Battle brewing after historical Navy home is renamed 'without permission'

Cape Town - A battle is brewing at the Simon's Town naval base after the name of the building Belmont House was sanded off from the sandstone pillars without permission, and renamed after Chris Hani.

RearAdmiral Bravo Mhlana, Flag Officer Fleet, announced a week ago that the name of this historical home in the town's historical mile would be changed.

Mhlana currently resides there.

By Sunday, the home was already sporting the new name Chris Hani House in yellow copper letters.

The Belmont name on the sandstone pillars at the entrance to the home as already been sanded off, and the pillars painted white.

The name change is but the last in a string of changes, including palisade fencing which was erected without permission.

The house is part of the historical mile in Simon's Town, which puts it not only within the provincial heritage and conservation area, but it is also an international heritage building due to its historical link with Britain.

While the Simon's Town Historical Society is now busy getting legal advice, the SA National Defence Force confirmed that Mhlana did not consult his own generals or admirals in the decision.

The SA Navy has never taken a decision to change the name of the house. It has never been discussed in any formal structures either," spokesperson Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said.

He did not indicate how the SANDF's top brass would respond to the situation.

Mhlana's spokespeople said the name change was done "unofficially". Mhlana would still decide when to do it "officially" and would then follow the necessary channels.

This historical home is part of the naval base's buildings and has traditionally been used by commanding officers as official residence.

The house forms part of the colonial British history in the area and was named after the Battle of Belmont. This battle in November 1899 between British and Boer forces at Graspan in the Western Cape, was won by the British thanks to a contingent of naval forces and canons.

The home was completed in 1901, and there has never been any attempt previously to have its name changed.

According to David Erickson, chair of the Simon's Town Historical Society, he first heard rumours about a name change about three months ago.

The society wrote to Mhlana repeatedly, but never received any response.

It is unacceptable that any changes are made to a building without due consideration for its heritage value. One would expect from the Navy at least, as part of the defence force, to act according to the letter of the law.

With all due respect to Chris Hani, he had no link whatsoever with the navy. We are thus baffled over how this name was decided upon," Erickson said.

Over the past week the society has met with Heritage Western Cape and other interested parties to discuss the next step.

Assistant-director at the heritage council Jenna Lavin said a permit is needed for any changes made to a historical building. Their inspectors will now investigate.