Star Date: January 2011
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
Molo! Kunjani? Kulungi.
(Hello - How are you? I'm fine. Xhosa/ Klosa The Original People)
Our Greatest Fear
"Our greatest fear is not that we are
(Nelson Mandela - Madiba , paraphrased from his 1994 Inaugural Speech )
Africa calls! South Africa welcomed us into her brilliance with open arms. All apprehension was dissolved as we arrived from Bangkok into Cape Town on New Year's Day 2011. A New Year for a new chapter of our 25 year adventure. We had posted questions online on Lonely Planet's 'Thorn Tree' and Brett, who is starting an overland Africa company, was intrigued by our website. What kind of crazy people travel non-stop for nearly 8 years? We were thrilled when he emailed us and offered to meet us at the airport. Our world unfolding before us once again. His uncle's flat next door, at the base of Table Mountain Forest, near Kirstenbosch Gardens, was open for a month and we rented it, sight unseen, for 1 week while we settled in. We can't say enough good things about Brett and his family as they welcomed us warmly into their home, family, and extended family. They were extremely helpful and we are thankful for their generosity. They introduced us to the fun South African custom of 'Brie' or back yard bbq. Maybe it was payback for years of helping tourists in Hawaii; at times even bringing stray, confused newly arrived traveler's home with us from the beach for a few days, until they could get orientated. Who knows? What goes round comes round.
We soon realized that without an organized mass transit system and expensive guesthouses, our only option was to buy a vehicle and tour the country by van, as we did in Australia & New Zealand for 15 months. Checking the 'Gumtree" listings on the internet it was immediately apparent that this was no easy matter. Our goal of a 7-10 day departure dissolved as we rented week to week for a full month in Cape Town. It took 10 days to find a vehicle & transfer money, 7 days to get the vehicle road worthy, and the last 2 weeks to fix obvious problems, all the while 'pimping' it up and kitting it out for camping. We scoured Charity shops then Chinese shops for necessary 'stuff', researched a water system and filter, bought colorful, fresh bright bedding and the formerly stripped down neglected van slowly transformed into our new Home Sweet Home.
Cape Town has a rich heritage. Sailors and traders mixed in with locals to create a unique culture, full of flavor and color. Walking the streets of the old city is a pleasurable way to experience Cape Town. Shops full of African crafts and clothing, old style balconies and stone streets, tasty cafes and ethnic restaurants such as the Eastern Bazaar Food Fair, Greenmarket Square, old world City Hall, museums highlighting history, markers where slaves awaited their fate, Church Square, the flower sellers of Adderley St. and Saint George's Cathedral, known as the 'Peoples Cathedral' because Archbishop Desmond Tutu welcomed all races amidst the turmoil of Apartheid. Table Mountain and Signal Hill offer panoramic views of the area and coastline. The Waterfront area is an upscale remake of the harbor, with shops and restaurants. From here you can catch a ferry out to Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for almost 3 decades.
The Khoikhoi or Khoisan nomadic tribes settled the area for centuries until the Dutch East India Company decided to expropriate their land in 1652. These indigenous people shunned the Dutch so they brought in slaves from other areas to help build their new 'Kaapstad' colony. Women were rare in this remote new land and so the light skinned Khoisan women were exploited for sex and intermixed with the traders. The result was a unique group of lighter skinned people, slightly favored over the 'blacks', called the 'cape coloreds'. We were lucky enough on one of our outings to see a lively parade of the "Cape Minstrels Carnival". There is also a prominent Muslim community with old streets and stone houses reminiscent of the early riotous 150 years of Dutch rule, when Kaapstad was nicknamed the "Tavern of the Seven Seas." The British were on the clean up crew in 1814, abolishing slavery and emancipating all blacks. All was quiet until the discovery of diamonds and gold in the interior in the 1870's lit the fire once again. Money flowed freely to the merchants such as Cecil Rhodes (premier of Cape Colony in 1890) who made his millions at the head of DeBeers mines. Former slaves were now legitimate slaves for a pittance in the mines. An outbreak of bubonic plague in 1901 was blamed on the black African workers and gave the government cause to move all blacks into only two areas around Cape Town. Although it was later proven that the plague came in on boats from Argentina, this set the stage for future townships of Cape Flats. In 1948 the National Party instituted the archaic practices of Apartheid. Apartheid is Afrikaans for apart. When bitter court debates ensued, voting rights of the colored and blacks were removed and they were physically forced out of their homes and into townships out in the bleak Cape Flats, areas set aside for exclusive use of each race. In 1986 black resistance flared and in a last ditch effort to squash dissention and maintain these rigid boundaries, the Apartheid government with their mandatory soldiers drove 70,000 people from their homes, killing hundreds. Police opened fire on a student protest in Soweto killing hundreds, with nationwide demonstrations, strikes and mass arrests ensuing. Steve Biko, a young leader who called for black pride was beaten by security police, and died 3 days later in a cell, not having received any medical treatment. The magistrate found no one was to blame. The fire was burning as young blacks committed to fight the racial oppression their people had endured for decades.
