South Africa is no stranger to windmills. The figure doing the rounds is 280 000 – the number we claim to have on farms spread across the country. But the windmills of modern day are actually windpumps, rather than mills. Most of them pump water from the ground, although a few may be attached to saw mills and feed mills.
The old-fashioned windmill did exactly as it name implies. It used wind to mill grain for food production. South Africa has a number of these, to which we still affix the Dutch word ‘molen’, meaning mill. It describes Dutch tower and smock mills with their common sails (blades) that now function as landmarks.
There are several windmills in South Africa, in particular in Cape Town…
Photograph: Windmill on a farm in Clanwilliam, Cederberg
Nieuwe Molen, Maitland, Cape Town
Declared a national monument in 1978, the historic Nieuwe Molen is part of the Alexandra Institute in Maitland. The bullet-shaped tower was erected in 1780, making it the oldest surviving windmill in South Africa. In 1901 the colonial government built a hospital around the mill, known today as the Alexandra Hospital. Rather strict controls within the hospital grounds make it difficult for visitors to get anywhere near the tower, however.
Find it: Alexandra Hospital, corner of Alexandra and Annex Roads, Maitland
Onze Molen, Durbanville, Cape Town
One of several windmills built outside of Cape Town, where Mostert’s Mill struggled to keep up with the demand for milling wheat, Onze Molen was built on a little parcel of land in what was then known as Pampoenkraal (today’s Durbanville). Thanks to the Natal Building Society, who in 1984 restored the mill, it now sits on display in the midst of a modern housing estate. The restoration used Mostert’s mill as their example as there were no plans for the original Onze Molen. It is not officially open to the public, but it is very clear from the road.
Find it: Onze Molen Road, just off Hoog Street, Durbanville
Photograph: Onze Molen in Durbanville
Oude Molen, Pinelands, Cape Town
Oude Molen is well known in Cape Town, but not because the windmill serves as a landmark. If it were still standing it would be South Africa’s oldest mill. Historians now believe it was destroyed by one of the vicious south-easter winds where it stood between the present Pinelands Station and the Black River.
Oude Molen is well known for the eco-village that operates from here (the only eco village in the world to operate on public land in the world) – a series of craft industries, artists, restaurant, Gaia Waldorf School, organic vegetable gardens and community development programmes on a piece of land hotly contended for by both the provincial government (who own the land and propose a redevelopment), and the 70 tenants who live and work there, providing employment for about 300 people.
Oude Molen’s future development proposal is now an official World Design Capital project.
Photograph: Mosterts Mill in Cape Town – Photo by and © Janek Szymanowski
Mostert’s Mill, Mowbray, Cape Town
This is Cape Town’s most visible mill. Set right on the M3 close to UCT it is a prominent landmark. Built in 1796 it is also the oldest surviving and only complete windmill in the country. It was also the first privately owned mill – up until then it was only windmills controlled by the Dutch East India Company that were allowed. The three storey, cone thatch roofed tower mill is open once a month and tours are run by the Friends of Mostert’s Mill.
Club Mykonos, Langebaan
Despite sounding like a themed beachside vacation lodge, this beautiful little white tower windmill sits on the hill above the Club Mykonos resort in Langebaan. Little information is available about the windmill but its round sails are slightly different from the other mills in Cape Town. Other than serving as a backdrop for wedding photographs, it is well worth a visit for its sheer pretty value.
De Molen, Edenvale, Johannesburg
This is not an historic mill. But it is a three quarter size replica, built in 1996, of the wooden smock mill Zeldenrust Molen in Groningen, Netherlands, and as close as many South Africans are ever going to get to the real thing. Not only is there a windmill, but a Dutch bakery operates from beneath its bright green exterior, whilst a winding staircase takes you into the windmill’s interior where you can eat pancakes. Expect windmill-adorned biscuits and the like.
Find it in Van Riebeek Avenue in Edenvale, Johannesburg
Photograph: Windmills at the Louriesfontein Windmill Museum in Northern Cape
Jasmyn Mill, Hartbeespoort
Another smock mill-come-restaurant. This one in Hartbeespoort Dam. Ask anyone where it is. The mill is a landmark.
Windmill Park, Springs
This is one windmill you don’t want to miss catching a glimpse of. The old Dutch windmill in Pioneer Park is a city monument that has fallen into severe disrepair, but is no less beautiful for it. The last we heard the Rotary Club was intent on restoring the windmill and its surrounding garden, formerly listed as one of South Africa’s most beautiful gardens.
Museum of Windmills, Loeriesfontein
A different set of windmills, none of them able to grind grain, but no less spectacular when seen together like this in the middle of the Hantam Karoo. For this reason it deserves a mention. The group of 27 water-pumping windmills creates a spectacular canvas for photographs, and an eerie enough noise to think twice about putting one anywhere near your bedroom window. The Frank Turner Folk and Culture Museum is one of very few such museums worldwide, and well worth a visit if you are here to see the flowers.
They are open during the flower season and at other times by prior arrangement.