Remembering a fruitful life

Alderman Elizabeth Mary Harding (born Bronn) passed away on Saturday March 18 at the age of 94.

Elizabeth Mary Harding, fondly known as Bronnie Harding, who founded the Mouille Point Ratepayers’ Association, passed away peacefully on Saturday March 18, after a long and fruitful life.

At her funeral service at the Congregational Church in Bergvliet on Friday March 24, Gordon Oliver spoke, mostly about his time as a councillor with her and then as mayor of Cape Town.

Ms Harding’s grandson Brendon McLean gave a moving tribute, emphasising the fact that she was a real “doer”.

Winnie Craythorne, secretary of the Bergvliet Meadowridge Ratepayers’ Association (BMRA), wrote a tribute to Ms Harding and her daughter Hilary McLean spoke at the funeral.

Ms Harding was born on 25 September 1922 in Bredasdorp, one of six children, the daughter of the late Mr and Mrs Johnny Bronn. She grew up on a wheat and sheep farm in the district of Riversdale where her dad served as a town councillor.

A keen sportswoman, she played first team hockey and took part in athletics and horse-riding.

After school, she graduated from Paarl Commercial College and then worked for Afrikaans journal, Landman, for two years. She had moved on to a pharmaceutical firm, when she saw an advert for someone to help establish a new venture called “Keerweder Country Club” near Durbanville. She ran this club for many years, during which time it was frequented by the armed forces as this was during the Second World War. When the war ended, the owner sold the club and it became the first Montessori school.

Ms Harding then moved to Sea Point, where she met and married Joe Harding, in 1947. Keen to buy their first home, two years later they bought a newly built one in Paddington Road in Diep River, which was mainly a farming area at the time, with few tarred roads and no pavements.

This sparked Ms Harding’s interest in civic matters. She joined the Muizenberg Ratepayers’ Association, which stretched from Clovelly to South Road, Wynberg, but after three years realised that it was too large an area and decided to start the Diep River and District Ratepayers’ Association, of which she was chairperson for 19 years and was responsible for many improvements in the area.

Among them was the mammoth task of putting the many undeveloped roads on the development agenda.

She helped the St Augustine Cricket Club find a new home as well as the Ashford Soccer Club which wanted land in the area. When land was expropriated for the Roscommon Road bridge, a portion on the Cape Town side was unused. She asked the council for the land, which was low-lying and full of dongas. She then got demolition companies and swimming pool firms to dump their fill on the land and Badenhorst Boerdery would from time to time bulldoze the land to fill in the dongas. When that was done, she got the council to grass the field and three years later, the first match was played there and she was asked to kick the ball to start the first match.

In 1972 she was invited to stand as a councillor for Ward 12 – which comprised Bergvliet, Meadowridge, Diep River, Kirstenhof, Heathfield, Retreat, Steenberg and Elfindale. She was elected unopposed and during her 20-year service was never opposed.

During this time she became involved in many charities such as Adams Farm Home for mentally challenged women.

She was instrumental in getting a new home built for them in Tokai. When the Blue Route shopping centre was being developed they bought the land that the home was built on but part of the deal was to build a new home in Plumstead, where it still stands today.

In 1973 she was approached by a local women’s organisation which was concerned about the lack of an old age home in the area. She organised a petition and when there was great support for the idea, she contacted Garden Cities with regard to their vacant land near Meadowridge library. The request was granted and she subsequently discussed with Douglas Murray the need for a retirement home in the Bergvliet/Meadowridge area – resulting in the establishment of Anchusa Court retirement village.

Ms Harding also served on various boards, including those of Cape Mental Health, Victoria Hospital, Retreat Hospital, the former Cape Technikon, Red Cross and City Housing League.

Ms Harding’s husband Joe died in 1976 and she stayed on in her Diep River home until 1992 when she retired to Mouille Point.

At the farewell function hosted by BMRA at the time, they conferred the freedom of the suburbs on “Alderman Bronnie, in honour of all that she had done for our area and public service in general”.

Ms Craythorne said there were two roads named in honour of Ms Harding, Bronnie’s Way in Diep River and Harding Way in Wynberg.

Ms Harding loved living in the area and walking along the beachfront from Mouille Point to the President Hotel. However, a quiet retirement was not to be. In 1993 she became an Alderman of the City of Cape Town and this was when she discovered that there was a proposed development on Beach Road which would block any sea view for many people. In 1994 she founded the Mouille Point Ratepayers’ Association (“MPRPA honours former councillor Bronnie Harding”, Atlantic Sun October 23, 2008) and served as its chairman for 10 years.

She called a meeting and was elected as chairperson and shortly thereafter the proposed development was squashed.

She served on this association for 11 years and also had a successful business career as an estate agent, specialising in commercial and industrial property for Permanent Trust.

Ms Harding was also vehemently against the building of the 2010 World Cup stadium in Green Point, which she predicted would be a white elephant. She lost that battle which was a blow to her morale.

In 2008 she moved into Ms McLean’s house in Kreupelbosch and three years later into Cle Du Cap retirement village in Kirstenhof where her health slowly deteriorated.

“In all Ms Harding’s files (and there are many) there is a copy of her NG Kerk confirmation certificate. The dominee has written a note to Bronnie, which reads ‘Moenie met goeddoen verflou nie’ which roughly translates to ‘Don’t slacken in your efforts to do good’, and didn’t Bronnie take these words seriously,” says Ms McLean.

Ms Harding’s philosophy was this: “Service to others is the rent we pay for our time spent on earth”, and that “One should not go through life as a free boarder”.

In 2008, Ms Harding was presented with the Paul Harris award for services to the community from the Rotary Foundation.