Apartheid was politicized worldwide and with the increase of political sanctions from abroad the rand currency collapsed. In 1985 the government declared a state of emergency which lasted for over 5 years during which the media was censored and by 1988, 30,000 people had been detained and thousands tortured. It was South Africa's darkest hour.
President Botha resigned in 1989 and was succeeded by De Klerk. In an effort to solve some of South Africa's racial & political problems media restrictions were lifted and he ordered the release of political prisoners.
Tension was high. On February 11th, 1990, Nelson Mandela (Madiba) walked freely into the sunshine after 27 years in prison on Robben Island. Under De Klerk's leadership, the government repealed the last of the laws that formed the legal basis of Apartheid in 1992.
The time for change had come and this came under the name of Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela or 'Madiba' as he is lovingly called by his followers, was born in Umtata (1918) in what is now Eastern Cape province. Mandela was the son of a Xhosa-speaking Thembu chief. While attending University in Alice he was expelled for demonstrating against the discrimination of blacks. He moved to Johannesburg and finished his degree, becoming a lawyer in the late 1940's, just when Apartheid was getting into full swing under the NP party. He became a leader of the multiracial ANC party. With the increasing restrictions of employment and movement only with an I.D. card, Mandela helped organize the 'Defiance Campaign'. As restrictions tightened he helped the now banned ANC party members organize into small grassroots groups. After 69 blacks were massacred during a demonstration in Sharpeville, Mandela helped organize a military wing of the ANC called the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Zulu for “Spear of the Nation”), abandoning the non violence policies that had sustained the party to this date. Nelson was arrested after returning from Algeria for military training and charged with treason.Despite the maximum security of the Robben Island prison, Mandela and other leaders were able to keep in touch with the antiapartheid movement covertly. Mandela wrote much of his autobiography secretly in prison. The manuscript was smuggled out and was completed and published in 1994 as Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela became an international symbol of resistance to apartheid during his long years of imprisonment, and world leaders continued to demand his release.
The countries first democratic elections were held and a new constitution was written with the black dominated ANC winning 63 % and the opposing party, the NP, mainly white and colored's, capturing the rest of the votes. Mandela's time had come. At long last at midnight April 27, 1994, the old Afrikaans national anthem "Die Stem' was sung for the last time across the country as the flag was lowered. The new anthem "Nkosi Sikele Afrika (God Bless Africa) blared as the new rainbow flag was raised. Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first black president (1994 - 1999). "One of the most difficult things is not to change society, but to change yourself."
De Klerk and Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for negotiating the country's transition to a nonracial democracy.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, under Archbishop Desmond TuTu declared that, "Without forgiveness there is no future, but without confession there can be no forgiveness." Victims told horrendous stories of injustice as perpetrators confessed their guilt. If willing to repent, amnesty was issued but those who refused to appear before the commission faced criminal prosecution if their crimes could be proven. In 1997 Mandela handed over his position to Mbeki, who continued leading the ANC in the 2004 election. Mbeki resigned in 2008. Zulu polygamist, Jacob Zuma, whose theme song is "Bring Me My Machine Gun", was elected in 2009 after charges relating to his involvement in a $4.8 billion arms deal were dropped. Promised jobs weren't created and violence was turned against immigrants willing to work for lower wages with dozens of deaths in the townships near Johannesburg. Xenophobia, as happens worldwide, reared it's ugly head once again.
