Now overlooked by multi-million Rand apartments and Cape Grace, the old harbour office in the V&A Waterfront, dating back to the late 1800s, has a role in history that might make you a little squeamish.
The date is sometime between 1900 and 1902 and the futile Anglo-Boer War is devastating South Africa. It’s a war about gold, power, pride and colonialism between the British Empire and the Afrikaner nation. There was precious little food available and none for the horses, which were the only way of getting around the countryside. The British in the Cape began importing fodder on ships from South America. These ships were rat infested but these rats were especially noxious – they carried the plague!
Something had to be done to contain this deadly disease and so it was decided that the old harbour office should double up as the rat-catchers headquarters. Sixpence was paid for any rat tail brought to this office – quite a sum in those days – and skilled rat catchers must have become suddenly quite rich. No case of plague has been known in the Cape Province since 1917.