My Photos
boffo01's photos More of boffo01's photos

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Things I Did Yesterday 17/02/10

Day 14 of the South African holiday! That’s the halfway mark to anyone keeping track, which has gone very quickly and very slowly in equal measure. On the one hand it feels like the holiday is slipping by at alarming speed, but on the other the last time I was in London feels like a lifetime ago. Anyway, yesterday I:

- Got up early to do the Robben Island tour. Robben Island was a maximum security prison for political prisoners from the 60’s through until the 90’s. It most famously held Nelson Mandela for 18 years but was also the prison of a number of other notables from the ANC, the PAC and others. After the topsy-turvy boat ride out from Cape Town harbour (a 13km journey), the tour takes place in two phases. First, a bus ride around the island covering its history as variously a supply dump, a prison, a hospital-cum-leper hospice, a military base and finally its return to prison status, first for common law criminals in a medium security prison, then for political prisoners as a maximum security facility built by the original inmates from quarries on the island. Our guide was brilliant, a Khayalitsha resident by the name of (if I recall) Mpkelele, or MP for short. A real comedian and a great guide. I think he must earn a fortune in tips from the Yanks. After this we get dropped at the main prison itself, where groups are given a guided tour by a former prisoner. I never caught the name of ours, to be honest, but he was an interesting guy. Quite no-nonsense, he was certainly able to give insight into the conditions and the mood of the prison. There was a particularly interesting segment where he was asked about why he had been put there, and he quite frankly told us that he had been a soldier for the ANC Youth League in places like Angola and Zambia. He had received his training in Cuba and the Soviet Union and was still very much an old-school communist. Interestingly he did not really become politically aware until he had been interred at Robben Island, where politics was the number one discussion point for inmates, unsurprisingly. He was in the prison when the early drafts of what is now the South African constitution were written, after the liberation of Namibia. So, all in all a very interesting tour and certainly one I would recommend if you’re in Cape Town.

- Hit the road. Headed for Hermanus, a town mostly famous for its whale watching, though we were out of season. But Alex has friends there we wanted to catch up with and it’s still a lovely area to visit, so we drove on down. It’s a fantastic drive, with more dramatic scenery which is pretty standard in this Western Cape area, I’m finding. Only takes a couple of hours from Cape Town, and that’s with us stopping here and there along the way. The town itself is pretty stunning, sandwiched between rocky coastline (though with a substantial beach further around the bay) and smallish mountains which sweep up suddenly at the rear. It reminds me of New Zealand, and that’s not the first time I’ve been drawn to that comparison while I’ve been here.

- Killed some time while we waited to hear from Lana, so we had a quick drink from a place which was actually closing up. One waitress told us that we couldn’t get any food but could have a beer, but the other waiter was quite obviously put out when she told him. He was fine with us, but I think she got the evils good and proper.

- Went to Lana’s house, where we had a very pleasant evening. A lot of politics got talked between Lana's husband Ramone and his father Aubrey, some of which was a bit dubious from my perspective, but a lot of which was really quite interesting. The politics here is just so volatile. Zuma is disliked intensely by a good number of the population, particularly among the whites. Meanwhile young, poor blacks and coloureds, especially men, are finding themselves distanced from the older generation of the ANC, guys like Zuma or Mbeke before him. They’ve grown up without the struggle these guys were engaged in, and although they know about the past, they don’t relate to the older generation. Meanwhile there’s a new kid in town named Julius Malema who is the great fear for the whites here now (and not exactly loved by the ANC elders either, I gather). Essentially he’s a young guy, 28 or so, who was a street kid and so speaks directly to the younger generation. He also has charisma and a populist polemic that doesn’t necessarily hold with the spirit of reconciliation that is embodied in the constitution. Whether or not the ANC will push him forward or try to bury him is unclear, but it’s certainly a lively topic for speculation (and one which I don’t really know enough about at this time to join on). Anyway, the other really interesting thing was the talk I had with Ramone’s folks about their history in South Africa: about the Afrikaans propaganda that began once the National Party took power, designed to institute Afrikaans over English as the main language, and how the English speaking community was actually subject to a lot of regulation as the Afrikaners tried to subsume them. Not something I’ve normally ever heard about. They also talked about the early English-speaking condemnation of apartheid and so on. Anyway, fascinating stuff. We also talked a lot about the idea of coming to live here now, and the consensus seemed to be it might be worthwhile, but you would need to have enough money to start your own business, the drive to make it succeed and a back door just in case things got nasty, or you got sick of the crime and so on.

- Ramone and Lana gave us their bed for the night! They slept in the spare room downstairs. I felt guilty for a while, but not very long. Zzz.

No comments:

Post a Comment