The Road to Cape Town

Sunday October 15 featured an eight am departure for a 6 pm flight, and this for an airport only 5 hours away. Such is group travel. After another delightful hotel buffet breakfast, we had a fairly organized bus-mounting and were underway about 8:30. Our Jo'burg guide filled us in on the history of the province, Mpumalonga. While her commentary is informative and politically pretty balanced, it felt too early for education. Of course we didn't stay early for long. Soon I found out why we were being kept awake.  We had to stop in Hazyview so that a police report could be made; someone had had some jewelry stolen, and needed a copy of the report so she could make a claim. 

Sometimes bad things happen at random, and yes sometimes they happen to good people, but sometimes they happen to people who are so dour and sour that their expectations tickle a grumpy universe.  Some people make the elementary mistake of bringing portable valuable items on lengthy foreign trips.  Anyway, this stop was supposed to take 30 minutes, but it took another thirty, at least to round up all the pax, who had wandered off to once again browse the same undistinguished curios that lined every other roadside we'd stopped at.  So much for the non-materialism of idealistic progressives.  At last we resumed, and so could our truncated slumbers.   


Soon it was time for a bafroom break, which again was stretched by inane kaimono. My boredom was relieved by the cheerful religious slogans on this van.  

We'd exhausted the time allotted for lunch, so we ate picnic kits from the hotel while en route.  These items weren't toxic or even bad tasting, but our languorous and dilatory schedule should have allowed a lunch stop with food.

Our delegation leader, admittedly a pretty good people-person, had a truly unfortunate idea. Let's pass the time by having everyone make a speech!  Forty-one lawyers and spouses making speeches! I traded for a window seat in case I needed to jump.  Happily there were few takers and none were so gauche as to talk about their cases, or still worse, brag about their verdicts. If anyone had done that, I was fully prepared to spend 5 very very long minutes explaining how I'd beaten a moving violation back in the Spring of 1992.  As it turned out, there were three or four reasonably thoughtful and provocative political remarks made. One attorney suggested replacing our expensive and inefficient adversarial system with administrative remedies. Mary pointed out that this would only benefit workers who had a much more secure stake in the political process than do Americans. A bit later, as the trip neared an end, and our next instructions were repeated to us, Mary prompted me to take a chorus as well. I mentioned that I'd read "Manufacturing Militance", which is a comparison of worker-fueled freedom struggles in Brazil and South Africa.  I used the book's analysis to reinforce how valuable I feel it is to learn from these multicultural societies, where economic growth was made possible by authoritarian regimes.  The oblique parallel to the U.S. is informative, though not automatic.  I closed with a joke about how as a guest I enjoy observing the complex power relationships between two alienated groups, one a minority, the other a majority. Attorneys and their spouses.

Johannesburg's Oliver Tambo International at last hove into view.  This otherwise generic airport has a civilized amenity now lost to terror-stricken America: A viewing deck 

  While South Africa has one of the world's most liberal constitutions, recognizing in its most fundamental statutes the rights of gays and the disabled, they apparently don't yet expect wimmin to check guns. Only the men's room has a gun check: 

Or maybe women are permitted to bring weapons on board, but not one of our merry crew of cultural exchangers asked this particular question. The two hour flight to Cape Town had led to an hour's delay on the bus leaving the airport. Thennnnnnn, we all had to sit on the bus and wait an hour or so for some of us to file lost-bag reports.  At last we got to the hotel   We linked up with a couple of friends for a late drink at a restaurant on V & A wharf. While the wharf is just a standard glitzy bit of redevelopment, better than a LeCourbusier but not by much, it was "almost heaven" to at last be off the bus.  Glenda's gentle but thorough interrogation of the friendly young restaurant manager was a performance to behold.  And so, at a respectably grown-up 12:45 am, to bed.

 

Just Short of Good Hope
Monday October 16th was a day of minor frustrations and large satisfactions. We got on the bus to head up the Table Mountain tramway, only to learn that the day's high winds caused the authorities to close the tram for the day. 

Along our way up the hill, our guide Tarik treated us to some of the local history.  The "official" or Voortrekker-style history starts with Johan van Riebeeck's colony started in 1652.  Of course the San people, known to colonists as "bushmen" had been there for many thousands of years, and the Khoikhoi, known to colonists, and British children's books authors as "Hottentots" had been living in the Cape area for a couple of thousand years as well.  Known European activity in the area dates back to Vasco de Gama's landing in the 1480's.  This Portuguese navigator named the Cape of Good Hope to encourage his compatriots on their trading voyages to India.  The Portuguese did not actually colonize the Cape, choosing Angola and Mozambique instead.  Our ride to the Table Mountain tramway terminus took us past the pastel-hued homes of Signal Hill, home of the Malay quarter, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Cape Town. Cape Town is sometimes compared to San Francisco, and the winds and the coastline look somewhat similar.  But Table Mountain is much higher, at more than 4000 feet, than anything near the Golden Gate.  The geology is different, too. It's sedimentary rock supported by granite. The mountain was three times higher when it was new, sixty million years ago.  Having taken a few photos, we diverted back to town. Next stop, the District Six museum. As we descended Tafelberg Road, Tarik pointed to some of the gorgeous real estate and explained what to most of our group must be obvious: apartheid laws may be gone, but economic apartheid, in the form of gross economic inequality, continues.  Your reporter imagines the economic geography is much the same in Rio, that other Southern Hemisphere beauty spot, and would love to find out.

