For centuries Table Mountain has been a beacon, a beautiful mountain welcoming seafarers to Cape Town. But tens of thousands of years before South Africa was colonised, Stone Age people roamed the foothills, and later the San and Khoi people called it Hoerikwagga – Mountain in the Sea.
Table Mountain is about 260-million years old, and forms part of the Table Mountain National Park, which starts at Signal Hill and ends at Cape Point.
While there is no trace of Stone Age, Khoi or San people on the summit of Table Mountain, the slopes of the mountain tell a different story.
On the slopes, hand axes and stone implements used by Stone Age people have been found in the Dell, in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
The Dell is often referred to as the oldest and prettiest part of the garden, and it is easy to imagine Stone Age people living in the Dell, drinking the spring water, living in the shade of trees and foraging for food. The Dell is also home to the Cycad Garden. Cycads are often referred to as living fossils, primitive plants that have survived for millions of years.
The mountain was sacred for the Khoi and San, who believed their supreme god, Tsui//Goab, roamed there. The Khoi called Cape Town Camissa, the place of sweet waters, based on a stream that flows from under the mountain and into the ocean. In Dr Theophilus Hahn’s book, The Supreme Being of the Khoi-Khoi, published in 1881, he describes Tsui//Goab thus: “He gives rain, he makes the clouds, he lives in the clouds, and he makes our cows and our sheep fruitful.”
The Khoi had amazing views of Table Mountain throughout the year. In early summer the Khoi were in Table Valley, from where it can appear as if the mountain is floating, or emerging from the water. They would trek to Hout Bay in midsummer, and as winter approached they would cross the Cape Flats and head to the Boland.
There are awe-inspiring views from the top of Table Mountain, and it’s possible to imagine what Tsui//Goab would have surveyed thousands of years ago. These days there are hiking trails up the mountain, or you can buy a ticket for the cable car, either at the Lower Cable Station or online.
The Khoi and the San were robbed of their land and livelihood when the Cape was colonised by the Dutch in 1652. But it was three Portuguese explorers, Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama and António de Saldanha, who first made mention of the Cape.
In 1448 Dias was the first European to see the Cape, and in 1497 his countryman, Da Gama, sited the Cape while searching for a route to the East. De Saldanha, an admiral and explorer, gave Table Mountain its name in 1503, calling it “Taboa da caba” – “table of the Cape”. He dropped anchor in Table Bay and climbed the mountain.
By then the Khoi had already roamed the area for more than 2 000 years. In 1652 the Dutch, led by Jan van Riebeeck, arrived at the Cape under orders of the Dutch East India Company. They quickly went about establishing themselves in Cape Town, growing fruit and vegetables, building houses, importing slaves and establishing wine farms.