Monday, March 12, 2018

From the Mother City to our Home City

By Hal W.

      We began this week in Cape Town, South Africa, and ended it in Windhoek, Namibia. We have set up shop here in Windhoek, where we will be staying for the next three months. I have the luxury of writing this with the comfort of A/C, something we all missed while we traveled around the Cape.

     We began this week by visiting the Slave Lodge Museum in downtown Cape Town. The tour began by meeting Lucy Campbell and her assistant Khadijah outside of the Castle of Good Hope. The fort was built by the Dutch East India Company between 1666 and 1679, it is the oldest standing colonial building in the whole country. It originally was used as a replenishment stations for British Ships sailing around the horn of Africa. Today it is a museum and historical site for tourists and memorialization of Cape Town’s brutal history.
 
      Lucy Campbell shared the history of the fort and how it impacted the native people of South Africa. She explained how colonization integrated new and often detrimental impacts onto the preexisting culture that existed here. From there we walked up Spin Street to the Slave Lodge Museum, making a brief stop at the Slave Tree memorial. This inconspicuous raised octagon is the site that slaves were sold during the economic and population boom of Cape Town. It feels overly modest, a plinth easily passed by without noticing its significance. The town was built by the men and women who were sold under that tree, and today it can be overpassed without a moment's thought. This place is worth stopping by to acknowledge on a historic remembrance of Cape Town, often forgotten.
 
     The Slave Lodge bustled with school trips and tourists gawking at the blinking lights of the eye-catching exhibits. We sat on the concrete floor as Campbell presented stories and trinkets traded during the Transcontinental slave trade. Ships stopped by Cape Town bringing tobacco and alcohol to suppress the health of the native tribes, for the sole intention of exploiting them for their land’s resources. The Slave Lodge was the physical space that the slaves were kept in decrepit conditions, with morality thrown out the barred windows.
 
     In the early 1800’s the building was modified to be used as government offices including the upper house of Parliament and the Cape Supreme Court. In the 1960’s it was again transformed into a museum of remembrance. “From human wrongs to human rights, exhibitions on the lower level of this museum explore the long history of slavery in South Africa”.
The original Parliament Hall. (Used during the Apartheid Regime)
     After lunch on Long Street we walked to the current Parliament facility for a discussion of the on-going political turmoil happening in South Africa. We were met by Andricus Pieter van der Westhuizen, a current member of the Democratic Alliance (DA) party in Parliament. He is currently appointed as the Shadow Deputy Minister of Labour, but his background is in education. We discussed how volatile the politics of South Africa have been since the turn of the country in the early 1990’s. We lucked upon a interesting time in South Africa’s politics. Jacob Zuma, the current president of South Africa, is being asked by his own party the African National Congress (ANC) to step down from his position. He has over 100 charges of corruption and is overwhelmingly disapproved of by the majority of the South African population. He is charged with using public funds for supposed “security” improvements for his estate including a pool and housing for his security team. Our meeting and tour of Parliament proved interesting and eye-opening.
 
      Tuesday morning we ate breakfast at St. Paul’s Guesthouse, our accommodation for our time in Cape Town, then went to the District Six Museum. This small, one building museum pays homage to the thousands of mixed race South Africans who were forcibly removed from their homes in the early 1900’s. District Six was a neighborhood of diversity and culture for laborers and merchants for decades before white colonists decided to bulldoze the area and force the residents into the surrounding areas known as the Cape Flats. The white government deemed District Six to be a destructive slum that bred vices like gambling and prostitution. They also declared under apartheid regime that mixed race communities were against the law. In 2003 the area began a reconstruction process. But of course true to the bureaucratic form it was executed with inadequate resources and labor. Today many of the homes lost remain rubble.

District Six museum complete with a floor map
      After a pensive tour of the District Six museum we de-stressed by going to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The five square kilometer complex featured a tree canopy boardwalk and sculpture garden. It was a relaxing break from the onslaught of information about the destructive history of this town. My personal favorite was the fragrance garden, buzzing with exotic insects that were double the size of the critters we have back home.
     We ended our outing with a empowering discussion at the Sex Workers and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT). The goal of SWEAT is to decriminalize sex work in South Africa. They participate in rallies and demonstrations to bring media coverage and educate people about Sex Workers rights. They also offer resources to Sex Workers like medical aid and helpful connections. The discussion was positive and light-hearted, despite the rather blunt topic. The people that work there are fighting a noble battle.

Camryn and Lamont getting down
The next day we were given a tour of Langa and Gugulethu by Mrs. Laura. These two townships are primarily black and have had a troubled past. We stopped at the Dompas Museum in Langa for a tour of the history of passbooks in the apartheid regime. The Dompas or Passbooks were issued to all black laborers who traveled into Cape Town for work. Dompas translates to “dumb pass”, these books were used to restrict black movement throughout the city and give the police another reason to throw innocent people in jail. If someone was caught without their passbook or if it was out of order they were put in jail for a month. The museum resides in the same building that black people were kept against their will for not having this aforementioned “Dumb pass”. Afterwards we walked through Langa to a restaurant where we ate authentic South African food, served family style, and were serenaded by talented group of musicians. They even let us try their instruments!
 
A young Jimmy among the Pines
After lunch we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCCA) that lies on the waterfront of Cape Town. The exhibits depicted historic mediums brought into a contemporary light. Animal pelts, weapons, and traditional african garb decorated the six story building. It is a place worth visiting for art enthusiasts to anyone willing to experience history through modern and artistic means.

For dinner we went to an African cafe aptly named “The African Cafe”. The food was again served family style and we enjoyed the music of the staff dancing, singing, and drumming through the restaurant. Truly a sight to behold on your trip through Cape Town.
The next morning we woke up early to pile into the van to ship off to the airport. We made our way through customs and security and onto the plane. After a quick two hour plane ride we touched down in our home for the next three months. The drive to Windhoek offered a few sights to show us what was to come. I watched out my window as the desert brush zipped by us, the occasional baboon or boar poking out along the side of the road. We were all quite tired from the travels of the day so after a quick orientation session we all called it an early night.
Today we began to make ourselves acquainted with our new home with a walking tour of Windhoek. Our fearless R.A. Jamila showed us around town, we saw the local mall, club, ice cream shop, and cafe. Windhoek is a big town and a small city. The taxis are cheap and the streets are (mostly) safe. We were warned by Paul From the U.S. Embassy about the petty muggings and opportunity crime that stems from the lack of employment. The overall message though was that if you keep your wits about you this city is a fun and safe place to stay.
The next day we were all feeling much more at home in our air conditioned manor complete with pool and wifi. We continued our orientation with a driving tour of Windhoek and Katatura, the biggest township of Windhoek. Our guide Martin was friendly and showed us the ins and outs of Windhoek. We visited the Kapana market in Katatura where we had the traditional grilled meat dish for the first time. You pay the price you want to pay and they grill the meat right in front of you on a wood burning stove, we returned back as soon as we could.
So much awkward in just one photo. (Visiting a local Namibian dam)
     Windhoek has graciously welcomed us into their city. The people are friendly and the air is dry. It has only been free from the apartheid regime for less than thirty years so the town quiets down at night. The stars are beautiful.
                   

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