Cape Town CBD, Cape Town
The Slave House museum is located in the CBD, close to Parliament, the Anglican cathedral and the entrance to Company Gardens.
The main attraction here is an exhibit on Nelson Mandela. It draws on a similar exhibit in the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, and provides a terrific overview of his life, including the cultural frame of reference into which he was born. So many myths and half truths have grown up about Mandela that it is a relief to find a single, digestible exhibit that presents the facts accurately and document his towering influence on South Africa's transition to democracy. If you are planning to visit Robben Island, I would strongly recommend that you visit here first in order to get an overview of the history of this period, as you won't get this background on Robben Island.
One of the most refreshing aspects of this exhibit is the perspective it provides on the way that Mandela's character evolved when he was incarcerated on Robben Island: Robben Island was known as the ANC's 'university' and one of his colleagues bluntly states that he was a much better leader because of this maturation process (although it was certainly a tough environment in which to develop this sense of enlightenment). It is also good to see a frank admission of his shortcomings whilst president, most notably his failure to grant sufficient priority to the fight against HIV/AIDS: because of the uncomfortably 'godlike' status that Mandela has been awarded, one seldom sees any criticism of the man, and he seems all the more human for conceding that there are areas in which he could have done better.
Excellent though the Mandela exhibit may be, I am puzzled by its location in a museum that is nominally devoted to slavery: Mandela may have been incarcerated for 27 years, but he was never a slave.
Personally, I would have preferred to have seen some material on the tragic Saartjie Baartman, perhaps the best known slave of all, who rose to prominence in Cape Town. She was of Khoi Khoi descent and was often referred to as the 'Hottentot Venus' because of her physique - particularly her exaggerated buttocks - which were considered sensational by the European population. She was 'persuaded' (more like coerced) to travel to Europe at the beginning of the 19th century to be exhibited as a freak, but when her novelty value waned, she ended up as an alcoholic prostitute in Paris, where she died in her mid 20s. To add to the indignities that she had endured in life, in death, her skeleton, preserved brain and pickled genitalia were exhibited in the Musee de l'Homme in Paris, where they remained on public display until the 1970s. Her remains were finally repatriated in 2002, and reburied with much ceremony in the Gamtoos Valley in the Eastern Cape, the place of her birth.
The rest of the exhibit is informative and moderately interesting, but doesn't quite live up to the impact of the entrance hall, which presents some very hard hitting facts on slavery - historic and present.
General Jan Christian Smuts is perhaps the most divisive and intriguing of South African political figures: a man that fought both against and with the British (in the Anglo Boer War one one side, and in the two World Wars on the other), who was both a proud Afrikaner and an unashamed Anglophile, an unpretentious man who lived in a former railwayman's house made of corrugated iron, but loved hobnobbing with royalty (and indeed, played host to the British royal family in the aforesaid house during their visit to South Africa in 1952). He was one of the original architects of the League of Nations (the predecessor to the United Nations) and - other than Nelson Mandela - was the the South African politician who exerted the greatest influence on 20th world century.
Smuts' unswerving support of the British during World War II meant that he was increasingly seen as a traitor by his own people, and his shock defeat in the post war election in 1948 opened the door to the rise of the ultra nationalist National Party, which heralded the dawn of the apartheid era. To be fair, Smuts was no bleeding heart liberal, but his departure heralded the country's descent into institutionalised racial segregation and the formal policy of 'separate development' on racial grounds that were to prove to be such a toxic period of South African history.
I find Smuts an immensely charismatic figure: quixotic, sometimes misguided, occasionally contradictory, but riviting in his passion and inspiring in his achievements ... and, above all, never, ever dull (which puts him in a league of his own compared to his dour Afrikaaner contemporaries).
Smuts was originally from the Cape and had a particular penchant for retreating into quiet, remote places to think. He was particularly fond of Table Mountain, and both this statue outside the National Gallery (and the Jan Smuts statue outside the Slave House) appear to be based on a famous picture of Smuts sitting in contemplation at the top of Table Mountain. He would most certainly have approved of the fact that this particular statue boasts a fine view of the mountain as a backdrop!
If you're interested in finding out more about Smuts, have a look on my Pretoria pages, where his former homestead in Irene (where his ashes were scattered) has been turned into the fascinating Jan Smuts House museum that is a fitting monument to his complex legacy.
The President's official residence when Parliament is in session is De Tuynhuys (derived from the Dutch for 'Garden House'), a lovely, low slung villa which adjoins the Parliament buildings.
There has been a house on this site from 1674, but the current building dates back to 1751, when it was built as the residence for the Governor of the Cape Colony. It is possible to sneak a peek through the back fence from the pedestrian path which separates the Parliament from Company Gardens so that you can appreciate its lovely colonial architecture - Cape Dutch gables, stoeps (verandahs) roofed with corrugated iron against the spectacular backdrop of Table Mountain.