Coming from Hawaii, the land of blended cultures, we are used to people of all colors like a rainbow living and working together side by side. This is not the case in South Africa. The gap between rich and poor here is glaring as manicured white suburbs look out over squalid tin shanties. Accusations of political corruption at all governmental levels rank high with the continued social problems of the highest aids rate in the world (an estimated 6 million afflicted), climbing violent crime rate (sparked by an increase in 'tik' or crystal meth addictions) and a 25%. unemployment rate. Nelson Mandela, Madiba, has a heavy heart at the direction the new government has taken. While visiting here 93 year old beloved 'Madiba' was hospitalized, with all his followers wishing him a quick recovery. This international icon will live on long after his fighting spirit gives up.
The road to freedom is a long one. Hatred is dissolving as the new generation of black and white students attend school side by side. Times have changed. Maybe the old racists just have to follow the way of the dinosaurs. Even with all these problems facing South Africa the country still has great potential, with all the optimism of the citizens and a wealth of natural resources, time will see this country shining once again.
Apartheid officially ended in 1995 and even though the laws are in place not allowing segregation the whites are feeling the brunt of reverse racism, as almost all jobs go to blacks. The pendulum swings. Blacks move up the economic ladder slowly and hard times are falling on some lower class whites. In the economic recession and higher petrol prices everyone is feeling the crunch. The true universal apartheid remains in place, socio-economic apartheid. As with the illegal caste systems of India or the rich blacks in East Africa living next to the huts of the extremely poor in Kenya, or the wealthy Americans parking their expensive cars next to the millions of homeless living on the streets in the USA, money separates people. Always has and possibly always will.
Forgive but don't forget. We were warned time and again to avoid black townships. A recent murder of the wife of a white honeymooning couple from Britain outside Mzoli's in Gugulethu was splashed all over the press worldwide, once again perpetuating the fear. Warnings - Don't Go! Months later it was revealed that the less than crafty husband had taken out an insurance policy, hired the killer, and watched as his new bride was murdered. Black, white, green, purple. The skin color doesn't matter. The U.S., Russia, U.K., Brazil, Sudan. Doesn't matter where. Criminal is criminal. 95% good people in the world, 5% getting all the press to keep the fear alive in our hearts.
Sitting on a bench in the front of Checkers grocery store, Joseph struck up a conversation with the friendly young women sharing the seat. Nabutu or Lucy worked at the bank downstairs in the mall and was waiting for her Mom to arrive from her house cleaning job far away. Seeing her a second time in 3 days she invited us out to her simple home for a look at what life is like in a S. African township. Nabutu, has worked her way up for 13 years from teller to manager and in a very insightful, non bitter way, gave us her views growing up in a tin shanty in the townships, a complete other end of the spectrum from a white child in private school. Driving through the endless shanties of Gugulethu on the way to Makhaya Township it became apparent who now possessed the prime real estate after the Apartheid Regime was over thrown. Formerly living in areas close to the city center all 'cape coloreds' and 'blacks' were forcibly moved out to these wastelands, expected to just build and live in shanties. For a year or so identification permits for moving around were issued then stopped. Nabutu's Mom, sweet Ufinia, gentle as a mouse, never received her permit and while trying to shop or visit relatives she was imprisoned several times, for lack of proper papers. She just chose to stay in the township for years to avoid harassment. These are the conditions that Nelson Mandela put up with while growing up. He wrote, "We accord a person's dignity by assuming that they are good, that they share the human qualities we ascribe to ourselves."
Gugulethu was the first township. It has mushroomed from Crossroads to the expansive Khayelitsha sea of small houses and shanties. Nokuphumla, Nabutu's welcoming sister-in-law enveloped us in big bear hugs as we entered her tiny, but pleasant 2 bedroom concrete home. "I was born poor - but rich in mind" was displayed on the living room wall. When forced out to this area the family put their names on a list to have a small house built for them by the government - it only took 23 years of living in a tin shanty to have this built last year. Still no complaints, they are grateful they got on the 'short' list.
