Remembering Gawie Fagan’s passion for the Waterfront

I went to visit Gwen Fagan yesterday to make sure that The Waterfront Story is covering Gawie Fagan’s role in the whole Waterfront story is properly told. It’s the first time I’ve seen Gwen since Gawie died just over one year ago. It was wonderful visiting Die Es — their remarkable house — again, but even more wonderful to be given Gwen’s book on her remarkable family. It is a book I will treasure forever.

It’s 40 years since all the debate on where and what the Waterfront should be. And even if it was desirable! These clippings in the book cover a period in 1980 and 1981.

Feelings got pretty heated at times and the board of Somerset Hospital complained that if the Waterfront went ahead, it would mean vagrancy, prostitution and drugs in the area. When the objections were presented to Minister Gerrit Viljoen, he clicked his fingers and asked, “Will it be drugs from the sailors to the nurses, or nurses to the sailors?”

Looking at these clippings is also a reminder of the quality and wide readership of Cape Town’s newspapers at that time — seeing names like Roger Williams, Cape Times chief reporter, and Victor Holloway, from Die Burger. Newspapers like those don’t exist any more.

My office — the Architecture SA office — was at 66 Loop Street between 1980 and 1983, and Gawie used to pop in on Saturday mornings to chat about the Waterfront. I kept hammering the point that it wasn’t either Granger Bay or Victoria & Alfred Basins — because people had become polarised between two options — we needed to fight for both! When I organised the Pierhead Festival in 1985 to regain public access to the Docks, Gawie and Louis Karol (who had prepared the Granger Bay proposals) served on the festival committee, and I asked Harold Gorvy to be our chairman.

I think there’s little doubt that Gawie’s proposals emboldened the City Council to push SA Transport Services harder than they had ever pushed before.

You can buy Gwen & Gawie’s books here.

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