You have to hand it to South Africa when it comes to nurturing bloated bureaucracies ... not only do we have 11 official languages, but we also have three capitals!
The three capitals bit is a legacy from the foundation of the South African Union in the early part of the 20th century, and was a dela struck to appease the (then) four provinces, who could not agree on which was going to host government. As a result, Pretoria - formerly in Transvaal Province - is the administrative capital, Cape Town - obviously in the former Cape Province - is the legislative capital and Bloemfontein (yes, Bloem!) - in the former Orange Free State - is the judicial capital. As ever, sleepy Natal seems to have missed out entirely in this process, but was probably too laid back to even notice!
As a result of this grossly inefficient arrangement, MPs have homes and offices in both Cape Town and their constituency - and often Pretoria to boot. The resulting travel costs for MPs to commute back and forth is astronomical, and was the basis for a major corruption scandal in 2005/2006 when over 200 sitting parliamentarians (including the Speaker of the House) were found guilty of misusing travel privileges.
South Africa's post-apartheid government structure was established after the first democratic elections in 1994 and present day Parliament comprises two houses. The 400 person National Assembly (the lower house) consists of representatives elected on a proportional representation basis, whereas the upper house (the National Council of Provinces) has 90 members.
The Houses of Parliament occupy this rather splendid building in the heart of Cape Town's not-so-lovely City Bowl. Apparently if you're visiting when Parliament is in session between January and July, you can enter the visitor's gallery and watch the debate - however, be aware that you will be asked to present your passport as ID. Given the undignified shenanigans that go on in Parliament, I would imagine that this would be a very depressing experience, and so haven't subjected myself to this, but please feel free to report back if you've done so and have enjoyed the experience!
I absolutely love St Mary's Catholic Cathedral because it is utterly unique in its appearance, and thus, instantly recognisable. It stands directly opposite Parliament which is a curiously conspicuous location given that Catholics have always been a minority in South Africa and have been particularly mistrusted by the Calvinistic Afrikaaners (who held political sway until 1994).
The foundation stone for the Cathedral was laid on this site in 1841, when the Catholic community outgrew its former church. The church has undergone several phases of modification and expansion since then, and the last set of additions, which were completed in 1927, are reminiscent of colonially-inspired Germanic architecture in Namibia.
There are obviously a lot of 'St Mary's' kicking about, so this one distinguishes itself by being dedicated to 'Our Lady of the Flight into Egypt'. Although it was established to service Catholics primarily drawn from the Irish and Portuguese communities, its present multicultural credentials are endorsed by the fact that it hosts Zimbabwean and Nigerian masses once a month.
I am rather fond of this imposing statue of General Louis Botha - the first Prime Minister of the South African Republic - which (somewhat surprisingly) still stands outside Parliament in Cape Town.
Louis Botha rose to prominence during the Second Boer War (1899-1902), where he served as the leader of the Transvaal Boers, even managing to capture a youthful - and much slimmer - Winston Churchill (who was a war correspondent at the time). After the British captured Pretoria in early 1900, he and his colleague - the legendary General Koos de la Rey - orchestrated a very successful campaign of guerilla warfare which frustrated the British for another two years, and he was ultimately one of the signatories to the Treaty of Vereeningen which brought this messy war to an end.
After protracted negotiations, he was mandated to form the first Government under the Union of South Africa and joined forces with General Jan Smuts to create the South African Party. However, he was seen by many of his fellow Afrikaaners to be too conciliatory towards the British, and this mistrust erupted into outright hostility when he mandated South African forces to invade German South West Africa (now Namibia) in support of the British during World War I, triggering a revolt within the Boer community.
The statue depicts Botha in his youth: in later life, he was renowned for his well upholstered figure, and the extra weight he carried probably played a part in his early death.
What I like most about the statue is the description of Botha as "Farmer, Warrior, Statesman" ... the somewhat counterintuitive order in which these claims to fame are presented speaks volumes about the Afrikaaner sense of identity and priority!
Alright, so I know that grey squirrels are vermin, and foreign vermin to boot, who have no place in the ecosystem of the Cape Floral Kingdom. But it's amazing how your principles tend to buckle a little when something small, cute and furry looks up at you beseechingly with big eyes ... and that's even when your kids aren't around to plead their case ...
The pedestrian path that separates the Parliamentary complex from the Company Gardens is a very pleasant spot, lined with old oak trees which lend welcome shade in summer, and some protection from rain and wind for the rest of the year. This is the domain of a band of grey squirrels who have long since become habituated to people. They are partial to fruit and nuts - and if you haven't got any of these to hand, there are a number of hawkers at the entrance by the Slave House who will happily sell you small bags of peanuts.
