The old Stilbaai and its image as a quiet, almost sleepy coastal town on South Africa’s south coast is changing  fast as South Africans review how they work and live their lives as a result of Covid-19.

One year after South Africa entered its first severe lockdown because of the pandemic, a ‘new’ Stilbaai is emerging. The image of a retirement village which is only invaded by holiday makers once or twice a year is gone.

In its place there is a new population composition which will have a lasting effect on the town. Record numbers of housing plans are being approved by the council and new development projects are emerging. Vast amounts of money are being spent on services. Indeed, Stilbaai and nearby Jongensfontein already contribute more than 60% of the Hessaqua region’s income. No doubt this new development will please the Hassequa Council who will see new funds in the form of rates and taxes being gathered. It is debatable whether the old-timers, those who came here to retire, will be pleased about this changing scenario.

People have learnt that you do not have to live in the major centers of the country in order to conduct your business life. You can work effectively from home and ‘home’ has for many people become Stilbaai and its surrounding regions.

The change can be seen in the many new faces and registration numbers of vehicles which are found in the streets every day. There are loads of younger people around. One of Fredo’s near-neighbours at Riverside and his wife have moved here recently from Gauteng. He works long-distance in Gauteng and his wife works for a company in Port Eiizabeth – and both find time to enjoy the countryside. They enjoy wildlife around them and down below them they have a ski-boat on the river. Fishing is a new art they are mastering..

This is one example of change. In the town Fredo and Janey have noticed and enjoyed service at new restaurants and food outlets which had not been there before. ‘Coffee and Cream’ is a new upmarket restaurant which will hold its own in any big city – yet it has the great atmosphere of the country with friendly country people serving you against the background of Piath and other French music. The owner located to the region a few years agoand first owned another restaurant. When Covid struck – she closed down and build in new venue. This is fantastic for the region. In and out of season a steady stream of people come in and enjoy incredible food. Normally restaurants, in fact many other businesses, struggle to survive all year round.

Fredo and Janey will find a regular table at ‘Coffee and Cream’ and keep enjoying the special atmosphere.

Change everywhere

Elsewhere over the years people enjoyed the chocolate and carrot cake at Mama Mia. Yet Mamma Mia is no more – and in its place the Stilbaai Fish market arrived. Who ever thought that we would now eat the most exquisite sushi from the Fish market? They also sell the greatest rib-eye and other aged steaks and there is plenty of fresh and frozen fish.

Stilbaai have always had some good butchers and has been served well by the two super markets. At the Stilbaai Butcher in the industrial area you can find a huge array of products – from beef and lamb, to sea food and venison. There are dried sausage and biltong – and frozen veggies, and delightful items such as skilpaadjies and sosaties. It is well worth a visit – the best is that you can pick and choose and they will cut the meat exactly as you want it. The Stilbaai wors (sausage) is to die for.

It is indeed possible to buy the best of fresh produce and food at the super markets. However, one wonders how long it will be before we will see more super markets in the town. There is one fuel station – and in this sector too additions will have to come. In Tabeul the town has an excellent book and stationary store. If you want a book which you think will only be available in big centers – think again. The friendly people there will order and deliver for you in a few days.

During the lockdown the owner of Hannalie’s Bistro innovated – by selling take-aways of her special fine food. Now we can enjoy oxtail or lamb shank, or an array of other traditiontional dishes, in the comfort of our home. In a sense we are also living differently – and it is somehow not important to sit around in restaurants anymore. There is also a number of ‘fish and chips’ shops – where you can get delightful freshly baked or fried fish every day.

If our friend Koos Pretorius is around, we often get a fresh kabeljou from the sea – Koos knows the fish waters around Stilbaai and we marvel at the catch he often brings home.

If we get a bit tired of Stilbaai – and want to drive to Riversdale – 15 minutes away – we can have a lovely meal at Trends or spent a leisurely hour in the court-yard of the ‘Old Tronk’ (Old Jail House). Imagine, a few yards from where you are sitting, a condemned man was once hanged. They had to bring the equipment from Swellendam to execute the poor man. It seems that in those days they had to make a public spectacle of this.

Yes Stilbaai and its surrounding areas are changing. It is a place where people now move to from the North, the East and the West! They find a new life-style here. Beneath the blanket of the older people who came here to enjoy their retirement, there is now a vibrancy which is waiting to break through.

Exciting times – as we live through it.