While going through my albums or should I say my archives, I ran into my photographs from my trip to South Africa taken twenty years ago. I can’t understand how I omitted sharing such an amazing experience. A group of seventeen led by an Anglican Priest left New York on a direct flight to Johannesburg. I am not sure what I expected but was pleasantly surprised to see that the city was quite modern and beautiful and the accommodations at the hotel in Pretoria were very nice and up to date.
We had a local guide as we took a full tour to visit some historical sites. We visited Soweto where we toured the Nelson Mandela Museum referred to as Mandela House where Mandela lived before being imprisoned and lived for eleven days after release but left because of the lack of privacy. There remains memorabilia of him such as pictures, articles of clothing, furnishings etc. He was a very tall man yet the bed seemed short, might not have been the original. In addition to the contents of this small red brick house, there were imprints of shots reflecting the vicious assault on this building during apartheid.
In Soweto there were sections that were highly impoverished and in the midst there were homes mansion style. We made a stop at this particular community heavily populated but sanitation seemed non existent. Children ran up to bus as we parked and what was so discouraging was that there were adults who came and stole money from the kids. There many similar sections but I found this to have the worst.
We visited the historical Regina Mundi Catholic Church that holds the Madonna and child of Soweto painting. This church played a significant role during the apartheid struggle it was a place of refuge and imprints of shots fired by police remain at the altar to date. The artist , Scully, named this piece The Madonna and child of Soweto but it is commonly referred to as the Black Madonna.
We stopped and had an opportunity to walk in a square that was more like a flee market with goods layed out on the ground,
Although there were some depressing impoverished areas in Soweto there was evidence of homes of mansion size. The guide explained that many natives left to other countries to further their education but upon return built these homes but did not help their communities. As we drove around there was evidence of new building of smaller homes but the people favored building schools instead. In fact there was a large school already built but not yet in use.
We also had an opportunity to visit a mine, there are a few in South Africa, unfortunately which mine, I have forgotten the name. The entrance was beautiful with little shops along the pathway to the mining area where we donned hard hats before getting a closer look of the mine..
We were able to visit Pretoria union building and what a view of the skyline not to mention the beautiful gardens. The imposing Union Buildings is the official site of the South African government and also houses the office of the President.
Not far from this site is the Voortrekker Monument to commemorate the voortrekkers who left the Cape Colony. The Voortrekers were dutch speaking people who left to avoid the British rule.
We drove to a section of upscaled homes and passed the house that Nelson Mandela lived for a while. We were not allowed to stop so was only able to catch a glimpse and npticed cameras all around the building.
Most of the restaurants and hotel workers were black and I noticed that the workers seemed happy and we did not notice any anger considering what they had experienced during such troubled time. I remember the meals being quite tasty and delicious and I even ventured to taste alligator meat cannot tell what it tasted like but at least I tried it.
We left Johannesburg and flew to Port Elizabeth, a major seaport, Here we met our new guide who would take us for the trek to Cape Town by bus. After leaving P.E our first stop was at the Shamwari Game Reserve which is about 46 miles from Port Elizabeth. We did not spend overnight there but it is a complete resort for anyone interested. Here we had the opportunity to see the animals in their natural habitat along with fauna and flora specific to that region.. There were various species of deers, hippopotamus, girafe etc. We were taken in different groups on a truck with our leader who carried a gun and had to do some tracking to find the hippopotamus. The leaders would frequently communicate with each other as they do the search for the animals to allow us a great experience.
This statue was located at the game reserve. Credo Muta, was an author with a mythical perspective I am not sure whether he designed this statue but gave his interpretation of this Earth Mother Statue where the three breasts represent birds, fish and animals. He saw the dolphin as connection with nature and God and the object where the hand is resting an ancestral connection.
After a lovely lunch we had another experience with performers putting on a show that gave us a bit about their traditions and cultural practices through dances and singing.
