A Little “Mother City” History

We have really been enjoying learning the history of the places we have been visiting.  Traveling provides a source of education difficult to get in school (and far more interesting), and Cape Town, South Africa has a fascinating history.  If you find yourself in Cape Town, here are a few historical tours and museums to check out.

  1. Footsteps to Freedom Walking TourHighly recommended.
  2. Robben IslandA must do when visiting Cape Town.
  3. District 6 MuseumJust OK but nonetheless interesting and informative.

Footsteps to Freedom Walking Tour was, by far, our most interesting experience.  A passionate and knowledgeable man, Ivor, led the tour.  Ivor was born and raised in Cape Town but left during the tumultuous 70’s and 80’s.  There was a plethora of information Ivor provided in the 2.5 hour walking tour.  Here are just a couple ( of the many) interesting facts shared during this tour:

  1. The tour starts at the Taj Hotel in downtown which is conveniently located near the Mandela Rhodes Place.  A partnership was established between Nelson Mandela and the Rhodes Trust of Cecil Rhodes (also the sponsor of the Rhodes Scholarships) giving full funding for up to a maximum of two years of postgraduate study for an African citizen under 30 years of age.

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2. The purple people of Cape Town:

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In 1989, thousands of anti-apartheid activists took to the streets in Cape Town four days before parliamentary elections, police turned a water cannon with purple dye on them in an effort to halt the demonstrations and mark the protesters for identification and arrest. The plan backfired, however, when one protester hijacked the nozzle from a police officer and sprayed office buildings and the local headquarters of the ruling National Party.

Unesco declared Robben Island in the Western Cape a World Heritage Site in 1999. Robben Island is located in Table Bay about 30 minutes off the coast of Cape Town.  We were really looking forward to this tour and had read great things about it; however, the tour sadly did not live up to expectations.

Robben Island is the infamous place where Nelson Mandela would spend 18 of his 27 prison years.   Also, Robert Sobukwe was also imprisoned at Robben Island  (for a total of 6 years in solitary confinement and served a total of 9 years) after leading a march to local police stations defying the Pass Law.  The Pass Law was an internal passport system designed to segregate the population.  In my opinion, the tour did not do a great job of detailing the lives of these political prisoners who were instrumental in the end of apartheid.  Nonetheless, it is a must do when in Cape Town.

The tour is about 4 hours long and includes a 30 minute boat ride to Robben Island from the V&A Waterfront.  The boat ride alone makes the tour worth it providing amazing views of this stunning city.

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The tour also includes a bus ride around the island with commentary on the history plus a tour of the prison by one of the prior inmates.  Again, the tour could have gone into more depth on the political prisoners that were held here and seemed to be geared too much towards kids with not enough details on the facts.  (Suggest reading the Long Walk to Freedom prior to this tour.)

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District Six was named the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867.   District Six was a vibrant center in downtown Cape Town. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century, the process of forcibly removing non-whites from District Six to areas outside the city had begun.  This obviously caused significant hardship for folks as they not only had to leave their homes and neighbors but were moved to areas that required a significant commute to their jobs.

In 1966, District Six it was declared a white area under the Group Areas Act of 1950. More than 60 000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers.  The museum was established in 19904as a memorial to the forced movement of 60,000 inhabitants of various races in District Six during the Apartheid.

The end of Apartheid (Afrikaan word mean the state of being apart) in 1994 and the drafting of a democratic constitution was an amazing event after nearly 40+ plus years of racial segregation.  It is a wonder that the country did not erupt in civil war during this time.   Today, despite the recent economic challenges.  Unemployment is around 40%.  Just before we arrived, the Rand plummeted and President Zuma, in the course of a week, changed finance ministers three times. Yet, despite these challenges,  Cape Town is vibrant place.  And outside investment continues to pour in with many Europeans buying holiday homes.  We were surprised at the number of cranes in the city and the amount of building happening here right now.

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