Sedgefield: Western Cape’s “Slow Town”

1948 chevy

1948 Chevy (Photo by Ishay Govender)

This is my father’s cup of tea I think, stepping into the car. Riding in a 1948 Chevy, a deep shade of midnight blue with its lines long and sensuous, we amble slowly along the main road in Sedgefield, a town on the Garden Route. Sheridan Renfield, owner of Sedge Classic Cars is driving me around, gently warming the motor of the beautiful automobile as he accelerates progressively – each car is different, he says. People stare, Mr Renfield waves, and I settle into the comfortable chocolate leather seats, talking in the levers and gadgets on the interior. If time were a test, they have endured.

We’re meant to go for a short ride up to the petrol station but as we chat about the town and its charms we keep driving until we’re at the Sedgefield estuary mouth, close to the colourful mosaic of a large fish, and then to visit The Island where Mr Renfield and his wife live. Having been involved in the classic car industry for most of his adult life, he runs Sedge Classic Cars, a well-known and popular sight on the main road between George and Knysna.

According to Mr Renfield, Sedgefield is still the best-kept secret in the Garden Route.

“There’s a friendliness amongst the residents and my fellow workers that makes me proud to live in this beautiful part of South Africa. Miles of unspoilt beaches too,” he says

And thus begins my introduction to Sedgefield, Africa’s first and only certified Cittaslow town or “slow town,” a concept that derives from the slow town movement in Italy, which in turn took its inspiration from the Slow Food concept. There are in total 189 cities across 29 countries that are official slow towns. On previous visits I’ve never lingered beyond a quick stop at the popular Saturday market.

Cittaslow Status

There is a lengthy manifesto the town must abide by in order to qualify for the Cittaslow status, which is scrutinised by the head organisation. Founding member and local businessman André Gauché says, “Slow living comes naturally to the residents. Sedgefield has breath-taking beauty, active environmentally conscious residents, a small sustainable population, no heavy industry and a caring community.”

The list of qualifying requirements is long and includes preserving traditional food, controlling growth, living a healthy lifestyle and working towards a sustainable future.

Greg Vogt, CEO of Knysna Tourism, under whose jurisdiction the town falls, says that the attitude of the town as a whole gives the Cittaslow initiative a type of integrity that brand managers dream of.

“The people of Sedgefield whole-heartedly embrace the concept, “ he says, “They love the values and live by them.”

Making Haste Slowly

Sedgefielders, with Slow, the giant mosaic-ed tortoise as their resident mascot, take pleasure in “making haste slowly” and living more consciously. No one is rushing on the streets; there is no traffic to speak of.

At first I’m not entirely convinced that, outside the lives of retirees, of which there are a great many living here, businesses can be run successfully by adhering to this model of “slow”, “easy” and “leisurely”. Who can make a buck or meet a deadline at this pace, I wonder. When I arrive at a coffee shop on the main road at eight-thirty, one morning, ready to get some work done, the owner is yet to set up. Her neighbour enters, helps her to arrange the tables and chairs and leaves with a cheery farewell. Everyone I accompany is greeted by name wherever we go. With a population of around 8000 permanent residents, a figure projected not to exceed 15 000, Sedgefield is a village. One, where everyone knows your name.

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