District Six was a culturally vibrant and racially mixed neighborhood that flourished near the main railway station during the first half of the twentieth century. Under the infamous Group Areas Act, it was designated "white' as part of a Le Courbusier-style downtown "urban-removal" scheme.  Imagine Greenwich Village or Haight-Ashbury being clear-cut for a Walmart, and you'll get a sense of this outrage. After some decades of active community resistance, the area was bulldozed at the end of the 1980s'. The museum is housed in a former church at the edge of District Six.


It is filled with photographs and oral histories from residents of the area, and includes a small bookstore with book written by authors who'd lived there. The presence of the Communist Party, who played an honorable role in building the unions and the ANC was not overlooked 


Our tour later passed the five-pointed seventeenth century castle, which is still the official headquarters of the South African military, and then by the St. Georges Cathedral, where Desmond Tutu preached. Then we passed Slave Lodge, which was first a slave-processing center for the Dutch East India company, then the Supreme Court building for the Cape Colony.  Today it's a museum of slavery on the Cape.  Your reporter visited it the next day. It's not as vibrant as the District Six Museum, since its subjects were systematically robbed of their identity and history and left few artifacts for a museum designer to work with.  It's well worth a visit nonetheless.  We parted from Tarik, who shared with us that an attorney he'd met on an earlier tour had inspired him to go to law school. It's gratifying to observe that cultural exchange can truly go both ways.

Our peace of mind was shadowed by the brief disappearance of two of our compatriots. Five of us had opted to walk up Table Mountain and two of them became lost when enveloped by the dense clouds   A full-scale rescue was called out after an hour, but fortunately they reappeared from the mist, unharmed, shortly thereafter.


On Monday afternoon, a second bus trip departed, headed for scenic activities on the Cape. This time our guide was Johan, our unflappable in-country manager. Among other tidbits, he explained to us that the infamous Robben Island, long a prison and now a museum, is named after the Dutch word for "seal".  That's why it's not spelled "Robin Island".  We headed out, down the Atlantic Coast, passing Bridgewater Prison, now a backpackers' hotel, then through upper-middle-class Seapoint, which local friends described to us, half-seriously, as being "full of Jews and homosexuals".  Next came Clifton, with its million-dollar Art Deco mansionettes:

The scenery along the road south was spectacular and we continued down the M6 to Hout Bay. We passed near Llandudno, where assorted celebrities own multimillion dollar homes.  But where do their domestic workers live? I asked. Wouldn't the bus rides from the townships take many hours? The answer is that many of the homes have servants' quarters. Next came Chapman's Peak Drive, which is a lot like California's coast highway near Devil's Slide.  In this case, exorbitant tolls are used to maintain a highway where none belongs, while in California, it's taxpayer money which funds a futile fight against nature.  Lunch was served at the Seafresh restaurant, next to the Simon's Bay naval base.  Our group continued on to Cape Point

and several kilometers of spectacular walking. Your reporter and his wife, however, got a cab back to Cape Town in order to be back in time for dinner with D & L, our local friends. D was a budding criminal defense attorney here in California when she met and married L.  They moved back to South Africa this year to raise their new son. We were their first visitors from the U.S. since moving.

The day of touring normally
October 17th: This last full day in South Africa was more typical of our vacations together. I frequently will be do recon, bring her and share experiences.  Mary had a morning meeting, and I took a walking tour around the center of Cape Town. 

I brought no guide book and no map, and the whole trip had been blessedly free of cell phones besides. I followed my nose through the "Company's Garden", which is now masmenos the rough equivalent of DC's Mall, studded with official buildings and museums.
  Then I turned towards the backpacker zone of Long St, and found "Downhill Adventures". They offered a guided mountain bike ride down Table Mountain, a three-hour tour that could just about fit our afternoon and have us back for Mary's cocktail-time lawyerly activities. Talking to the white and Indian tour guides, I reminded myself that I've been experiencing a very particular view of South Africa, a kind of Australia, with the townships somewhere way over the horizon.

The bike ride proved to be a little too much to schedule; we instead toured the Slave Lodge museum. I mentioned something about this in my October 16th entry, most of which was also submitted as my guest report to the log that our group sent to People to People back in Spokane.  The rest of it is worth mentioning as well.  Half of the main floor describes the slave system that the Dutch East India company instituted on the Cape. The other 1/2 is a rather bland, nearly inane paean to the US civil rights movement, funded by the U.S. Consulate.  But upstairs was truly remarkable exhibit, called "A Lota Continua" ("the struggle continues",  the slogan of revolutionary movements in the Portuguese colonies in the 1970s.). This exhibit was devoted to the healing journeys of people who'd been jailed and tortured by the apartheid regime. The Khulumani Support Group had had people draw 'body maps', an art therapy which allowed people who in some cases had been scared mute to re-open their ability to communicate. The docent, Maureen Mazibuko, had her own map on display.

We walked around the Malay Quarter and took lots of pictures, but hesitated to photograph the 'Bokaap (upper Cape Town) Madrassa' out of respect for Islamic community values. 

Then a Caribbean lunch on Long St. Then we shopped for music CD's and African fabrics. Actually the fabric comes from Holland, as indeed it has for hundreds of years, originally as part of the infamous "Triangle Trade".   The evening was devoted to the farewell banquet for the tour group.