We made a stop in Knysna a part of the garden route. While in Knysna we visited an Oyster farm and the Featherbed Reserve. The Featherbed Reserve is privately owned and we had a short boat ride on the Knysna Lagoon to get there. My excitement and underestimation of my abilities led me to leave the restaurant area to go further up the hillside to savor the view. We were offered canes to help with our return down the rugged hillside I did not take one. We were transported to the top in a truck where we enjoyed the vegetated land with an array of plants. Some members of the group elected to return on the truck and fortunately for me I decided to to take take one of their cane since I had not initially. The view was spectacular at the top and as we descended what I did not anticipate was how rugged and challenging the pathway down would be and without that cane I would probably be still trying to get back for lunch under the Millwood trees. The Knysna Heads were spectacular and despite the challenging descent I could not miss out on the photo opportunity.
The drive to Cape Town was quite scenic we passed some beautiful homes and some not too beautiful ones that were more like shacks. We learnt that those lovely homes were occupied by the coloureds and the others were occupied by blacks. The coloured are the ethnic group that is multiracial and it was clear that they were treated and viewed as better than the blacks. There are three main ethnic groups in South Africa blacks, white and coloured however there is or I should say, at the time there was a small group of Asians. I could not believe the blocks and blocks of the zinc/shack like houses as we got closer to Cape Town and on the other side the nice homes. Cape Town is a beautiful modern city as we approached the city you could see the beauty with the Lion Head Mountain and Table mountain soaring above.
After settling into our hotel which was quite upscale we were ready for a tour around the next day. The highlight was to visit Table Mountain and take a ride via cable car to get to the top, unfortunately fog had taken over to form what they referred to as the table cloth and it was not safe to go up. It was also a very windy day and would be a dangerous attempt to go atop in addition to visibility would be poor.
We made a stop ae the Boulder Penquins colony. The large boulders forming coves and you have the option too walk out on the sand amongst the penguins or there is a boardwalk. We also visited the Ostrich ranch.
While driving around we passed through large areas of shack like houses all clustered together but what I found interesting was almost all had TV antennae. We walked through an area with beautiful row designed homes and learned that these were homes people were forced to leave and now they are not able to reclaim them despite the end of apartheid.
Another highlight of our visit was the visit to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. We were happy that day the weather was good so the ferry was in operation. The tour guides on the island were incarcerated there and were excited to share their experiences while imprisoned. One female guide told us she was proud to be a part of the rebellion that caused her incarceration and would do it again in a fight for her children. It was a process to get visitors and even after going through the rigorous process often were denied visits without explanation. We walked through the area where the prisoners made as garden and that was where letters and writings were hidden.
Another highlight was our visit to the Cape of Good Hope but before getting to the sight we stopped for lunch in the Camps Bay region which offered a beautiful view of the beach and the twelve apostles mountain range.
We headed to the Cape of Good Hope in Table Mountain National Park.
After leaving here we headed to Cape Point to visit the Lighthouse and enjoy the view, On our way through the park the bus came to a halt despite there was no point of interest but there were a few baboons around and one had chosen to pause in the middle of the road somewhat demanding we waited while he took his time to rest and until he was ready to move. I thought this was an isolated incident only for a friend visiting some time after had the same experience.
To get to the lighthouse we had to ride the funicular, The Flying Dutchman or the Cape Town Funicular, traveling through thick vegetation to the top for a beautiful view of the Ocean and surrounding area.
One of the planned activities was to attend a church service at an Anglican church led by a priest who had visited New York earlier. Upon arrival the congregants seemed prepared for us. We were met with singing, laughter and a general feeling of being welcome. There was an interpreter during the entire service, interesting experience but it worked well. One thing that struck me was when a little boy came to the service clad only in a pair of short pants, no shirt and no shoes but was very comfortable and accepted. I also noticed that some of the ladies were scantly dressed particularly the lead singer but seemed happy and accepted as they participated in the service. We had a wonderful time singing
After service the group was invited to an outside gathering at the priest’s home where some of the church goers attended. Although they were included it was evident that there was some feelings of discomfort. Members of our group made a concerted effort to engage them in conversations and activities allowing for constructive exchanges. I left with a good understanding of some of the struggles individuals were experiencing for example the interpreter, an attorney, did not have a computer and another young lady not financially able to pursue her vocational ambition. Despite their challenges they remained positive and happy to be out of the apartheid era.
We thoroughly enjoyed our seventeen days of history and culture after being a visit twenty years ago it should be interesting to see the changes now. I surprised myself at how much I recalled luckily I captured a lot on video looking forward to a revisit.