Major anniversary, almost unnoticed

On this day in 1990 the South African government made one of the most important announcements in its history: the banned African National Congress and all the other, smaller, anti-apartheid liberation movements, were to be unbanned. And the second part of the announcement was that Nelson Mandela was most likely going to be released from prison where he had been for 27 years.

For those of us who lived through apartheid, or most of it as in my case, the 1980s were the most frightening years. After almost 40 years of it, people had had enough. Protests, marches, violence, massacres by the police, states of emergency with restricted movements for all but mostly black people, we lived in a general state of internal revolt that could simply not go on. The entire world was watching and, for many different reasons, urging South Africa to end this system of legalised segregation. Apartheid has since been classified as a crime against humanity.

That day, 2 February 1990, was only the start. There were many hurdles to overcome, there were many more battles to be won, and there was a period in the early 1990s where, because of those who didn’t want the change to a democracy, we were on the brink of civil war, day after day. But this day in 1990 was the start of the end of living in a police state. Eventually, in April 1994, democratic elections were held for the first time and Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black President.

Why did the government eventually capitulate to end apartheid? The country was broke as a result of trade sanctions, we were diplomatically in the cold, and we were pariahs in the world of sport and culture. Many people were ashamed and scared to admit their nationality when travelling abroad, assuming they could even get a visa for certain countries. The pressure to negotiate for a democratic government came from within and without.

Read more about the turbulent years before the end of apartheid here.

Of course today, most South Africans are more aware of the fact that last night the President announced a lifting of our lockdown prohibition, and that’s what everyone is celebrating and rejoicing over today. I’ll do both – I’ll raise a glass to the end of the old way.

The view of Table Mountain from Robben Island where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years of his total 27. The island is now a Unesco Heritage site and one can visit it by ferry from the city, with guided tours including a prison tour with an ex prisoner as guide.
This statue of Nelson Mandela is at the entrance to the prison where he spent his last 14 months. Here, he lived in a comfortable house, away from prying eyes of prison staff and other inmates, and hosted regular meetings with a variety of officials and business people, negotiating his release.


New year  resolutions are not my thing at all, but today does symbolise a fresh start of sorts, and it’s not a bad time to plan things and create a wish-list and maybe dust some cobwebs away.

1Jan_2014 roadtrip

This year’s site visit and exploration roadtrip will be the West Coast and the Cederberg region.
These trips are very useful to expand my knowledge and they double up as a sort of holiday. This year I’d like to have someone with me, as opposed to doing it solo, as I’ve found on previous trips that a second pair of eyes is needed. So, to that end, I’ll be looking for the right person who wants a fairly-cheap mid-year roadtrip. Applicants must have a sense of adventure, an eye for a good photo, valid driver’s licence, and at least a week to spare.


A mandatory stop when visiting the Cape Point Nature Reserve, as do millions of people annually, is a brief visit to the official spot known as the Cape of Good Hope. Everyone has their photo taken at the sign showing this iconic Cape that almost everyone on earth has heard of. No, not this sign, the sign that reads ‘Cape of Good Hope’.
Unfortunately, there isn’t sufficient parking for those extremely busy days – which are increasing all the time. It gets quite chaotic there, as huge buses and dozens of smaller vehicles all stop to disgorge tourists wanting that iconic shot and a walk along the rocks. Despite there being loads of space to create more parking, it’s all pristine fynbos and a very precious conservation area but some sacrifice will have to be made because the numbers are not decreasing any time soon.


There’s no photo to illustrate the cobwebs I need to clear so this one of Table Mountain with the wind bringing the cloth of cloud over it will have to suffice to remind me to deal with a certain personal issue that requires urgent closure. Winds of change and all that.

1Jan_Life rocks

Once I’ve achieved the above, I will own this t-shirt.


Watch more sunsets.
I want to start a sunset club. We’ll meet regularly to watch the sun set from a different place, everyone brings something to eat or drink, everyone takes photos and we choose a winning shot.


This giant wall poster is what greets you on arrival at Robben Island. Three men of extremes.
My biggest tourism wish for 2014 would be to see this island’s organisation take a turn for the better with a visit that is more enriching and stream-lined. I’d see it as a big bonus if new types of trips could be available, such as walking tours and full-day tours.
Cape Town runs a world-class tourist city but Robben Island lets the side down, big time.

1Jan_explore hidden Garden route

Funky is more important than you realise. Funky is a life-saver.
My last visit to Knysna made me fall in love with it again after a bit of a fall-out. This gorgeous corner of a newly-discovered must-return guesthouse had a lot to do with that.
My next visit will be one of deeper exploration into the forests and passes. A second pair of eyes will be required for that, too. Please apply within.

1Jan_Let the children

Can we dare to dream of a world where all children everywhere are treated with care, kept safe and given lots of love?

Nelson Mandela – RIP, and thank you!

paarl statue
It’s 2 in the morning and I am obsessively reading online tributes pouring in from around the world for Nelson Mandela who died just a few hours ago at the age of 95, at his home surrounded by his family.

