Named after part the Granary that was built on the estate in 1667 by the Dutch East India Company, De Groote Schuur (The Big Barn) was to become far more important to South Africa than the Trading Company that had it built. In 1870, over 200 years after it was built Cecil John Rhodes arrived in Natal - South Africa. He was sent from England to School, hoping the climate would improve his health. Well the move certainly improved his wealth, he became a businessman, mining magnate (founder of De Beers diamonds), and the politician who founded the state of Rhodesia. A man of much influence CJ Rhodes took out a lease on the property in 1891. In 1893 he purchased the property and had the "Big Barn" in Rondebosch, on the slopes of Devil's Peak, converted by architect, Sir Herbert Baker, into the Cape Dutch building we would recognize today. He spent as much time on the surrounding estate as he did on his home, in 1897 he had cages built on the upper slopes to house lions, but soon the slopes of Devils Peak were filled with antelopes, zebra, eland, wildebeest and ostriches. The house itself was surrounded by bright luscious gardens filled with roses, hydrangeas, cannas, bougainvilleas and fuchsias. CJ Rhodes died on the 26 March 1902 and his final will left a large area of land on the slopes of Table Mountain to the South African Nation.
The land was divided, the upper campus of the University of Cape Town took part, another became the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, while much became part of the important conservation area the Cape Peninsula National Park under the care of The South African National Parks. Part of the estate also became home for The Groote Schuur Hospital in 1938, this was the home to the first human heart transplant conducted by South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard
The Groote Schuur Residence however was the Cape Residence for the Prime Ministers of South Africa from 1910 to 1984 and then continued as the presidential residence up until FW de Klerk and the formation of the "Government of National Unity" (President Nelson Mandela never used The Groote Schuur as a cape residence, but opted for the Westbrooke, now known as The Genadendal building.)
One of the ironies of The Groote Schuur was a party thrown in May 1956 for South Africa's Nationalist Prime Minister Johannes Strydom in which speeches were made encouraging the continuance of "White Supremacy" in a country where they were clearly the minority. On 4 May 1990 The Groote Schuur made world wide headlines again, but this time it was the signing of the "Groote Schuur Minute" between Nelson Mandela of the ANC and F.W. De Klerk, the then President of South Africa.
Today The Groote Schuur stands as a monument of the past struggles of the South African people, and to the historical reformation that those struggles led to.
No Longer a presidential residence, the building and its grounds are open as a museum to the public but only by appointment. For more information and bookings contact +27-21-6869100
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