The cannoneer who sparks Cape Town’s big boom
Chief Petty Officer Dudley Malgas starts every afternoon with a bang. Dapper and distinguished in his naval uniform, he’s held the charge of Cape Town’s Noon Gun for more than 20 years. The ritual of firing a cannon from Signal Hill at exactly 12pm dates back to 1806. Today, it’s still a routine interruption to the city centre’s midday hum. But while most Capetonians are well acquainted with the thunderous sound, how many know the person behind it?
Originally from Mossel Bay, Malgas joined the South African Navy in 1988, and procured the position of cannoneer at Lion Battery in 1997. This is the location of the two guns which are fired alternately. One of Cape Town’s oldest traditions, this practice was initiated for sailors and locals to reset their watches and chronometers. Like clockwork, the custom continues and has become a popular attraction among tourists. Malgas welcomes the hubbub. He loads each cannon with more than a kilogram of gunpowder and informs the surrounding crowd of its significance. After raising a flag to signal danger, Malgas ensures that everyone is out of harm’s way and commences the countdown. With a boom, another afternoon begins. “What people may view as repetitive, I understand to be a necessity,” Malgas says. He takes pride in caring for the surrounds and works in earnest, come pouring rain or blistering heat. “My love for the city overrides any excuse not to be here every day,” Malgas says.
After performing his duty thousands of times, Malgas will be retiring from his beloved post this year. “It has been a pleasure for me to contribute such a big part of history,” he says. Though Malgas is moving on, his dedication to the tradition remains a part of the Noon Gun’s story. When the cannon fires at 12pm every day, it will resonate Malgas’ heartfelt commitment to South Africa.