The red and white lighthouse at Kalk Bay Harbour has served commercial fishing boats for over a century. In the dark the lighthouse, a 5 m round tapered stone tower, signals one long (2.5 seconds) red flash every 15 seconds with a focal plane of 7 m. A comforting light, guiding the boats and their crews from the fishing banks and reefs in False Bay.
On a recent walk along the pier to take photographs of the lighthouse, I was saddened to find it in a state of disrepair. The red is faded to an oxblood brown and the white parts are discolored with rust marks from the metal structure.
I spoke to one of the long-standing fishermen at the harbour about the state of the lighthouse. He was also concerned about its state of disrepair and more so about the light not working anymore.
A professional photographer told me that because the lighthouse is in such a deteriorating state he was forced to use a 2010 photograph of the lighthouse for his 2021 lovely Kalk Bay calendar.
Why does the Kalk Bay lighthouse matter?
The lighthouse’s primary function is to guide commercial fishing boats into the harbour after dark. It has been guiding fishing vessels into the harbour since 1919.
On a broader level, the lighthouse is part of the local heritage of all the small fishing harbours built generations ago to support coastal communities and livelihoods.
It is a tourist attraction along the southern Peninsula for both local and overseas tourists.
The lighthouse is a functional art form with aesthetic and symbolic meaning.
It has commercial value beyond what it cost to build, maintain and repair over the decades.
I have a personal interest in the lighthouse because I grew up in Kalk Bay in the 1970s. It is a beautiful nautical artefact that one can appreciate, take photographs of, paint and show your children and grandchildren.
It is surprising that the public officials entrusted by the public to maintain and repair this working historical artifact don’t seem to understand the functional and commercial value of the lighthouse.
It makes me wonder why the commercial eateries at the harbour, fishing and pleasure boat owners, anglers and residents have not petitioned the authorities for repair and regular maintenance.
Some may disagree that the lighthouse needs maintenance or saving. They see all the decay around them as public officials stuff their pockets with public funds. Let it go, the detractors may say.
Unfortunately, unless connections are seen between the parts (the lighthouse) and life (the community), nothing will be done to restore the lighthouse and implement a regular maintenance plan. It’s perhaps only through recognising the value of something and seeing and its connection with community that people can be nudged into action.
The Kalk Bay Harbour Master was contacted, noted the concerns, and undertook to investigate whether lighthouse is in working order, would inform Transnet to make necessary technical repairs and will request Public Works to include the maintenance and painting of the lighthouse as part of their upgrade Project.