We returned to Cape Town from Hermanus early Thursday afternoon, which gave us enough time to hop on a minibus and hit up Greenmarket Square again. Well, kind of. We were starving, so grabbed a late and leisurely lunch near the market, and wrapped up right around 4:30, which is when stuff starts shutting down. We were still able to score some good wares, and decided if we felt inclined surely we’d have enough time to return after visiting Robben Island the next day (we’d booked spots on Friday’s 11 o’clock boat earlier in the week). Wanting to take advantage of having made the trip downtown, we decided to walk over and check out the castle we noticed was nearby on the map, and which had piqued our interest.
Alas, we’d missed the Castle of Good Hope‘s last tour of the day, but it was about time for us to be heading back anyway. At Pat’s suggestion we headed over to Koi at the Ambassador Hotel for a pre-dinner drink– he said it was one of the best places to watch the sunset. Alas again– all the seating near the windows was taken and we didn’t have a great view from the bar, but the walk to the restaurant was pretty and the cocktails were good.
Then yes, on Friday we went to Robben Island, the infamous home of the prison where Nelson Mandela spent eighteen of his 27 years in prison. (I was to learn that the current president, Jacob Zuma, as well as Thabo Mbeki [who served between Mandela and Zuma] had been prisoners on Robben Island as well.)
It’s perhaps needless to say that the visit was both emotional and thought-provoking, and I thought it was an important part of our trip. Though they really do try to make the experience one that celebrates the strength and power of the human spirit (which it does), it was hard not to feel just very sorrowful at times when thinking of the things that were endured there. It was all made so much more real by the fact that the tour guides are past prisoners themselves– the narratives are all in the first person. “We were given this much food,” and “The guards would do these things to us,” you know? When I learned that this was the arrangement I found myself a little surprised; it seemed like there would be too many bad memories there for anyone to care to return. Our guide (who, like Mandela and many others, was sent to the Island as an alternative to the death penalty after being sold out by a double agent for running arms to Angola after being trained in Germany, if I heard and remember his story correctly) explained that in reality, it was the best therapy he could have asked for. He, like all (or at least most) of the museum staff, resides on the island now.
This one reads:
As political prisoners we were denied something that people took for granted around the world: Access to newspapers. It is not that we wanted to buy them, necessarily. We didn’t mind picking up a newspaper that you read last weekend, just to try and keep ourselves abreast with what was happening in the world. But that was not allowed. I remember an International Red Cross Committee representative saying, ‘South Africa is mad. Even Palestinian prisoners are allowed newspapers.’ That should tell you how backward South Africa was.
I remember the terrible risks we sometimes took in our attempts to lay our hands on the news. Of course, it was a pleasure to fall ill and land up in a hospital in Cape Town; we knew that the day of our return we would be mobbed for news from outside.
It is not as if we usually got the chance to read a newspaper, or even a page of a newspaper, because we were at all times escorted by warders. But they could not close our eyes; they could not stop us from reading the headlines and snatching a few words. One had to make do with the headlines and fill in the rest, right or wrong. It was better than no news, and it brought us a lot of satisfaction.
With the late start and a 45-minute boat ride each way, we didn’t end up getting back until after four; it took much longer than we were thinking and we were a little disappointed that we didn’t have time to make it back to the market as planned. Our guidebook thankfully notified us that the indoor Pan African Market was open a bit later, so we decided to give that a try. We also had a very late lunch at the Timbuktu Café located within the market, where we were surrounded by old Reader’s Digests and serenaded by Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” on vinyl (on repeat, as it were).
We balanced out the somewhat somber day by having a fun-filled Friday night on Long Street. Danced and laughed a lot with Pat and his friends Zingy, Lesogo, and Manny.