Our Three Days in Cape Town

On Wednesday, our first day in Cape Town, we had a leisurely start and following a nice breakfast at the Raddison Hotel, we caught their shuttle down to the V&A Waterfront Centre, just around the headland from the hotel. This is an area of dockland that has been regenerate in the style of Darling Harbour in Sydney and Pier 39 in San Francisco.

It is named the V&A Centre, which I assumed was the Victoria and Albert Centre after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After all, in London there is the Victoria and Albert Museum and Albert Hall. In fact, the letter ‘A’ here, stands for Alfred. He was the second son of Queen Victoria and visited the Cape Colony harbour in 1860 as a sixteen year-old Royal Navy Midshipman in HMS Euryalus. I think he was the Prince Harry of the day. He made a big splash with the colonials and the tribal chiefs on that first-ever visit by a member of the Royal Family.

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The V&A complex houses over 450 retail outlets, including fashion, homeware and curios, to jewellery, leather goods and audio-visual equipment. The V&A Waterfront is also still a working harbour and fishing boats bring in fresh fish, and larger container ships are towed in by tugboats. We had an interesting few hours wandering through the various buildings in the complex.

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Later in the day, we tried our usual method of getting an overview of a city by taking the Local Hop On – Hop Off bus tour around the CBD. It was a good tour and the commentary helped us learn something of the history and culture of Cape Town.

We are finding South Africa to be relatively inexpensive as compared to Australia. We get around 10 Rand to the Australian dollar. Prices for meals and drinks are around half of what we would expect to pay back home. It is easy to charge expenses to our credit card and there is a ready supply of cash from ATMs.

Cape Town is the second-most populous urban area in South Africa after Johannesburg. It is also the capital and primary city of the Western Cape Province. As the seat of the Parliament of South Africa, it is also the legislative capital of the country. The city is famous for its harbour, for its natural setting in the Cape Floristic Region, and for such well-known landmarks as Table Mountain and Cape Point. It is the 10th most populous city in Africa and home to 64% of the Western Cape’s population. It is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. 

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Cape Town was first developed by the Dutch East India Company as a victualling, or supply, station for Dutch ships sailing to East Africa, India, and the Far East. The first European settlement began with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in April 1652.  The city quickly outgrew its original purpose as the first European outpost at the Castle of Good Hope, becoming the economic and cultural hub of the Cape Colony. Until the Witwatersrand Gold Rush and the development of Johannesburg, Cape Town was the largest city in South Africa.

We met up with our tour group on Wednesday evening at a briefing and introductory meeting. We already knew a few people from our time on the train, but now we have a group of 23 people on this tour. Most, like us, are adding an extension to include a visit to Victoria Falls and four people are also continuing on to Kenya afterwards.

We began our second day in Cape Town with a group visit to the Summit of Table Mountain. I wasn’t sure whether we would be able to do this as on the previous day, the weather was very cloudy with a sea fog that didn’t dissipate until mid afternoon. The weather forecast for Thursday was the same. However, the day was bright and sunny with almost no wind.

Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa. It is a significant tourist attraction, with many visitors using the cableway or hiking to the top. The mountain forms part of the Table Mountain National Park.

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The main feature of Table Mountain is the level plateau approximately 3 kilometres from side to side, edged by impressive cliffs. The plateau is  flanked by a sharp peak named Devil’s Peak to the east and by a rugged hill called Lion’s Head to the west. It is 1,086 metres above sea level.  

The flat top of the mountain is often covered by orographic clouds, formed when a south-easterly wind is directed up the mountain’s slopes into colder air, where the moisture condenses to form the so-called “table cloth” of cloud. Legend attributes this phenomenon to a smoking contest between the Devil and a local pirate called Van Hunks. When the table cloth is seen, it symbolises the contest. When the mountain is clear, there is a great view over the city.

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That afternoon, we had a choice of activities and Jill and I decided to increase our understanding of local culture by taking a tour to one of the nearby townships (a non-white residential area and generally poor).vWe began with a visit to a museum in District Six of the city – a former inner-city residential area in Cape Town, South Africa. Over 60,000 of its inhabitants were forcibly removed during the 1970s by the apartheid regime. The exhibits illustrated life in the area and some former residents told their stories of the loss of community and the dislocation from forced removal.

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After World War II, and during the earlier part of the apartheid era, District Six was relatively cosmopolitan. Situated within sight of the docks, it was made up largely of coloured residents which included a substantial number of coloured Muslims, called Cape Malays. There were also a number of black Xhosa residents and a smaller numbers of Afrikaans, whites, and Indians.

