A Breed Apart

Okay, so I’m an idiot. That tomango I was talking about in my last post turns out to be nothing more than your standard, delicious guava. However, I don’t feel quite so stupid having spent my last two days in the company of fellow tourists…


The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront has been made-over into a haven for visitors, and prices are matched accordingly. I knew better than to pick up any tchotchkies here, and instead took in a vocal performance by these talented African buskers.


I was dismayed by the amount of people capturing entire musical numbers on video, then walking away without so much as a donation. Even worse was a trio of locals in a meetup directly in front of the performers, loudly discussing their restaurant options for lunch. I did my part to make sure that the singers were adequately reimbursed for both their talents and this photo.

Just around the corner lay the gateway to Robben Island, the offshore prison which kept Nelson Mandela from his people for some twenty years. I had missed the last ferry, so I spent the rest of the afternoon in the small Apartheid exhibit, watching a BBC documentary from the ’70s on the subject. Think blacks are lazy? You’d be amazed to see a white ex-pat auto mechanic from Sheffield, England and his family accept a segregated society without question — even defend it!

The sun was already going down as I left the building, so I found myself an authentic (by tourist standards) African restaurant.


This, my appetizer of beans and corn, is apparently one of Nelson Mandela’s favourite dishes… Not too shabby for prison food!


Bobotie (buh-BOH-tee) is the name given to my entree; the almond powder, chutney and raisins are mixed in with the meat casserole, which in turn is mixed with the veggies and rice. Way better than the Wimpy burger I had the night before!


This morning I returned to the V&A Waterfront, to book my tour of Robben Island. I boarded this catamaran with about a hundred other tourists, and had to endure the hacking coughs from someone’s self-admitted viral infection for the entire 30-minute ride.


A not-so warm welcome…

Once on the island we were mercifully split into two smaller groups, and boarded buses for a tour of the island’s perimeter.


This is the island’s limestone quarry where Nelson Mandela himself cut up rocks to be used on South African roads. That cave is actually a mere seven metre-deep hole, where convicts would have to relieve themselves. Funny thing is, hardships like these only increased the resolve of those imprisoned, and in hidden-away places like these many important political discussions took place. The inmates’ motto “each one, teach one” meant that prisoners who arrived here illiterate and otherwise ignorant left well-armed with the doctrine of equality.


How did I learn stuff like this? Thanks to the passionate commentary by our guide, on the left; that’s our bus driver beside him.


Another gentleman who brought the island to life for us was a former prisoner, seen here shaking hands with each and every one of us as we left for the boat ride home. After walking through the compound and seeing memorials to so many who suffered here, I felt guilty that only Nelson Mandela’s story had been my original reason for coming. So it was with mixed feelings that I documented Mandela’s cell, once the rest of the crowd had gotten their own “money shots”.


You’ll notice the absence of a bed; they weren’t available for prisoners until the late ’70s, and even then only to increase the sleeping capacity of already overcrowded dorms.

Back at the Waterfront I toured the Two Oceans Aquarium, but my heart wasn’t in it. There were too many braying kids spoiling the quiet majesty of undersea life. And outside there were more homeless kids and adults, all asking for handouts. But I can forgive this. We all know there are panhandlers back home, but here you have to realize that South Africa is just beginning their second decade of democratic rule, and it’ll probably take some time yet before opportunity is truly equal for blacks and whites. Maybe at home too.


About Andrew

Mobile phones, Linux and copyright reform. Those go together, right?
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