Wherever you go in South Africa you can’t avoid reminders of this great iconic man. We’re immensely proud of him and in his death we are united in sadness and memories of his smile, his dance moves and what he meant to this country – peace and forgiveness. He was not a saint, did not want to be perceived as such, and there are many, like myself, who disagreed in part with some of his decisions post-apartheid. Be that as it may, he stood higher than most men ever will or ever have and as one friend put it, he lived his life to the complete fulfillment of his destiny – not something one can say about many humans, ever. He was put on a pedestal but he lived up to it.

Many ordinary people were lucky to have met him but I never did. The closest I’ve come to standing next to him is my regular visits to his cell on Robben Island where he was incarcerated for 18 years of his prison sentence, and also the prison gates in Paarl from which he walked as a free man (top photo). Incidentally, one of his nicknames is Tata, an isiXhosa word meaning ‘father’ – my siblings called me Tata when they were young.

We were prepared for his death and we expected a huge reaction from around the world but the reality is still very emotional. I’ve even received email condolences from several clients overseas. Strange how we in South Africa have been his biggest critics and yet we feel the pain as if someone in our own family has left us.

In typical South African fashion we are crying and also singing and dancing, because that’s what we do here. Two of my favourite tweets I’ve seen are: “We must not mourn his passing but must rather celebrate his life” and this one: “Anyone who doesn’t know us in SA would look at our singing/dancing and assume we’re happy he died. Truth is, we’re just happy he lived”.

So, as trite as my words are, this is my little tribute to one of the greatest statesmen who ever lived and whom we are proud beyond measure to count as a South African.

Here’s one of my favourite Mandela quotes. It’s been pinned on my wall for several years in the hope that it’ll inspire me:

“There is no personal misfortune that one cannot turn into a personal triumph if one has the iron will and the necessary skills.”

another table mt view

View of Cape Town from Robben Island.

cell inside

Mandela’s cell as it looks now. It’s a great pity it isn’t more representative of how he ‘furnished’ it and lived in it – he had many books, a desk, pictures on the walls, and later a simple bed.

cell window

Mandela’s cell block from the quadrangle.

Lime quarry

The lime quarry where the prisoners laboured under the hot sun and where Mandela contracted the lung disease that finally contributed to his death. The cave at the back is where he and other prisoners held secret meetings and took refuge from the sun. There is a pile of stones to the right in front of the quarry which was created by ex-prisoners when they returned after 1994 for a reunion. Each person placed a stone in symbolism of their freedom.

view from ferry

The ferry ride to the island can be very choppy at times but this photo was taken two weeks ago when it was a very hot and still day and we were able to stand outside and enjoy the ride and the view.

(I couldn’t bring myself to finish this last night hence it is dated the 6th, the day after Madiba passed away)

Hot chocolate at 1086 metres

Anyone who’s ever been to the top of Table Mountain knows that dassies, or rock rabbits/hyrax (Procavia capensis) are the most common animal to be seen up there and they are so used to human visitors that they’re rather tame. But this little guy was the tamest I’ve ever seen. I’m sure we could have picked him up or at least stroked him, neither of which I’d want to do, by the way, but you get my meaning. He was nibbling away at a plant between steps and rocks and completely ignored us as we took photos and my guests exclaimed over the sight.

It was freezing up there on Friday but at least the sun was shining. My clients and I were so cold, especially our hands (note to self, remember the gloves!) that we simply had to go to the restaurant for hot chocolate instead of waiting in the long queue to go down.  The relatively new restaurant is an improvement on the old tea-room that could not cater for the increasing number of visitors. There is a good selection of hot and cold food , snacks, cakes and drinks, and even some wine, but the prices are outrageously exorbitant.  It’s actually a disgrace because foreign tourists are not idiots who don’t look at prices so one has to wonder why the restaurant was so full.  Maybe the cold, maybe the long queue.

Aside from that, I’m glad they didn’t demolish the old tea-room (it’s the curio shop now) and have built the new one adjacent and with the same type of stone so it flows nicely (look to the right in the next pic, the new stones are lighter). I really like the well-marked paths and new lookout points – some of them are positioned to give you a feeling of overhanging the city and there’s one near the restaurant overlooking Camps Bay that is not for you if you suffer from vertigo.

I still want to walk up from Kirstenbosch one of these days, and also do the Back Table/Maclears Beacon walk, … but that can only be done with friends, not clients, because I need to be free to stop as often as I want to. And whinge and swear.  I suggest early next year when the wind has dropped and it’s warm, and I will happily make a very early start of it.

In the meantime, I will gladly take visitors up in the cable car. One of my favourite things to do when riding up is to show everyone (and I mean everyone) when I see rock climbers clinging to the rocks – I wish the car was slow enough to get a photo of them, from that angle it would be impressive.

The old tea room, now the souvenir shop

Robben Island zoomed in.  New phone camera has nice zoom function. My hands were freezing up by this time.


A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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