We had another ship’s tour today called Cape Town, Apartheid & Robben Island. It was scheduled to be another long day’s tour but one I was really looking forward to do. When we were in S. Africa in 2010, I was just getting over being really sick, so I was a bit limited in what I had the energy to do. We were scheduled to do the Cape of Good Hope Tour and today’s tour back in 2010, but I had to cancel both. That is why I was so excited about yesterday and today’s tours.
A few quick historical facts about Cape Town and the surrounding area. Long before the Dutch arrived, the indigenous tribe (collectively known as the Khoisan) lived here. They refused to deal with the Dutch when they arrived in 1652, so the VOC (basically the Dutch Trading Company at the time) imported slaves from Madagascar, India, Ceylon, Malaya and Indonesia. Since there was also a shortage of women, they exploited female slaves for both labor and sex. In time, the slaves mixed with the Khoisan and this offspring formed the basis of sections of today’s Cape population – the Malay. During the Dutch rule, Cape Town was known as the “Tavern of the Seas” – a riotous port used by every sailor traveling between Europe and the Orient. Because this port was about half way between the two, it was where most ships replenished their supplies. By the end of the 18th century, the VOC was nearly bankrupt, making Cape Town an easy target of British imperialist interests. The colony was ceded to the Crown in 1814, the slave trade was abolished in 1808 and all slaves were emancipated in 1833.
One of the locals told us that the weather in Cape Town tends to change two or three times a day. Today it started off rainy for our city tour. Glad we were in the bus, but many of my pictures from the bus’ window have rain streaks through them. We began in the area around the water and our guide told us that this is reclaimed land that used to be under water. It has really built up with many modern buildings now. And the city also got huge makeover for the 2010 World Soccer Cup.
One of the major attractions we passed was the Castle of Good Hope – a former moated fortress whose walls form a perfect five-pointed star as specified in 17th century military books. It was built back in the mid 1660s by the Dutch and today is still a military post. Guards change at noon. It’s South Africa’s oldest European structure.
We next passed City Hall. In this picture you can see the balcony where Nelson Mandela appeared for the first time in public after 29 years of imprisonment. This was on Feb. 11, 1990. Next was the Parliament Building and the stone church where Tutu was the Archbishop. We passed by Company Gardens, Cape Town’s central Botanical Garden where a 300+ years old pear tree was fenced off to help preserve it. Didn’t get a picture of that.
We stopped and got out at the Bo-Kaap Museum which is a semi-furnished 1763 house, typical of a Malay family. Muslims are sometimes referred to as “Malay people” and this museum is located in their traditional district with its cobbled streets and pastel buildings. During the apartheid years, the National Heritage Council designated this as a cultural area, and so the Muslim people here did not have to leave their homes and neighborhood (relocation) when most of the other non-whites did. These were the ancestors of some of the slaves the Dutch brought over and this is where they moved when they were freed. Since these people had moved here voluntarily, it showed the great difference within the apartheid movement with the forced moving of Blacks. It was somewhat of an anomaly within the apartheid movement.
Also in this neighborhood was a wonderful spice market called Atlas Trading Co. You could just walk by the open door and know by your nose that you were in a different part of the world. Spices were in open containers as well as packaged and sorted. If I thought they would have retained their flavor and if I knew which ones to buy, it would have been a great “foodie” experience!
Our guide explained to us about the different laws that were established during the apartheid period in S. Africa. We went to District Six where the District Six Museum shows how 60,000 families were forcibly removed from a once-vibrant suburb and sent to live in different “townships.” You could read lots of books about this period in S. Africa’s history, but here are a few interesting things I learned.
The Population Registration Act forced people to be be categorized into one of four different races – White, Indian, Black and Colored. The latter was a mixture of people that could not clearly be put into one of the other three categories. These were all based on skin color. And it was skin color that determined the other official “Acts.” There was the Immorality Act (could not have sex with a different race Mixed Marriage Act (could not marry outside your race) and the Group Area Act (determined where you could live.) Many families were split up due to this classification process. This was sometimes determined by the Pencil Test. The authorities would run a pencil through a person’s hair. If it came through easily, they were determined to be White. They would also look at lip size and noses. On a lesser scale, there were the “Petty Acts” that segregated beaches, restaurants, park benches, etc.
