South Africa Post-Apartheid Impressions and Adventures.

Cape Town really had everything I would want in a vacation destination. It was walkable, had beautiful beaches, excellent hiking and scenery, everything I ate was delicious, the people were friendly, AND the exchange rate was amazing. It is seriously such a shame it takes soo long to get there from Dallas!

My time in Cape Town was spent primarily solo as I joined a friend on a work trip. It gave me plenty of time to wander around town though, and I enjoyed the local shops and scene at the V & A waterfront as well as strolling through green market square looking for souvenirs.

A free walking tour was very informational about the history of Cape Town as well as an intro into slave trade, the Dutch East India company, and colonizing Cape Town. The indigenous people were not to be enslaved per the East India Trade Co, and therefore slaves were brought by boat from each coast of Africa. Actually, the settlement commander, Jan Van Riebeeck, wrote two letters to the shareholders requesting slaves to help with the manpower building the settlement.  He was denied twice, and eventually took matters into his own hands after a massive food shortage and sent a ship to Madagascar for food and slaves in 1654. Thus began the documented slave trade in Cape Town that lasted into the 18th century.  The slaves were brought in for strategic reasons from different areas.  The people from the East Indies were primarily for household purposes.  South East Africa, primarily Madagascar, were for labor. Majority were from Madagascar, Mozambique, Zanzibar, & Sri Lanka. Non-company slaves were also gathered in Cape Town and were historically not recorded.

My guide on my walking tour stopped in front of a memorial at the slave lodge museum and informed us about how the slaves were named.  I’ve never thought about it, never even considered that in addition to the demoralizing treatment these humans recieved that they lost their identity and were renamed as they were logged into a book.  Initially they were given christian names, or from ancient mythology (see Hercules above), because it was easier for the owners and the last names were assigned by where they were from.  Overtime even that proved to be too taxing for the traders and the slaves were given last names by the month they were sold.  My guides last name was January and her sister married into the October’s.  I looked at the names on the memorial and teared up listening to the pride in the voice of Ms. January.  I respect her desire to educate tourists and visitors and am grateful for the experience and knowledge.

As I have mentioned, and as you can see from the last names listed indicating where the intial settling slaves were from, there was and still is a large melting pot of the cultures in South Africa. It is a huge part of the history of the city and shaped what it is today. The trade route is the reason it exists in the first place. It was simply a stopping point on the trade route to that turned into a fortified city (the castle of good hope) and then continued to grow. To the point that when diamonds were discovered in the 1860s the British’s ears perked up and they decided they wanted control. There were numerous wars, between the British and Dutch as well as wars with the indiginous tribes and the settlers that were continually being pushed inland. These white Dutch, German, & French settlers called themselves Afrikaners, a term still used today.  I was unaware as it seemed to be used often enough, but a local informed me that it may be considered a derogatory term. The negative connotation comes honestly as the Afrikaner National Party established the ‘apartheid’ in 1948 which means ‘seperateness’ in Afrikaans.

The apartheid only ended 25 years ago. My generation lived through it, and it showed on my visit. Don’t get me wrong, I never felt like I was in danger or had any major concerns, but segregation was still very evident.

To touch on my personal experiences, let me tell you about the night I went to a nightclub with some friends I met. We were all white, and we decided to try a place called Cubana, thinking it would be latin music. Well it wasn’t, it was a local club, and we were the minority. The only minorities in there to be exact. Personally, I just wanted to dance and could have cared less, and my new friends were from all over the world, and shared the same opinion. But It was made very clear that we were not welcome to be there by the looks and glares we received. Perhaps it was shock that we were there in the first place, but we stayed and danced and ended up getting along with those who engaged with us.  Do I blame the people in that club? No. It was a sad reality for me that despite the tourist facade I saw initially, the underlying feeling of needing to stay racial separated was very real. It is still the norm.

I’m fully aware that I have been sheltered in how I was raised, but I’m also curious by nature and consider myself to be empathetic.  I understand white privilege and agree that it affects me personally.  I also strive to understand all people, cultures, and sides and am very thankful for travel for expanding my horizons and making me understand the world and inequalities a little more.  So while racism isn’t a new subject to me, it was different in South Africa.  I’ll be the first to admit my ignorance to apartheid in general before this trip.  For example, Chinese and asians were basically considered black and placed at the bottom of the totem pole, if you were mixed you were given more privilege and a step up, but still without quite fitting in.  The heirarchy was completely made up and implamented by the Afrikaner National Party.  It made me start asking my hiking guide, Uber drivers, etc if I felt comfortable enough to ask questions. The general consensus from that variety of people was that it was just too recent, that people are still pretty stuck in the ways that were set. Segregation is all they know, and majority of the population is extremely uneducated and poverty stricken without the resources to help themselves. They were hopeful that the next generation will be able to have different views. The current political situation does not seem to be very conducive to fast change from what I gathered unfortunately, but I do appreciate the hopeful nature of the people I talked to.

I was going to try not to make this post a history lesson for once, but I feel like I had to touch on the apartheid, as it ended up being a huge factor in my overall impression of South Africa.

