Christmas on the Cape

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Where I stayed
Cape Town - Camps Bay

Flag of South Africa  ,
Wednesday, December 27, 2006

He Said:

So we made it back to Cape Town in time to get everything squared away before Katie's family arrived. We are renting a house in the swanky Cape Town neighborhood of Camps Bay for the week for Christmas then moving on to Stellenbosch for the last few days of their visit before we all leave South Africa just before New Years. We've occupied our time in Cape Town sightseeing and doing the usual Christmas festivities. It is the first time I've ever had a Christmas dinner outside, and after swimming in the pool to cool my sunburn!

One of the activities that Katie and I did was make a visit to Robben Island, which is an Alcatraz-like island prison, located just outside the harbor of Cape Town. It had a bit more infamous past than its counterpart in San Francisco though. Besides being used at times to quarantine lepers, house "deranged" persons, and incarcerate lawbreakers, it was used to house political prisoners during the apartheid era. Basically anyone the government felt posed a threat or who led an organization opposed to current policies was arrested on a charge of sabotage, treason, or sedition, given a sham trial, and sent here or to a number of other high security facilities. Nelson Mandela was the most famous of its captives, spending twenty-three years here, but a huge number of current government officials served time there in their younger years since they were members of banned organizations.

On the topic of South Africa's apartheid past, something disconcerting that any person visiting this country will notice after a bit of time here is the racially segregated development pattern of virtually every city and town. The majority of residential areas look pretty much like anything you'd find in the USA, standard western-style houses with yards and the like, but whose vast majority of residents are Caucasian people. Most of the black citizens live on the fringe of each town, usually next to the highway in what is called a township. Townships are a squalid and crowded mix of shanties built from scavenged lumber, metal, and brick as well as a few small prefab, government-constructed houses. For the most part they are as grim as slums you might find in much poorer nations, but are the first we have seen since being in southern Africa. To quote the advice in our Lonely Planet guidebook, "The townships have an appalling crime rate and without a trustworthy guide, are off limits".

This pattern of development is one of most visible lingering legacies of apartheid. Up until its abolishment in 1994, government policy treated black South Africans as second-class citizens in every respect. It was illegal for them to own property, they had separate and inferior educational facilities, and neighborhoods were strictly segregated. Townships were the only areas available for them to legally live in. With the end of apartheid conditions certainly have improved but far less than one would hope. When over 75% of a population is deliberately undereducated, cut off to almost every opportunity for economic advancement, and corralled into ghettos for many generations, it created a really complicated problem to conquer once all the legal boundaries were lifted. Empowering, educating, adequately housing, and creating opportunity for all its citizens has been one of the biggest challenges for the post-apartheid South African government.

She Said:

We are actually starting to feel like we live in South Africa. It is the longest place we have been since we left home, and all the similarities to the US makes it easy to forget that we are actually in Africa. The people here seem to be universally friendly, almost to a point sometimes that you think you must be on some sort of hidden camera show.
And since we have had a rental car for the last 2 weeks, we are actually starting to know our way around the place and things are looking very familiar.

It has been really fun having my family here, and watching their disbelief that Cape Town seems more like San Francisco than their preconceived notions of Africa. Over the last few days, we have explored downtown Cape Town, gone to the most southwestern tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope, taken in a little culture at the Cape Town City Ballet, and tasted fine wines throughout the South African winelands. The time with them is winding down, and it will be sad to send them off as it will be 6 months before we see them again.
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