The District Six Museum opened in 1995 in the old Methodist church that served this neighborhood for years before apartheid. This museum serves as a place to remember the past and teach about what happened during apartheid. In the middle of the first floor, there is a huge floor map showing all of District Six and its streets and buildings. At one end of the room is a display of many of the street signs from this neighborhood and a pile of dirt showing how the entire area was bulldozed (except for one row of houses.) Then it was built back again as an all White neighborhood. There are many other displays and testimonial writings from the former residents of this district. It is a very moving experience to go through this museum. I bought a DVD (District Six, The Colour of our Skin) from Joe Schaffers, a volunteer at the museum and a former resident of this district before he was moved out in 1967 to the Cape Flats (an impoverished shanty town.) There was not enough time to absorb this period of history in S. Africa, and I hope this DVD will explain even more to me about it.
After leaving the museum, we drove through part of the revitalized District Six, mainly seeing the commercial area. We stopped by some open fields where houses had been destroyed back in 1996 and saw just piles of bricks that remained from that time. The only other thing that is there in part is the cobblestone remains of Richmond Rd. Our guide shared so much with us about what happened during apartheid, but it would take pages and pages, so if you’re interested, check out some books about it or Google whatever is of interest. This is my plan when I get back home. It is a sad but fascinating story.
Our next stop was Langa, the oldest existing black township on the Western Cape. Today it is a vibrant black community as numerous squatters set about building their own brick homes with the help of government grants. I thought we were just going to see this area, but when our guide announced this is where we were having lunch, I’m a bit ashamed to admit I had great concerns. We walked down the street to a house/restaurant called Lelapa. Sheila, the owner of this establishment, put about 3 or 4 of these concrete houses together and opened her own restaurant. Once inside, we were reassured that everything was in order. Sheila was quite a character and gave us all a lecture about the differences between our culture and hers. For example, we look at a watch to know which meal we are going to eat (the time of day determines the kind of meal we will eat—breakfast, lunch, dinner) whereas in her culture, the food is all the same no matter what time of day or what meal. You don’t mess with Sheila!
Lunch was a buffet and sample of traditional South African dishes. There must have been 30 different bowls or platters of things to try . . and each and everyone of them was delicious. I took some carrots (just in case I didn’t care for some of the other veggies) and they were delicious with a different flavor due to one of Sheila’s spices. This picture of my plate doesn’t even show some of the food underneath what’s on top – there was so much to try! Doug had a local beer (Castle) and I had the S. African wine called Indaba – a Sauvignon Blanc – which is particularly good here. While we had lunch, we were entertained by the local band of four men using mainly African instruments. I couldn’t get a picture of all of them together the way the tables were arranged. And I can’t remember the name of this African instrument. They also played just on drums during lunch. They were so good, I bought their CD.
Back on the bus we got bad news. The ferry to Robben Island cancelled all its tours/trips today due to high and rough seas. I was so disappointed because I missed this the last time I was here, and now again. It was the main thing I was looking forward to on this tour. [I later learned that the whole three days we were in Cape Town, all tours there had to be cancelled due to weather.] Robben Island was once a leper colony and then a prison for convicts and political prisoners. On the tour, you could see the prison cell of Nelson Mandela. Also during the tour, former political prisoners give a detailed commentary about their stay there. Mandela wrote a book called “More Than Just A Game” – describing how playing soccer helped these men maintain their sanity while they worked and lived under terrible conditions.
As we drove back to our ship, I thought of the irony that we made it around one of the roughest waters in the world (the Cape of Good Hope) without so much as a hitch, but we couldn’t make it the twelve or so miles out to Robben Island. As we got closer to town, we were able to see Table Mountain without the cloud “tablecloth.” When you see it like this, you have to get your picture pretty quickly because if you wait very long, the clouds tend to roll in and cover it up again.
With the cancellation of the Robben Island excursion, Doug and I went shopping since we had a few extra hours. The V & A Harbor area is so fantastic – could spend days just there shopping! We bought some souvenirs, etc. But the most amazing time we spent was with the woman in this picture who sold us a wooden African mask. She explained how the different masks were made for different purposes – some for prosperity, some for power, etc. Ours was a combination of safety and good luck. But it was this woman who made the whole transaction important for us. She is the mother of 9 children (mostly all grown now) and how she moved from Congo, Africa to S. Africa so that her children could get a good education and thus have a good and successful life. And it worked for 8 of them. Her last one has problems and still lives with her. You could visibly see the worry and concern in her features. I took this picture of her while she was sewing our mask to the mat background.
We ended the night with a folklore show the ship had on stage called African Masala. “Masala” traditionally describes a mixture of many spices and so was an apt name for this group which featured many of Africa’s vast range of cultural musical and dance styles. It was the best show we’ve seen on the ship during the entire cruise. And it is one of the few groups that didn’t sell a DVD because this would have been the one to buy. It was fantastic!!! Great way to end the day in Cape Town.