There was no slouching in cells for Cape Town’s convicts at the beginning of the last century; they were put to work building the most scenic roads around the Cape Peninsula. This was teamwork with a difference (they were forced to be there in wind, rain and extreme heat) with team colours that no-one could mistake.
The All Round Cape Peninsula Road (ARCPR), was a dream of Sir Frederick de Waal and being a man of great determination, he persuaded the Union Government of 1913 to cough up the money and the Minister of Railways (who controlled convict labour) to give him seven hundred and fifty felons.
The disused Simon’s Town gaol was re-opened to house the convict workers and another was built at Smitswinkel Bay for 260 convicts. As the Cape Peninsula roads progressed over several years, another convict station was erected at St James for those working on Boyes Drive and another at Slangkop near Kommetjie for the Atlantic seaboard section. At least the convicts had a lovely view while they were labouring away, although the steep rocky terrain made progress slow and often dangerous.
The roads eventually connected all the South Peninsula towns and villages; Muizenberg, St James, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, and Simon’s Town on the False Bay coast and around to Scarborough, Slangkop, Kommetjie and Noordhoek on the Atlantic coast. There was a branch road heading down to Cape Point and one going across the mountain at Red Hill acting as a short cut.
Local convict labour also helped to build Chapman’s Peak Drive between 1915 and 1922, but many people, even locals, often mistakenly say that was built by Italian Prisoners of war, during World War I. This would have been rather awkward, as Italy fought on the side of the Allies and would not have been prisoners of Her Majesty. However, during World War II, when Italy was on the opposing side, five thousand Italian prisoners of war were pressed into work for the construction of Du Toit’s Kloof Pass.