Ferocious – or friendly – lions are guarding the Rhodes Memorial

22 February 2013

We took advantage of the pleasant weather on Friday to visit a most interesting national monument on the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak near the University of Cape Town. As we – that is Reggie, Aunty Karin and I – drove along the M3 past the University, Reggie told me that this was where she had studied; she looked at the ivy-covered buildings with such longing and fondness, that I could tell she must have been very happy there.

“Can we go there sometime?” I asked.

“Yes, I think we can make a plan, Flat Kathy,” she replied, turning around to smile at me. “I haven’t been to UCT for a while, but I’ve just heard that a friend of mine is studying there now, and perhaps we can go and visit her for tea or something. I would love to introduce you to her. I am certain that the two of you will get along very well.”

“Oh good!”

What a view across the City of Cape Town towards the Hottentots Holland and Helderberg Mountains in the east
What a view across the City of Cape Town towards the Hottentots Holland and Helderberg Mountains in the east

“Now, Flat Kathy, do you remember the frightfully fierce lions you met at Noordhoek a little while ago?” she inquired, her voice becoming very serious.

How could I forget?! Reggie had made me snuggle right up to the one – so close that I had felt its hot breath on my neck and its ravenous growl through my feet!

“Yes,” I nodded, shivering involuntarily at the memory. We had turned off the highway, and were driving up a steep slope, which seemed to take us straight up the mountain.

“We’re going to visit another group of lions – there’s eight of them, and they are rather large. I’m just giving you a bit of advance warning so that you don’t panic,” she declared, as the road bent 90 degrees to the right, following a contour line towards a cluster of pine trees in the distance.

The magnificent Rhodes Memorial is situated on the lower slopes of Devil's Peak
The magnificent Rhodes Memorial is situated on the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak

“When it comes to lions, Flat Kathy, you must never ever show fear,” she said, sternly.

“Gulp. … Perhaps I could just stay in the car…,” I suggested tentatively.

“Don’t be such a ninny!” she chided, chuckling, as we found a shady parking spot under some pine trees. “They’ve been sitting on their plinths for decades, and no one’s ever been eaten by them!”

“Well, NOT YET! But surely it’s just a matter of time? Don’t you think they must be absolutely starving?!”

“Oh honestly! You’re impossible, Flat Kathy. What are your loyal followers and blog readers supposed to think? Come along now.”

Don't you love this rider on the horse, looking to the horizon?
Don’t you love this rider on the horse, looking to the horizon?

“So what is this place?” I asked, looking around with interest.

We had walked along a cobble-stoned pathway and were standing in the middle of a semi-circular arena, edged by a low stone wall. From here, we had the most fantastic panoramic views of Cape Town, all across the Cape Flats towards the Helderberg and Hottentots Holland Mountains, which Reggie pointed out to me.

“Can you imagine what this would have looked like in Jan van Riebeeck’s time – when the first European settlers arrived at the Cape?” she mused. I had learnt all about Van Riebeeck during my visit to the Castle of Good Hope. “No city, no roads, just bush and shrub and sand, and all kinds of buck and birds…”

It was hard to picture such a landscape, as all we could see were houses and buildings, and roads and highways, and people all the way to the distant mountains.

This mighty equestrian statue is called 'Energy'!
This mighty equestrian statue is called ‘Energy’!

“Alright, now turn around,” she instructed me.

I did so – and gasped. Rising above us on the slope, the jagged crags of Devil’s Peak just visible between the tops of some tall pine trees, was a magnificent monument constructed out of grey Cape granite. A series of wide stone steps, flanked by four huge bronze lions on each side, climbed up to a U-shaped platform with tall Doric columns holding up a flat stone roof.

At the foot of the steps, right in front of us, a huge, exquisitely carved bronze statue of a powerful horse reared up, its rider shielding his eyes, as though he was gazing into the far distance. You could clearly see the muscles and bones and tendons of both horse and rider.

“Oh, wow…” I was at a loss for words. (As you probably know, this doesn’t happen often.)

“Welcome to Rhodes Memorial,” said Reggie, beaming with delight at my awestruck reaction.

“Wow… wow… ” I stammered.

Aunty Karin and I cautiously approach one of the huge lions
Aunty Karin and I cautiously approach one of the huge lions

“Have you heard of Cecil John Rhodes?” asked Reggie.

I shook my head.

“Alright then, let me give you a bit of a history lesson, while we sit down here. Cecil John Rhodes was born in England in 1853, and came to South Africa when he was still a teenager,” she explained. “This was around the time when the first diamonds were discovered in the area around Kimberley in the Northern Cape Province (this area of South Africa used to be called the Orange Free State). Rhodes made his name and gained his wealth in the diamond fields, and was one of the founders of De Beers, a family of companies that dominate the diamond mining, trading and industrial diamond manufacturing sectors.”

