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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

South Africa - 13-15 May, 2001

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Cape Town - De Waterkant Lodge S3354.947' E01824.990' 54 m
Robben Island (13 May)
Castle of Good Hope (14 May)
District Six, township and shanty town (15 May)
Finish Cape Town - De Waterkant Lodge S3354.947' E01824.990' 54 m

Total:

41,198 km

20,388 km

 

Weather: Clear, sunny, and hot.  Cool at night.

 

 

Daily Journal Entry:

13 May, 2001:

 

Today will be one of the most moving days of our trip - we will be visiting Robben Island.  This is the prison where Nelson Mandela and many other anti-apartheid activists were imprisoned during their long struggle for freedom and justice.  To be able to see the extent to which humans will go to keep an unjust system in place and, more importantly, the sacrifices people will make to over-come that same system is so important - it will have a lasting impression on us.

 

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After a quick breakfast, we take a taxi to meet Lars' parents at their hotel.  We walk down to the waterfront to go and buy our tickets for the ferry and the tour.  After we purchase our tickets, we wander through the small shop that is attached to the ticket office.  While browsing around, one of the (white) attendants comes up to us and, after saying hello, opens a book and shows us one of the photos - it is of the (black) man sitting next to the cash register.  We chat with them for a while and discover that the white man had been a warden at the prison and the black man (Mr. Kathrada) one of the political prisoners.  It was inspiring to see them sitting together and, more importantly, working together and getting along.

 

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The ferry heads off and we enjoy the half hour ride out to the island.  The views of Cape Town and Table Mountain are superb - we continue to be very lucky with the weather.  Once at the island, we are all shepherded onto a bus for a tour of the island.  We are driven around and see many sights, including the pub where the wardens could have a beer with a fantastic view of Cape Town and Table Mountain, the quarry where the prisoners used to work and the house where one prisoner was kept in solitary confinement.  This prisoner had served his time, but the government feared him so much that they convened a special session of parliament to pass a bill that said that he would be imprisoned until the government decided to release him.  He was so isolated that he eventually went a bit crazy and lost the ability to speak.

 

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We were than taken to the prison itself.  The tour guide was a former inmate, so he was able to give us an amazing tour, with incredible insights to what it must have been like to have been imprisoned here.  We were shown the censorship room, where all letters (incoming and outgoing) were reviewed - they were only allowed something like one to two letters a year.  Then out to the exercise yard, which connected to the cell blocks where Nelson Mandela was kept imprisoned. 

 

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He lived for many years in this small prison cell, which had to be kept very neat and tidy.  He, and the other prisoners, only had a thin bedroll to sleep on.

 

As we went through the prison, we were told how the prisoners, under Mandela's leadership, strived to make sure the system did not beat them down.  They turned the prison into a university where the inmates would work together to teach each other.  As the system did not provide an education (inside or outside the prison to blacks), they needed to provide it themselves.

 

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In one of the cell blocks, we were shown the diet provided to each prisoner - even in the prison apartheid existed with different races getting different amounts and types of food!

 

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As we left the prison, we had much to reflect on - about life, governments, man, and what we can do to each other.  We took the ferry back to the main land in a different mood than when we came out - somber, but at the same time rejoicing at how man can overcome such oppression and brutality and emerge so magnanimous.

 

We have lunch at the waterfront and then, after a short walk around, head back to hotel to wash up and relax.  That evening we have dinner at the Mount Nelson Hotel with Craig, Sophie and Paolo.  It is a magnificent restaurant - the decor in the huge room is very grand.  The food is also quite good.

 

14 May, 2001:

 

We have our usual breakfast at the B&B out on the terrace over looking the waterfront and Table Mountain, after which we go and pick up Lars' parents at their hotel.  From there we head over to Lions Head Lodge, where we will show Lars' parents Christie - the truck that took us across Africa and wave off the few people on the Trans-Africa that are heading back up to Harare.  We hope that we will see many of them again soon.

 

Then some sightseeing - off to the Castle of Good Hope.  This is the oldest structure in Cape Town and was built to protect the town.  It was originally on the shore, but land reclamation now means that it is quite a distance inland.  We are there in time to see and hear the noon day gun being fired off from Lion's Head, after which we get to watch them demonstrate a muzzle loaded musket in action.

 

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Before we go on our tour, we watch the changing of the guards in a very elaborate ceremony.  The tour is very interesting and learn a lot about the history of the castle and the personalities involved.

 

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Later that afternoon, we head over to the Mount Nelson Hotel, where we have high tea.  It is a very grand spread and we (or at least Lars) gorge themselves.  It was very good.  We take it easy for the rest of the evening.

 

15 May, 2001:

 

It will be another emotional day as we get to experience some of the effects and legacy of the apartheid system.  we have booked ourselves on a day tour which will take us to District Six, a township and a shanty town.  After breakfast, we meet up with Lars' parents and get picked by the tour operator.

 

First we head to District Six, which is the municipal area of Cape Town that was declared a white area under the Group Areas Act of 1950.  As a result, over 60,000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas known as the Cape Flats while their homes in District Six were bulldozed.

 

Only some of the area has since then been redeveloped - mostly with commercial buildings and a university.  Most of the land still lays barren.  It was eerie driving around this empty plot of land so near to the booming city of Cape Town.  After a quick drive around, we head to the District Six museum, which is housed in an old church.

 

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The museum is amazing - in a very matter of fact way it presents the history of the area and the effects on the people.  Very moving is the sculpture made of the old street signs - it literally gives names to the numerous streets that no longer exist.  They have photos that compare the busy street life that existed prior, with the desolation that followed.

 

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That describe the pass laws and the various documents that the non-whites had to carry.  There are signs and benches that remind us how the peoples were segregated.  We could have spent a lot more time in the museum.

 

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We then headed out to the Cape Flats and one of the townships.  These townships are where the black people who worked in Cape Town would live.  The conditions that lived under was appalling and, while improving, is still appalling.  We got to visit one of the homes where one large family would live in one room (this room has four beds in it).

 

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Then when we headed outside, we went to visit one of the local beer clubs.  These are huts built out of scraps that has a couple of benches and a barrel of beer that has been home brewed.  You pay one Rand for membership for one day and you can drink as much as you like (or can).  The beer is pasted around in a big bucket and people take turns drinking the foamy liquid.  We (except my mom) tried the beer - strong, but not the best taste.

 

Our next stop was one of the shanty towns, where we visited one of the local schools.  What a place.  While the teachers seemed eager to do what they could, they were given nothing to do it with.  It was a one room hut that was barely big enough for all the children.  But at least they were off the streets.

 

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We gave them some toys and they sang and danced for us.  They all seemed so happy and cheerful.  After leaving the school, we spent some time driving around the shanty towns and visited a craft shop that was providing work for mothers.

 

We finished the tour and were dropped off at the waterfront.  After some lunch, we spent the afternoon wandering around, shopping and checking our email.  The evening is a quiet one.  We go back to our B&B early as we need to pack - we will be leaving for Stellenbosch and the wine country tomorrow.

 

 

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