to a greater or lesser degree, to antique forms of Greek and Roman architecture, and is characterised by grandeur and simple geometric form.

Pillars, domes, pediments and clean lines typify the style which took hold in Europe before being spread by empire-builders across the world. It is widelyapplied to monuments, monumental buildings and other image-related construction works as a symbol ofcolonial strength and culture.

Rule Britannia

The Granary was an important civic structure in its day. Its construction on neo-classical lines, among several other similar building projects undertaken in the period, laid the foundations for the British colonial centre that Cape Town was to become.

The Old Granary is not just one building; it is a complex occupying most of a city block, with an historic core and façade facing Buitenkant Street.

With sweeping external staircase, canopied balcony and carved symbolism of British supremacy, the Granary provided a suitably officious backdrop for important public announcements, such as election results, to crowds gathered on the then-Caledon Square (much as City Hall was the backdrop for Nelson Mandela’s first speech after being released from prison, to a crowd on the Grand Parade, around the corner from the Granary).

From their thrones on the top corners of the building, Neptune and Britannia, god of the sea and personification of Great Britain, respectively, gaze across Caledon Square to Table Bay. The central design on the pediment is a carved British coat-of-arms straddled by a Scottish unicorn and English lion.

Above and beneath the coat-of-arms are the French phrases: Dieu at mon droit (God and my right), the motto of the British monarch, and Honi soit qui mal y pense (Evil to him who evil thinks), the motto of the British chivalric Order of the Garter.

The date on the pediment is 1814.

New life for Old Granary

In 1994, the year of South Africa’s first democratic elections, ownership of the Old Granary was transferred from the Department of Public Works to the City of Cape Town. The building was in poor condition, and for a number of years none of the plans to re-develop the site came to fruition. Instead, windows were boarded up and security installed to protect the space from a combination of vagrants seeking shelter and thieves looking to steal fixtures and building materials.

Twenty years later, in 2014, the City undertook to restore the complex, signing a 40-year lease agreement with the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation. This site of colonial power was to become a symbol of hope.

A construction brief was advertised in 2015 to plan and oversee the preservation, restoration, reconstruction and adaptation of the space – to international conservation standards.

The structural soundness of the building was of particular concern. Part of the building first collapsed in 1815, and there were various other collapses over the years, most recently in 2012. Although renovations to the building were to be conducted with minimal impact to its historic integrity, it was necessary to introduce a robust steel frame to secure its historic core.


  • Retain small windows below pediment – one of many layers in the building’s history
  • Do not reinstate window shutters to save costs
  • Retain original entrance porch; replace fiberglass canopy with authentic lead
  • Restore massive carved teak doors on ground floor
  • Work on pediment limited to specialist restoration work with original materials

Re-imagining space

Over the years, its various occupants carried out various modifications to the Old Granary. They took pragmatic building decisions, not always using the same building materials, or bothering about such niceties as matching window sizes.

Some of the renovations were quirkier than others; for example, a mezzanine floor was added when the building was converted into the custom’s house, cutting the showpiece façade window in two. One of the strangest touches, when the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation first saw the building, was an open-plan toilet in the main foyer!



The Foundation and City agreed to a restoration philosophy that re-imagined existing space, as far as possible, rather than breaking things down and starting from scratch.

Walls of glass are used to create office and archiving accommodation, maximising natural light and enabling one to visualise the original sizes and shapes of the building. Suitable environmental control and lighting technologies are retro-fitted without interfering with the building’s original structural integrity.

Downstairs, at street level, modern exhibition spaces have been created, framed by old brick walls and curious windows and entrance ways.

There are a few modern building touches such as a new glass walkway on the Longmarket Street side, and the introduction of lifts, not least to comply with safety and security regulations.

The restored Old Granary complex comprises a total of 4 200 square metres of leasable office space, with nearly half of the space used by the Foundation. In March 2017, the complex was declared a provincial heritage site.

There is a huge sense of irony that this building that once symbolised colonial advance and the subjugation of indigenous people is now in the hands of a foundation representing the legacy of one of the foremost exponents of post-colonial, post-apartheid thought.

God has a wonderful sense of humour.

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