We also stopped in on Nabutu's cousin, who along with his family live in a tin shanty, full of pieced together furniture and brightly painted walls. We felt so welcome, as we did walking the maze of alleys with Nabutu. Everyone smiled and shook our hands, happy that we were there. A white visitor would never just get dropped off in a township and walk around. Just as you wouldn't walk through many areas of large cities like New York or Los Angeles. We could understand the bitterness towards 'whites' and the desperation felt in these 'pits' called townships. Nabutu told us that all the young people interact well with whites, only the people over 30 who were personally oppressed may hold a grudge and most of them have forgiven and moved on.
Yes times have changed but the racism still exists, reminiscent of America's south in the 1960's. Black political parties vie for followers and hope to have more representation next election, and thus better opportunities for jobs, benefits, etc. These same black parties have many allegations about threats and hollow promises to win votes. Money earmarked to help the people somehow gets into the pockets of these politicians. So it goes, white vs. black, black vs. black, Asian vs. African, Japanese vs. Chinese, Irish vs. British, Christian vs. Muslim. When does it end?
We realize after traveling that situations are often set up, financed or carried out from behind the scenes. Violence erupts. Then these events are splashed all over the news and enemies enflamed. The only ones gaining from the conflict are those pillaging natural resources or pulling the strings behind the scenes. Nabutu or Lucy feels that in this area the xenophobia against immigrants has been blown out of proportion and was more crime related. Desperation breeds crime. She said if immigrants want to come here and hawk small things in hot traffic all day and go home to live in a tin shanty, most neighbors don't mind.
As we climbed up the abandoned lookout (closed because boards have been removed to build shanties) we got a sinking feeling as we saw the endless barren sea of shanties called Khayelitsha, 'new home'; in such stark contrast to the beautiful lush white suburbs full of expensive homes surrounded by razor wire, barking dogs, and alarms. Who has more freedom? No complaints were heard in the townships; when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. Nabutu told us, "When one hut appears by the next day 20 surround it. If the police come to kick them from their new squatting place and burn their shacks, they just rebuild them, and rebuild them and rebuild them."
Across the bush land was the start of another township of tiny orderly houses of many pastel colors, minus the tin huts. This more upscale township was where the cape coloreds live. Tracing their ancestry to include some white settler/sailor/slave owner's blood they have more rights than the blacks and the lists are shorter for a government subsidized home. Funny, after the description given us I would have thought Nabutu & family were cape coloreds from the lovely hue of their skin but no. As with the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda there really isn't much difference. We were told about a group of volunteers from Ireland who came in and donated materials and labor to put up new concrete houses for worthy locals in Gugulethu. Thrilled with the efficiency (the project was completed in 1 week) and love by the foreigners, locals were shocked when local black & white officials forbade them to return, supposedly it took the power away from the corrupt officials skimming money off the top of the inefficient building projects. It is always easier to say that this white group, for instance, is prejudice against this black group, but it was a sad day when I realized that fellow neighbors can be just as corrupt against their own people. Greed is universal. Seems no one is happy until their pockets are fat.
We spent an absolutely lovely afternoon with Ufinia, Nabutu & family. Nabutu's little 3 year old daughter, Entle, woke up when we arrived and with eyes bulged she watched these 2 strange 'Mlungu' (white) people from the safety of Grandma's lap. As we shared pictures and laughed she warmed up to us. Ufinia told us she had worked for over 25 years for a family in a white suburb, cleaning, cooking and helping to raise their children and they had never visited their lovely little home. This made her sad. But here we were, no longer strangers but new friends, making the effort to come out to visit. We told her the pleasure was ours! We brought a large bag of vegetables and together cooked a vegan stew, using all the spices from their cupboard. Wondering how we could have a meal without meat, it was apparent that the taste was a success as we were soon scraping the bottom of the pot together.
