Remember a hero

Delia Gamildien at the Lightfoot Fountain, which is being restored.

Archdeacon Thomas Lightfoot (1831-1904) was a well-respected public figure in Cape Town and was renowned for his work with the poor and destitute.

He was born in England and first worked as a newspaper reporter. In 1853, he met Bishop Grey who inspired him to become a missionary. He was ordained a deacon in 1857 and arrived in Cape Town in 1858 where he was attached to the cathedral. He was ordained a priest in 1859, became a canon of the cathedral in 1868 and Archdeacon of the Cape in 1885. He was a founding member of the Philosophical Society and was also one of the founders of the free soup kitchens and of night shelters for the homeless. He founded St Paul’s Mission. The cornerstone on the Orphan Street end of St Paul’s Church, Bree Street, is inscribed to his memory. Archdeacon Lightfoot served on the committee of almost every charitable institution in Cape Town. He died in 1904 and his funeral was attended by vast crowds of people, many of whom came from the city’s poor and destitute communities. Also in attendance was Bishop Lavis, a future freeman of the City of Cape Town.

It will be cleaned and restored. A fake-bronze profile of the archdeacon’s face will be fitted at the top lantern section, from where the original bronze panels have long since been spirited away.

Mr Herron said that while 109 years of Cape Town weather had not been kind to the memorial, its restoration would present new opportunities.

Centrally located, the fountain could be linked to other historical sites, enhance the square’s tourist-pulling power and possibly play
a part in a public-art project involving the flower sellers, said Mr Herron.

Moving the fountain had been discussed at one point, he said, but that proposal had been dismissed.

“Due to the strong linkages with the site and flower sellers, the memorial will remain where it is, and its restoration will hopefully serve to uplift the precinct.”

Expert craftsmanship and tools will be needed to do the delicate restoration work.

“The tiled mosaics will be used to ‘dress’ the bare concrete seating created around the memorial in order to add colour and a graphic link to the flower sellers.”

Flower seller Delia Gamildien, said her grandmother and great grandmother had always told her stories about the archdeacon whose memorial watches over the square where she now works.

“We are many generations of flower sellers. It was told that Mr Lightfoot was the man who bought this property for us over 100 years ago.

“It was because of him that ‘coloured’ people could get the recognition they deserve in the time of apartheid. He gave us the chance.”

The flower sellers were eager to help with restoration in any way they could, she said.

“The details weren’t discussed with us yet, but we will help. We want to put our names there too so that our children and great grandchildren can see it and say, ‘my family was there too’.”

She said the restoration of the fountain was welcome, but the rest of Trafalgar Place also needed work. “For years, we’ve been asking the City to provide us with brighter lights, a structure in front to shield us from the elements, as well as some security to shut the place when we go home, but nothing has come of it yet.”

Stuart Diamond, Mayco member for assets and facilities management, said the City had leased the flower sellers’ square and the walkway next to the Grand Central Shopping Centre to the centre’s owners since 1997, but the centre had been sold recently.

“The City is engaging with the new owners to ensure that the lease is ceded to them from the previous owner.”

There would need to be talks with the new owners, the City and the flower sellers once that had happened, he said without saying when that might happen.

Meanwhile traders in the area hope the fountain’s refurbishment will bring more foot traffic to the area.

“It is needed,” said Liesl Matheyse. “There are vagrants who use the area to bath, so it will be a nice for the area – it will uplift St George’s Mall.”

Roberto Chipino said: “It was a dirty area, and no one used to see it because it was so hidden. I think they should incorporate this into some of the walking tours to show tourists this part of our history.”