On 11 February 1966, in what seems an act of pure bastardry, the government declared this area to be a whites-only area under its discriminatory Group Areas Act. Removals of people started in 1968. By 1982, more than 60,000 people had been relocated to the sandy, bleak Cape Flats township complex some 25 kilometres away. Most were able to take nothing more than a suitcase of belongings. The old houses were bulldozed and the only buildings left standing were places of worship. To this day, there are some large areas of vacant and in the area, suggesting that development for the whites was not really going to take place.

In 1923 the Native (Urban Areas) Act was passed restricting the entry of Africans into the city. This deemed urban areas in South Africa as white and required all black African men to carry passes It was replaced in 1945 by the Natives (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act, which imposed essentially the same conditions. The Natives (Abolition of Passes and Co-ordination of Documents) Act, was passed in 1952 and required all black South Africans above the age of 16 to carry a pass at all times when in white areas.

From the museum, we went on to see the Langa Township which was established many kilometres out of town o the flats. The form of this township was designed to provide  maximum visibility of residents by the authorities and hence increased control. No visitors or gatherings were allowed without permission from the superintendent.

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This tour was a real ‘eye opener’ and was quite confronting. We found three socio-economic levels within the township. The thousands of poorest (and newest citizens) lived in shanties made of whatever they could scrounge. However, they were all registered with the council for eventual free housing. in which the next socio-economic level lived. These typically consisted of one or two rooms and housed a family of up to six children. We were able to look inside one of these and while everything was very basic, everything was clean and tidy. Thirdly, some of the wealthier people were paying off mortgages on small houses. Ethnic groups still live in seperate communities – blacks, coloureds and Asians. Now days, this is mostly for cultural reasons rather than forced separation as under apartheid. (To show how silly that regime was, the Japanese (with whom South Africa had a strong trading relationship) were categorised as honorary whites. The real factor that determines where people live is nothing more complexz than affordability.

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People looked quite happy although unemployment here is currently running at 27%. There are lots of young men hanging around hoping to pick up a day’s casual work. Other people do whatever they can to earn some money – beadwork or running small businesses. A number ofd people were cooking meat over wood fires. Mostly this was offal, sheep heads and sausages.This represent very cheap sources of protein. Our guide (as do almost all blacks working in the city) live in the township. He was very ‘matter of fact’ about life there – not  embarrassed or proud, just objectively telling us about life and the culture. I met a traditional African healer who operated out of a container filled with various animal parts, herbs and jars of powders. We would call him a shaman or witch doctor.

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Our third day’s outing took us to the Cape of Good Hope. I have to say it is a lot more accessible than the world’s other southern extremity, Cape Horn. It was a clear day and we had some excellent views. We  caught a little funicular from the car park up to the lookout near the ‘old’ lighthouse. A  new one has been built closer to the water level as the old one was frequently covered with cloud and not visible to ships.

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There is a common misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa. In fact, the southernmost point of Africa is Cape Agulhas, about 150 kilometres to the east-southeast. 

After a nice lunch of grilled hake, we moved on too the town of Simons Town, This is both the home of South Africa’s navy and a colony of African Penguins that live at nearby Boulder’s Beach. We were more interested in the penguins.

There are seventeen species of penguin in all but the African Penguin is the only one to inhabit the African continent and its inshore islands. It used to be known as the Jackass Penguin, on account of the braying sounds which it makes on land, but the name ‘African Penguin’ has now been adopted to distinguish it from the Jackass Penguin found in South America.. Its closest relatives are the Humboldt and Magellanic penguins of South America and the Galapagos Penguins off the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. 

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In 1983 a pair of African penguins were spotted on Foxy Beach at Boulders and in 1985 they began to lay. Since then, the colony has grown rapidly, increasing initially at about 60% a year. By 1997 there were 2350 adult birds. Although Simon’s Town is very proud of its penguins, nearby residents suffered badly as the birds invaded their gardens, destroyed the undergrowth and were generally very noisy and messy. The great increase in tourists has also been a problem.

These birds are remarkably untroubled by people. There were hundreds of people on the boardwalks above them, but they carried own with their activities regardless of us. We were told not to try and touch them., Not only to avoid disturbing them, but also because they have a vicious bite.

We finished our day at a very nice restaurant on the waterfront. Expecting this to be very expensive, we were surprised to find dishes on the menu only had an average price of $14 to  $16.

Back at the hotel, we packed our bags because today we commence our trip up the Garden Route towards Port Elizabeth.

 

2 comments

  1. Trina Bruce · ·

    Reading this as there’s a program on the tour in the Azmara around the Antarctic waters. So beautiful and you’ve seen it. Loving the armchair travel as always

  2. Pamela Saunders · ·

    What a fortunate peoples we Australians are. Blessing in abundance. Penguins are beautiful.
    Enjoy the next stage of your travels.