To give an idea of the effects and current conditions I will just briefly touch on one of the townships. A township is the largely undeveloped racial segregated area reserved for non-whites during the apartheid. We drove past the largest township unexpectedly and were just stunned. Literal shacks on rolling hills as far as the eye could see. Khayelitsha is the largest and fasted growing township with over 2.4 million living in area allocated as part of the ‘Group Areas Act’. 70% of the individuals live in shacks made of timber and sheet metal, and 73% are uunemployed. There are no streets, rather 26 districts of shacks built stacked up and leaning on one another and given a number. One in three have to walk 200 meters or more to access clean water, sanitation is a huge issue, and food sold between shacks and from stands is the only ‘market.’

Certainly it is no way to live, and frankly we drove by for what seemed like 5 minutes with our jaws dropped. Again, my little American bubble left me completely clueless as to the continued effects of the apartheid and economic issues of South Africa. Truly, it was emotional, and obviously made me feel the need to educate myself as well as share the awareness. The below video was the very end of driving by the Khayelitsha township the others from a google search.

BUT, there is more to Cape Town and South Africa.  Despite the turmoiltuous past and the present issues, the parts that made me fall in love with it is the stunning natural beauty everywhere I turned.

The beaches within ten minutes of downtown are gorgeous. I chose to spend a day at Camps Bay and loved having the table mountain range & 12 apostles as a backdrop. Lions head peak was also right there as well. That evening I flipped my day around and hiked up looking down on Camps Bay at sunset. It wasn’t a long hike, but had a couple of tricky areas where ladders and metal hand holds were in place. You hike 360 around to get to the top and are provided with great scenery. The view from the top tho, gorgeous!

I also hiked table mountain up through the Platteklip gorge, probably the most popular trail up. This was a longer hike than lions head, and required quite a few rest stops on the way up. When we reached the top though, the clouds had just moved in enough to blanket the cliff sides facing the beach. It was a clear day other than those perfectly placed clouds and it made for a jaw dropping moment when you first get a glimpse of it.

After my friends work conference was done, we started exploring a little corner of South Africa. Unfortunately we did not have a lot of time, so we opted to do a game reserve closer to Cape Town rather than the 5 hrs or flight to get to Kruger National Park. Inverdoorn Game Reserve was really cute and also budget friendly. Down many miles of dirt road you come across a few little cabins, cactus garden, pool, and gorgeous restaurant that pop up out of nowhere.

We did a sunset safari as well as a sunrise safari and were able to see the big 5. The difference is that the animals were rescued and living in a semi natural habitat. Lions were kept separated, elephants were migrated around so they didn’t clear out an entire section from eating so much, and cheetahs were kept in their own rehabilitation area. Hippos, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, water buffalo, ostriches, & a few others were out roaming together and in those moments it felt like a real safari from our Jeep! Overall, it was a great experience for our time frame and travel needs. I still want to go on a multi-day camping authentic safari tho.

Wine country! Let’s turn this majority distressing post around because I love LOVE looooved Franschrook and obviously, the wine. Our Airbnb was a little old cottage snuggled into foothills that we had to walk down a dirt road passing sheep to get to. But, it was less than a mile from the Main Street in town. That’s what kind of place Franschroek was! Quaint, quite, convenient, and wineries scattered everywhere. There is a wine tram that runs through town and to the nearby tasting rooms. The best part is that with the exchange rate being so in our favor, we were doing tastings for less than $5, & buying bottles of excellent chenin bland or pinotage for less than $10.

One weekend night after a fantastic meal at Roca restaurant with the most stunning sunset over the vineyard, we checked out the very limited bar scene. We ended up listening and dancing to a live classic rock, drinking local ‘John Deere’s’ and then decided to lay on a blanket in the front lawn of our cottage to look at all of the stars visible. Obviously the wine had been flowing, but it was one of my favorite memories of the trip.

We rented a car. In a country we were warned about the crime, and that they drive on the other side of the road. And our elected driver doesn’t even own a car in the US. Nothing could possibly go wrong, right? Actually, other than some sand dunes blown across the road while we were driving at night that scared the crap out of us, Sondra was a rockstar driver and having a car to do the Cape of Good Hope part at our leisure was perfect.

The weather at the Cape, not so much. It was nice and sunny but seriously windy. The gusts were so strong I was truly worried petite Sondra would get blown down. But, when there’s a lighthouse to climb to for a view, you power on through the winds. It was worth it.

On the drive you see signs for baboons being present & dangerous. I knew there were penguins, but baboons? Then boom there was a family just strolling down the side of the road. They were everywhere. Jumping on cars in the parking lot, scaring people walking on the lighthouse path, it was completely unexpected and very entertaining.

And last but not least, the thousands of penguins of Boulder Beach. These African penguin, or jackass penguin, are endangered and only live in southwest Africa. I’m not even going to say anything else and let the pictures do the talking.

We ended the trip at an adorable hotel/spa in the countryside of Stellenbosch, another town in wine country that’s only 30 min to the airport. A massage and relaxing in the countryside at Wedgeview Country House and Spa (https://www.wedgeview.co.za) was just what the doctor ordered before the long travel home. Which turned into quite a stand-by flying adventure with cops involved. Standby life is never dull I tell ya. You can read about that story later.

I’ve gotten a huge response from coworkers and friends from this trip and asking questions. Every single time, I tell them to go. I really loved South Africa if you haven’t picked up on that yet! The country has a long way to go in improving a number of aspects of daily life for a lot of people.  But I have high hopes, and will be back someday to see them for myself!

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