Jan van Riebeeck, born on April 21, 1619, in the Netherlands, is widely recognized as the founder of Cape Town and a key figure in South Africa’s colonial history. His arrival in the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 marked the establishment of a permanent Dutch settlement in the region, laying the foundation for the complex history that would shape South Africa.

Actual Portrait of Jan van Riebeeck | Source: Wikipedia

Jan van Riebeeck’s journey to the Cape of Good Hope was undertaken under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), a major trading entity during the colonial era. Van Riebeeck’s primary role was to establish a provisioning station for VOC ships traveling between Europe and Asia. His arrival in 1652 marked the birth of the Cape Colony, which would later become known as Cape Town.

Jan van Riebeeck Arriving in the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 | Source: Wikipedia

Upon Van Riebeeck’s arrival he faced numerous challenges. The arid climate, unfamiliar terrain, and tensions with the indigenous tribes created difficulties for the Dutch settlers. However, through resourcefulness and perseverance, the colony gradually took shape, with the establishment of a fort, cultivation of crops, and the start of trade. Van Riebeeck’s leadership was instrumental in facilitating the initial growth of the settlement.

Portrait of Bartholomeus Vermuyden Mistaken for van Riebeeck | Source: Wikipedia

Mistaken Identity

Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival and the establishment of a Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope set in motion a series of events that would shape South Africa’s history for centuries to come. During apartheid years of South Africa, he had been honored in various ways throughout the country. One example was by placing his portrait on Rand banknotes. Or at least what they thought was his portrait. In recent years it has been revealed that the portrait of Jan van Riebeeck on South African banknotes is actually that of Bartholomeus Vermuyden. Not much is known about Vermuyden other than he was involved in the military.

South Africa 10 Rand Banknote, 1990-1993 ND | Sourcce: Banknote World

South Africa 10 Rand, 1990-1993 ND. It’s colored in green and orange. Its obverse side features a painting of Bartholomeus Vermyuden that was mistaken to be Jan van Riebeeck and a flower. Its reverse side shows a bull, a ram, grapes, corn, wheat, and oranges. Security features include a solid security thread and a watermark of van Riebeeck.

South Africa 50 Rand Banknote, 1984-1990 ND | Source: Banknote World

South Africa 50 Rand, 1984-1990 ND. On the obverse of the note is a portrait of Bartholomeus Vermyuden who was mistaken for navigator Jan van Riebeeck and a lion. The reverse design depicts a giraffe, a springbok, a gnu, a zebra, and a deer drinking from a watering hole. A mountain range and coconut palm trees are also visible.

South Africa 200 Rand Banknote, 1999 ND | Source: Banknote World

The old banknotes that were supposed to be of Jan van Riebeeck were eventually replaced by banknotes featuring Game. An example is the South Africa 200 Rand, 1999 ND. It has a color combination of orange, brown, and green. Its obverse features a leopard lying on a tree, a leopards head, and a wheel transitioning to sunflower. The reverse of the note illustrates transport and communication including a satellite dish, a ship’s propeller, wheels for a bicycle, a tractor, and a train. It also shows a bridge and a sound wave background.





The Mistaken Face of South Africa

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