Generally speaking, the Cape Town CBD - though interesting - isn't the most exciting place for kids compared to other destinations on the Cape peninsula, so if you're planning to visit en famille, you will find that a few minutes of interaction with the squirrels will probably do wonders for your childrens' moods (and thus, your sanity). The adjacent Company Gardens is a pleasant park that has enough space for kids to run around and let off steam, and is also right by the excellent National Museum, which has a range of great kiddy-friendly natural history exhibits, as well as being a welcome wet weather refuge.
This building is wedged between St George's Anglican Cathedral (of Desmond Tutu fame) and the Dutch Reformed Groote Kerk. Cape Town's second oldest building, it functioned as a slave lodge between 1679 and 1811, holding up to 1000 slaves at one time. The VOC (Dutch East India Company) decided colonists had to get along with the locals, a decision that spared the local Khoison the tragedy of potential slavery. To make up for the lack of manpower, slaves were imported from mostly east Africa, southwest India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Eventually, slaves came to outnumber freemen in the small colony. With time, Britain ousted the Dutch as the controlling party here at the Cape and they officially outlawed slavery in 1834. This was one of the main complaints descendants of the original colonists had with Britain, as they felt slavery was needed to continue to run their farms. Emancipation of slaves, thus was a precipitating factor in the exodus of many Boer farmers - with their slaves - from the Cape Colony to the lands which would become the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (Transvaal).
Exhibits in the Lodge describe something of the hopelessness of slave life in the Colony of Good Hope including modes of transport (i.e. slave ships) and life in the lodge itself - not very appealing with a death rate approaching 20% per year. It seemed the day I was here that half of the exhibits were geared more towards The United States and its racial problematic past than South Africa. The day fell on the day before a national holiday and as such, government workers closed the museum a half day early in order to get a head start on those unfortunate enough to work in the private sector. I guess I got what I paid for which was only R10.
Across the street on the north side of the lodge is the Grootes Kerk. If a slave was baptized and could read or write in Dutch, they gained their freedom. All the more reason for the local burghers to import slaves from Islamic countries like Indonesia.
On one of the unfinished bridges coming from Sea Point side into the CBD a massive 80 meter vuvuzela has been erected by Hyundai. This vuvuzela blows everytime a goal get scored during the 2010 FIFA World Cup
Cape Town is the most segregated city in SA. It is very difficult to meet Capetonians of colour within the established tourist sights so walk the city go into Golden acres to have a sense of the culture of Cape Town. Drive into the Bo-Kaap area and eat at a local cafe.
Greenmarket Square, is situated in the heart of the Central Business District of Cape Town. This square has seen a vast mix of cultures pass over its ancient cobbles through the decades.
This area has served as a slave market, a fruit and vegetable market (hence the name Greenmarket Square) and in the late 50’s as a popular parking lot.
It wasn’t until the early 80’s that Bob Hayward had the vision to transform the Square into a viable trading venue for the informal sector. These humble beginnings saw only a handful of traders brave the elements twice a week on a small section of the Square, but it was not long before it grew to become an extremely popular flea market for crafters to reap the rewards for all their efforts.
Today it is visited by most visitors to the city where you can buy all kinds of things to take home.
St. George’s Mall is a pedestrian zone with many smaller shops. Unfortunately, none of them really remained in my mind and that was surely not caused by my age… What is probably more interesting is the small stands in the street. Similar to Greenmarket Square, this is a place where you can buy african souvenirs of all kinds. Also here, haggling is important. But there are also a couple of stands selling household goods or other things of everyday life. That means that prices are also better than at Greenmarket Square.
Although the market on Greenmarket Square is often labelled a flea market, it is not. Over the years, it has become a spot where tourist stuff like small wooden elephants can be bought. If you want to buy some south african souvenirs, it is a good place. The market has a nice atmosphere and product diversity is big. Train your haggling skills before coming here as asking price is quite high. A discount of 80 % is not uncommon.
In the square in front of the city hall, you’ll find a statue of King Edward VII. It really looks displaced there. While the city hall still shines in its old splendour, King Edward has disappeared in a thriving african market atmosphere and only the pigeons seem to be interested in him.
The city hall of Cape Town was finished in 1905 as one of the most beautiful examples of edwardian architecture in Africa. Limestones from Bath in England were transported all the way to South Africa to give the building today’s appearance. As far as I know, the building is not open for tourists with exception of the clock tower.
The city hall of Cape Town became known to the world for an event in 1990: It was the place where Nelson Mandela held his first speech after 27 years in prison.