Nabutu's 16 year old son was dressed in a very dapper way, complete with suit coat and hat. It was explained that he had just finished the initiation from boyhood to manhood, 'Makweta'. High up on the lookout we had seen several tiny huts, it was here that the boy was taken from home, painted white, wrapped in a white blanket and put in isolation in a hut. There he fasted, prayed and was taught in the ways of becoming a man, by the 'Inchibi' shaman and men of the tribe. When ready he is circumcised, followed by a series of rituals. No contact with women, even his Mother, is allowed during this month, except little plates of food cooked by her and delivered outside her son's door by village boys. Returning back to his home, wrapped only in a colorful blanket, his community has a large celebration for him and others who are now men. When driving home from Khayelitsha in the late afternoon, we heard music and were invited into one such "New Men" neighborhood celebration. We politely declined drinking from the buckets of homemade 'kombtre' or hooch, or eating roasting meat but we sure had a fun time hugging big Mama's and dancing to the lively drums and music. We danced out of there before dark and before the homemade brew started to kick in. Home in our little student's flat we invited Nabutu and her Mom in for a cup of tea. They were hesitant to come in, wondering if blacks were allowed in. Shocked we told them that our friends weren't racist like that and there would be no problem. We accepted them as we had been genuinely accepted in their township. Our hearts were warmed by the wonderful experience.
We spent many days exploring the Cape Peninsula, from Hout Bay to Chapman's Peak to Cape Point. The Cape of Good Hope or Cape of Storms is the SW tip of Africa, where many ships were wrecked sailing around this rugged tip of land opening up the trade routes to the East. After hiking Cape Point we were ready for a swim. When our toes hit the water we were reminded that Antarctica was just beyond the horizon. Stopping by at Boulders Bay for a fascinating up-close look at penguins confirmed that these Hawaii 'woosies' wouldn't be doing much swimming in the ocean. Most serious swimmers and resilient surfers don wet suits to maintain body warmth.
Our new/old van, 'Maari Safari' was ready to take to the open road! Following the coastline we were in awe at the stunning scenery at every bend. We were blessed with day after day of beautiful summer weather. As warm as the weather were the welcoming South African people we met. After chatting to someone along the beach or in a park we would be invited back to their home for a cup of rooibush tea or cooking a meal together, then were often invited to stay. We always said we would sleep in the van but often they would INSIST that we sleep in their guest room; having a hot shower, checking our email and washing a few clothes we would hit the road all refreshed. What kindness we have been shown in this land of sunshine and smiles. Thank you one and all for your thoughtfulness and friendship. South Africa has it all. Time will tell as healing from a rocky recent history will require forgiveness, great changes and perseverance.
And so it
goes.........................................Next month Slowly
working our way up the Eastern Cape coast road towards Lesotho and
the Wild Coast. Until then
may we each let our light
Love, Light & Laughter,
$1.00US = about 7 South
Check out the Lonely Planet Guide for cheap backpacker places to stay on Long Street in Cape Town. Brace yourself for prices STARTing at 200 R for a simple room with outside toilet. Prices soar from there. Seems as if prices are set to exclude the budget crowd. You are expected to fly in, rent a car, pay the price for a few weeks and head home to make money for your next trip. Prices are usually quoted per person in guesthouses. There are longer term furnished places to stay - just Google it. Make it near a train or taxi (the local mini bus) line as renting a car is expensive.
Long distance buses are also expensive. There is a backpacker circuit operating in S Africa. Not as cheap as Asia but one can ride the long distance tourist buses, and jump off or get dropped off at junctions (requiring taxis or walking kilometers to your destination) and stay in dorm rooms with other backpackers. We always prefer not to surround ourselves with other white foreigners. We can do that at home. Our goal is to get out with the local people, especially in Africa. That is how we learn.
Buying a vehicle:
Once you make a deal to purchase the vehicle, you need to exchange the vehicle in a public place or police station, to avoid a robbery with all that cash. At the vehicle registration you transfer it over to your name. Have them print out a certificate of residence with your name, a picture, and the address of the seller, if they allow it. This paper can be used to purchase a resident 'wild card' for 1/4 the price or use libraries for internet. It is easier to travel with a S Africa vehicle over borders but you must return to sell it in S Africa, or be charged up to 200% import tax. Insurance is not required but 3rd party may be required for crossing into another country. We will keep you posted under tips on each country, the Lord willing and the creek don't rise.
Spares: Main Rd. Retreat, Phone 021 701 5520
Charity Shops to
support a good cause and outfit your van:
Helping the Physically Disabled: St Giles Shop
AIDS Charities: The Pink Shop
Lifeline Charity Shop
Fundraising for the Less Privileged: Salvation Army Gift and Thrift
Two great Charity shops on Main Rd, Retreat, near Spar. Contribute to a good cause and outfit your van!