Monday, July 30, 2012

Capetown, South Africa

    I knew from reading and from friends, that Capetown is a spectacularly beautiful city.  The reports were not exaggerated.   The waterfront, with Table Mountain as the backdrop was the view from our hotel.   Bonnie, Sharon and I arrived a day in advance and enjoyed meandering around the waterfront before being joined by the rest of our group.

   Our group consisted of 12 people; two delightful 12 year old grandchildren to folks in their 70's.   Bonnie, Susan, and Beber all know each other through their labor arbitration professional group.  The rest of us were spouses, siblings, cousins and friends of those three.   Guiding us through South Africa were Lanz von Horsten and his fiance, Kristen.   I had already seen some of Lanz's photographic images in South African guidebooks and a bird calendar.
Two more harbor views.

Our introductory evening consisted of dinner at The African Cafe.   In a two hundred year old building, where the treads on the stairs showed all the usage of this once warehouse structure, we were seated in a room with a large square table, big enough for 14 of us.  Dinner was served family style with dozens of typical African dishes.   It was a terrific meal, fun setting, the staff was gracious and included some singing and dancing after they finished serving.   This woman painted designs on the faces of the two twelve year-olds.  Then  Lanz asked if any one else was willing.  Naturally I stepped forward, not one to miss out on these opportunities.

The African Cafe

Statues of Albert Luthuli, Bishop Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk, and Nelson Mandela pay tribute to these four South African winners of the Nobel Peace Prize and the work they did to end apartheid.
    As beautiful as the city is, there is another side.  One day our travels took us to several sites that speak to a past that included slavery, apartheid, and continuing economic scarcity for a huge block of African people.  We visited one of the shanty towns and Robben Island.  We also visited the colorful area where the Malay or Muslim former slaves settled.
Mix of home made shanties and newer government housing
     The government is replacing the shanty town structures with more modern housing. Progress has been slow . The positive side may be that they have not bulldozed the camps, displacing people, and erecting mass, high rise complexes which other countries have utilized. By building new houses as they slowly clear shacks as people get their new homes, they have retained the sense of community. The negative side is that the shanty towns are still huge, the unemployment issues are incredible, and new shanties are going up at a rate of 300 per day. Why all the new shanties? People from other countries of Africa are moving here in large numbers. These shanty towns are a sad reminder of the colonial and later apartheid eras.
      In the shanty town we visited the Philani Development Centre and Craft Shop. This program, a non-profit endeavor, provides children with nutrition and health care and a means for women to earn a living making crafts.


     Robben Island is a large, flat topped island sitting within sight of Capetown.  It housed all kinds of prisoners, but the ones best known are the political prisoners.  For 18 years, Nelson Mandela lived in a tiny cell here, worked in the quarry with hand tools, and ate a less than adequate diet.   Diets were not great for any prisoner, but there were three distinct diets; one for white prisoners, one for colored (the South African term for people of mixed) and Indians) and African.  The African diet consisted of mostly corn meal porridge, an occasional vegetable thrown in, and once a day a small piece of meat, usually gristle.  The Colored diet had an added piece of bread and butter so it wasn't much better.

It was a rainy, windy day when we visited Robben Island.  The boat trip
encountered large swells, making it miserable for many on board. 
Somehow the grey weather seemed fitting for such a solemn place.

These are the furnishing supplied to Nelson Mandela and other prisoners.

     The Bo-Kaap neighborhood  was settled by Cape Muslims when slavery ended.   Brought here from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India by the Dutch East India Company, they created a community on this hill where their mosque was located.     In celebration or perhaps as a reaction to the time when they were granted few liberties, they painted the houses in bright, lively colors.  The tradition remains.    We only had a few moments here, but I could have spent a lot of time photographing this colorful neighborhood.


  A trip to Capetown is not complete without a tram ride to the top of Table Mountain. The views are spectacular. While the mountain looks flat on top from the city, it is actually quite a jumble of steep rocks at the top. It was my introduction to dassies, a rodent not unlike the marmots in the Rockies and Sierras.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Marvelous! Thank you for both the images and the commentary. We loved having you on our trip with our grandchildren, Grace & Garrett.


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