He looks quite ferocious, doesn't he?
He looks quite ferocious, doesn’t he?

“When he was 34 years old, he was elected to Parliament as Member for Barkly West; a couple of years later, from 1890 to 1896, he was Prime Minister of the Cape Colony.”

“Because he was such a fabulously wealthy and powerful man, Rhodes owned massive tracts of land on the slopes of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak. The University of Cape Town, the Groote Schuur Estate, where the hospital is, and the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens all used to be part of the old Rhodes estate,” she continued. “Apparently he loved to sit here at this site – I think that his original wooden bench may still be standing here on the slope below the memorial…”

“Is that why he built this memorial right here?” I interrupted.

“No, no, Flat Kathy, it wasn’t built by him,” she corrected me. “It was only built a couple of years after his death. He died in 1902, and the memorial was finished in 1912.”

“Oh, right.”

Ohhh, these bronze lions sure are magnificent!
Ohhh, these bronze lions sure are magnificent!

“As you can see, the memorial faces north-east – towards Cairo in Eygpt. This was quite deliberate. Rhodes was a British imperialist. Remember that, from about the 150os to the mid-1950s, many of the Western nations – Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands… – had established colonies all across the vast continent of Africa, as well as in Asia and America, etc. They wanted to expand their empire; it was all about owning or having access to raw materials, resources, people and land.”

“I never went to school, Reggie,” I confessed. “So I didn’t learn all this.”

“That’s quite alright, Flat Kathy,” she reassured me with a hug, “that’s the point of travelling, don’t you think? To learn about things as you go from one place to another. You don’t have to sit at a desk in school and to study books to learn all about the world. You just go out and speak to people and go to places and try out different things, and you’ll learn all you need.”

“Okay,” I nodded, feeling better already. “Please continue with our history lesson then.”

I feel sooo small next to them
I feel sooo small next to them

“Well, Rhodes was determined to establish a British empire that would link together all the British colonies from the Cape in the south to Egypt in the north – he envisaged a transport route from Cape to Cairo. Some call it the Great North Road, others call it the Cape to Cairo Route. His dream never became reality.”

“He died in 1902, at the relatively youthful age of 49,” Reggie continued. “He was buried, not in Cape Town, or even near this monument, but in the Matopo Hills outside Bulawayo in the country that, incidentally, carried his name for a while: Rhodesia. We now know it as Zimbabwe.”


“Right, so let’s take a closer look at the memorial,” she said, as we started to climb up the large steps. Gosh, this was tiring! They were big steps!

“The memorial was designed by architects Sir Herbert Baker and Sir Francis Macey, and completed in 1912. The Cape granite used in the construction was quarried on Table Mountain. You’ll see that there are 49 steps leading up to the top platform, one for each year of Rhodes’ life. And those are Doric columns at the top, because he loved the classical style of architecture.”

But this one seems to feel quite protective of me - Hello Mr Friendly Lion?
But this one seems to feel quite protective of me – Hello Mr Friendly Lion?

“The bronze statue of the horseman is known as ‘Energy’; it was made by George Frederic Watts, and expresses Rhodes’ impressive drive and determination. Apparently, it was intended to be installed at his grave in Rhodesia, but it proved too difficult to transport, so it was erected here instead.”

“The eight bronze lions, which were cast ‘in situ’ by John Macallan Swan, were supposedly inspired by the avenue of sphinxes, which lead to the Great Temple of Amen-Ra at Karnak, near Thebes in Egypt.”

Aunty Karin walked quite fearlessly up to one of the lions, and posed with me next to him, so that Reggie could take a couple of photos. I confess, I was grateful that she was holding onto my hand so tightly; although it wasn’t very windy today, there was quite a deep drop down the side of the monument, and I didn’t want to fall.

Look, there I am!
Look, there I am!

One of the lions seemed very friendly; as I posed for a photo near his head, he gave me a little lick with his raspy tongue and growled softly into my ear, “Welcome to Cape Town, Flat Kathy.”

“Ohh!” I jumped in amazement. “You know who I am?!”

“Oh yes,” he purred. “We’ve been listening in on your conversation. Most interesting. Well, enjoy your visit to Africa, Flat Kathy. And bring some friends next time.”

“Thank you, Mr Friendly Lion, I shall,” I said, stroking his mane in an affectionate kind of way.

He looked at me with his big golden eyes and winked. “Lost your fear of lions, then, eh?”

I blushed. “Yes, you’re rather nice.”

