For the resistance and freedom movement to succeed, we should strive for economic progression. The route today takes us down Station Road.
Economic growth needs a will. Due to Heidelberg’s strategic location the railway connected the Old Transvaal and Natal. Part of economic development was changed from steam to diesel. This made the location of the Old Station with is winding railway line, the pump station in the Blesbok Spruit and the coal yard on the corner of Voortrekker and Schoeman Streets redundant. SA premier, who occupied the Heidelberg seat therefor opened a new station in 1961 along Station Street.
This drew the attention of big entrepreneurs such as Eskort that expanded to Heidelberg in 1954. Eskort was influential in giving honorary citizenship to Sir Winston Churchill on the 10th October 1964. Heidelberg was also in the midst of the beer revolution. Dr Anton Rupert and Dr Louis Luyt took on the mighty SAB. In a strategic step Louis Luyt used his SARU connections to ensure a sponsorship for the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 1974. To counter SAB’s Lion Lager, they decided to bring Heidelberg beer to our shores as sponsor. Their condition was that it should be based in Heidelberg. The office was then registered in Ueckermann Street. Dr Anton Rupert wanted to incorporate the brewery as part of his future developments of a tobacco factory next to Station Street. Dr Anton Rupert was however persuaded to exchange all his malt interest for that of wine and spirits. He was given control of Stellenbosch Wineries and Distell‘s in exchange for all his malt interest to SAB. This meant the end of Heidelberg beer and his joint venture with Luyt Lager. His tobacco factory was still built here in 1977 as the biggest cigarette manufacturer in the Southern Hemisphere. In 1995 the Rembrandt Group and the Richmont Company joined their tobacco interests in Rothmans International BV. This was sold on to the biggest tobacco company, BAT in the late 1990s. BAT currently exports tobacco products from Heidelberg into 20 countries. In 2017 the company contributed R80 million to the Gauteng GDP and paid R14 billion in sin taxes. It is still the biggest employer in Heidelberg.
What happened to the Heidelberg beer sponsorship? It was brewed on licence by SAB who honoured the sponsorship of the 1974 Lion’s tour. SAB then decided to adopt, Carling Black Label the brother of Heidelberg Beer. This became their most successful brand before they sold out to INBEV the biggest brewhouse in the world. Heidelberg craft brewery recently opened at the Old Station to relive the expectations and market the heritage of Heidelberg.
Station Street runs adjacent to the railway line up to the Meyer Street Bridge. The South Eastern railway line as a liberation route connects Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal. Chief Albert Luthuli was the first son of Africa to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960. Umkhonto we Sizwe was established on the 16th December 1961 the day after he returned from Sweden after collecting his Nobel Peace Prize. He tragically passed away on the railway line at the Groutville Bridge, on 21st July 1967. This was a mere six months after the leader of the Apartheids Government was assassinated. The ANC headquarters in Johannesburg is named after him.