Mother City of South Africa

Saturday, January 5, 2018

This was a long travel day. Again, there were three legs to our flight. First, we returned to the small airport at Xakanaxa where we boarded a 12 passenger plane that took us to Maun. Mark saw a cow walking the street just outside the airport. We rejoined the crew of our DC-3 there, stopped for one refueling at Polokwane. We had to go through customs at Polokwane as it is in South Africa. The customs staff were less than friendly, taking their time to process us. When we thought we were good to go, they all came out to the airplane and inspected that. They took one suitcase off to inspect it. It appeared that they just wanted to demonstrate their control over us. Our steward, Werner, said that they often do this, and he thinks it’s some kind of retaliation against him because of his orientation. Sad.

So ended the safari portion of our trip. We consider it to be quite successful. We saw the Big Five: Elephant, Rhinoceros, Leopard, Lion and Cape Buffalo. They are called the Big Five, not because of their size, but because they are the most difficult and dangerous to hunt on foot.

We arrived in Johannesburg, picked up the luggage that was stored there, then boarded a British Airways flight to Cape Town, where our ride was waiting to take us to our hotel. I was so tired that I think I was sleepwalking by the time we got our room around 11pm. That bed felt so good.

Sunday, January 6, 2018

Cape Town is called the Mother City of South Africa, with the second largest port in South Africa, with Durban being the largest. In the year 1488, King John II of Portugal commissioned Bartolomeu Dias to search for a sea route around the Cape to India. When Dias approached the Cape, he encountered high winds that blew him right around it. He landed in Mosell Bay, and his crew said they didn’t want to go any further, but wanted to return home. Diaz told the King that it was the Cape of Storms, but King John II was an optimist who called it the Cape of Good Hope. He then sent Vasco deGama who made it all of the way to India.

In 1652, the Dutch East India Company established a colony here to grow provisions for the ships that passed by. The colonists took slaves locally, and from Madagascar, Malay, India to work the farms and vineyards for them.

The British took over governance in 1806. British rule ended in 1910, and the country became the Union of South Africa, then the Republic of South Africa in 1961.  Apartheid, meaning “apartness” in Afrikaans, was instituted in 1948, and lasted until 1994 when the first free democratic election was held, and Nelson Mandela became the first Black president of South Africa. There are 55 million people living in South Africa, of which 75% come from the nine black tribes.

Cape Town and surroundings are suffering from drought. In fact, we were greeted with a sign by the elevators of our hotel, outlining ways we could help conserve water.


We signed up for a tour of the District Six Museum, townships and Robben Island. The city of Cape Town is divided into several districts, each of which is segregated by racial group. There were four racial groups: White, Malay (their ancestors had been brought in as slaves,) Colored (mixed blood,) and Black. The way the South Africans determined whether a person was Colored or Black was to stick a pencil in the hair. If the pencil fell out, the person was Colored. If it stayed in the hair, the person was Black. Every adult over the age of 16 was required to carry a “pass” card that indicated their race. If a person was in the wrong area, he/she could be arrested. If your spouse was one race and you were the other, you could not live together in the same district. You could only see your family on certain days and for no more than an hour. Horrible!!!

The museum houses street signs from the original neighborhood, plus stories from some of the people who had lived there.

District 6 was designated a “white” area in 1966, and most of it was razed. One of the few buildings left standing was a Methodist Church, which now houses the museum. Over 60,000 people were dispossessed. Many of them moved to the wastelands of the Cape Flats. There was no housing provided. There were some “hostels,” residences that had been built to house workers. The hostels (apartments) are quite small, with a living/kitchen area, and up to six small bedrooms.

We went to the township of Langa, where we first visited an artists’ colony, and saw demonstrations of mosaic work and pottery.

We then visited one of the hostels that houses 16 families. We were allowed to peek into one of the bedrooms, and that one has three families living in it. The women and children sleep in those rooms, and the men sleep communally in the living/kitchen area. If they have electricity, all families pay for a part of it. Each family pays about $50/month to live here.

There are some larger residences, which cost about $500/month, but not enough. Some people live in shipping containers (like those we see on the trains.) Some may have small wooden shacks to live in. In the meantime, District 6 is mostly undeveloped.

This was not a tour that I care to repeat. Even now, as I write about it, I feel sick to my stomach.

After that, we were to go on a ferry ride to Robben Island for a tour of the prison that held Nelson Mandela. We had been warned that sometimes the ferry is cancelled due to the weather. That’s what happened today. In truth, I was not disappointed. I was feeling overwhelmed by the poverty, and I was also ready for some free time.

While waiting for our driver to pick us up, we checked out the art museum nearby. They have some chairs out front that are built to move and roll as we move in them. All I could think of was the old ad about Weebles: “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”

After returning to our hotel, we were entertained by a marching band practicing just down the block. We have fabulous views of the city and the surrounding mountains, including Table Mountain. We found a restaurant nearby for dinner, then repacked everything and went to bed. I will be so happy to stop living out of a suitcase.

About kcbernick

I love to travel.
This entry was posted in Africa, Cape Town, National Geographic, South Africa, The Big Five. Bookmark the permalink.

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