His chuckle rumbled very deeply in his chest.

“It was lovely to meet you. Bye!” I waved at him, as we climbed the rest of the stairs to the top.

This is a bust of Cecil John Rhodes with an inscription below that comes from a poem written by his friend, Rudyard Kipling
This is a bust of Cecil John Rhodes with an inscription below that comes from a poem written by his friend, Rudyard Kipling

Here stood a bronze bust of Rhodes on a granite pedestal. Reggie told me that the inscription below were the last four lines of the last stanza from the 1902 poem ‘Burial’ by his close friend, Rudyard Kipling, which he wrote in honour of Rhodes:

“The immense and brooding spirit still
Shall quicken and control.
Living he was the land, and dead,
His soul shall be her soul!”

“And now, after learning about all this history, why don’t we treat ourselves to a little something?” suggested Reggie.

“I could certainly use a capuccino and something small to nibble,” remarked Aunty Karin. “And you, Flat Kathy?”

“Ohh, so could I!” I cried. I felt so much happier and lighter, now that I had made friends with one of the big bronze lions.

We study our menus at the Rhodes Memorial Tea Garden
We study our menus at the Rhodes Memorial Tea Garden

“Well, we are in luck! There’s a restaurant and tea garden right behind the memorial,” replied  Reggie with a laugh. “It occupies the original stone cottage, built by Sir Herbert Baker between 1910 and 1912.”

We climbed up a couple of steps, and down a little path, and found ourselves a table at the restaurant, with a lovely view of the mountain side and the city stretching out at its foothills. A friendly waiter brought us a couple of menus, and we quickly ordered a capuccino, a pot of tea, and a bran and raisin muffin to share.

“Who is your friend?” asked our waiter, looking at me curiously, as he brought our snacks.

“This is Flat Kathy,” Reggie introduced me. “She’s visiting us from Nova Scotia in Canada, and we’re showing her around Cape Town.”

“Oh, that is nice,” he said, inclining his head politely towards me. “Hello Kathy. Enjoy your meal.”

I made sure Reggie left a good tip for him. He had been so nice towards me.

In these beautiful surroundings, we share a capuccino, a tea and a healthy bran and raisin muffin
In these beautiful surroundings, we share a capuccino, a tea and a healthy bran and raisin muffin

7 thoughts on “Ferocious – or friendly – lions are guarding the Rhodes Memorial

  1. Hi Flat Kathy! Rosie Bear has been telling me all about your adventures. You’re getting to see such a lot of Cape Town. I felt I had to respond to this post as Rhodes Memorial was one of my favourite places to go when I was studying at UCT. So nice to come and sit with the lions, and the horse and Mr Rhodes, and look over the city.


    1. Oh hello Lisa! So you’re Rosie Bear’s human? How lovely to meet you. Rosie Bear is a darling – I can see that you have your hands full with her, and the neurotic cat too.

      So you know Rhodes Memorial too? What an amazing coincidence! Reggie said she also enjoyed coming up here during her studies, and sitting near the lions. When we visited the memorial, there were clusters of students everywhere with notepads and sketchbooks – I guess they may have been art students, or something like that.


  2. Oh F.K. I think I would have jumped had I been suddenly licked by a huge lion. I bet his tongue felt all raspy and rough. Did he have an accent ? I have never heard a lion speak … That horse statue is lovely.

    And — oh the view ! What a lovely view !

    F.K. you do such a lovely job sharing your adventures: tell me, does Reggie sometimes help you with your writing ?


    1. The lion’s tongue was very raspy indeed, Not-so-flat-Sybil, much more so than Miss Tuffy-Cat’s little tongue, which – I confess – looks rather cute! I’m glad the Lion only licked me once, as he almost toppled me over.

      I think he had a bit of a British accent, actually. Reggie said, that’s probably because of Rhodes’ strong connection with Britain and the British Empire. Yes, that sounds plausible to me too.

      As to the horse statue – my goodness! I felt soo small next to it! I think it’s just as well I couldn’t get much closer to the horse, as he could easily have trampled me by charging off across the plains!

      To answer your last question: Um… this is a bit of a tricky one. I’m a very slow, one-finger typist, as you’ve probably surmised, and it would take me far too long to type anything. As it is, I already have a bit of a backlog. So Reggie kindly types the blogs on my behalf, while I dictate what I want her to say. She also makes sure that I spell things correctly, and that I get my facts right. And in this blog, she filled in some of the gaps for me – so I guess you could say this one was a collaborative effort.


    1. You’re most welcome, Bonnie. I am pleased you enjoyed it. I certainly did. It is much easier to learn about history when you can see and touch and feel it somehow.


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