Whenever I’m in a foreign country, I try to take advantage of the free walking tours offered around town, so naturally I checked out Cape Town Free Walking Tours. I decided to take their “Historical Cape Town” tour at 11am and the “Bo-Kaap” tour at 2pm, both led Rico.
A bit of background on Cape Town: The Khoisan were indigenous to Africa until, in 1488, the Portuguese arrived in Cape Town; Bartolomeu Diaz, a Portuguese explorer, sailed around the southernmost tip of Africa. Fast-forward some, and the British invaded Cape Town in 1795 from Muizenberg. The second time, in 1806, power shifted four times – Dutch to French to Dutch to British rule within ten years. Around this time, Cape Town became known as the Paris of Africa. In 1948 the National Party went into power and less than 8% of the population were allowed to vote. The National Party won based on the idea of segregation. The British stayed until 1961, when they had enough of the apartheid. It wasn’t until 1992 that F.W. de Klerk said that South Africa was in the process of closing the book on apartheid.
So, let’s talk history:
- St. George’s Cathedral: Built in 1833 and made public in 1834. Desmond Tutu used to preach here in the 80s and 90s, and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his fight against apartheid. He was seen as a voice for the more marginalized and managed to get 30,000 people outside of St. George’s Cathedral to go on a peace march.
- Parliament Building: The legislative capital. F. W. de Klerk and Mandela worked in parliament and were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their work in abolishing apartheid.
- Cape High Court: Instrumental for apartheid – tell the stories you must tell because someone has to bear witness. During apartheid, if you weren’t European you had to go to the High Court to be racially categorized (many scientific experiments were done to decide what category you were put into). If you were categorized as black, for example, it was written in a book that had to be on you at all times; if you were stopped without it by a cop, you could be beat and thrown in jail. One of the ways that people were categorized was through the Pencil Test – if a pencil fell out of your hair, you’re European and fine, but if it stays in your hair, you’re not European and need to be categorized (white was on top, colored in the middle, and black at the bottom – if you were black it was likely you had no jobs or human rights).
- Church Square: Oldest Dutch reformed church in the country
- Slave Lodge: Where companies kept slaves for orientation – 700 slaves were locked up every night. On weekends and holidays, they left the women out for the enjoyment of men. The Dutch ruled Cape Town for 200 years and decided to bring slaves to the city in 1658. By 1717, there were more slaves in the city than free men, and by the time slavery was abolished in 1864, there were 38,000 slaves. Sadly, today, there are still 29.8 million slaves living on Earth.
- City Hall: It was on this balcony where Mandela made his first speech as a free man in front of 250,000 people; these people covered the whole square, every conceivable rooftop, poles, trees, everywhere possible to wait to hear him speak. While waiting they had no food, no shelter from the sun, no water, no toilets. Mandela was supposed to be released at noon and to speak at 2pm, but he was released late and didn’t speak until 9pm. Mandela noted that “Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait. Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive. The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts.”
We broke for lunch and ate at the Eastern Food Bazaar (as per Rico’s recommendation) and, if you’re in Cape Town, do not miss this. The portions are huge, the food is great, there’s a lot of variety and, to top it off, it is dirt cheap! What could be better.
We began our second tour of the day with Rico, excited to see more of the city. Bo-Kaap directly translates to “above town.” The community has been there since slavery was abolished and there are 12 mosques in the community of Bo-Kaap alone. It is a multi-cultural and diverse community – everyone is welcome to live there. Although it is predominantly Muslim, people living in Bo-Kaap speak Afrikaans more than Arabic.
People always ask why the houses are so colorful in Bo-Kaap. According to Rico, the people that live in Bo-Kaap came from the city, which was dramatic and sad as they were enslaved. Bo-Kaap was the first space that they could call their own, so what’s a better way to express that than in living color.