Charms and challenges of “rainbow nation” – III

South of Cape Town, Chapman’s Peak Drive is one of the most spectacular drives in the world.  This 9-kilometre road with 114 curveswinds along the Atlantic Coast, between Hout Bay and Noordhoek, near the south-western tip of South Africa. Rising nearly six hundred metres above the sea, it offers stunning 180° views of the sea and the coastline.

(Daily Times, 5 June 2013)

As the plane descends over Cape Town, the view below takes one’s breath away, particularly if one is lucky enough – as I was – to have a window seat with a view of Table Mountain.  At 1,085 meters, it is not much of a mountain, but it is a magnificent and unusual sight, as flat at the top as a table top. 

Well, it is not exactly flat at the top but certainly looks so from a distance.  It is a plateau about three kilometres from one end to the other, flanked by Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head, named for their look.  What’s more, Table Mountain is often draped in “table cloth”, which really is a cloud cover at the top.  One can actually see, from the city below, the “table cloth” being laid out and removed, depending on the weather, the wind and time of day. 

The top is easily accessible by cable car and offers excellent walks, besides panoramic views of the seaside city below.  On a good day, one can even see, in the distance, the outlines of Robben Island, which until about two decades ago was probably the world’s most infamous prison.  Now one of the premier tourist destinations, a standard tour of the island takes a bit less than four hours, including the two half-hour ferry rides.

When the ferry docks at the jetty of Robben Island, there are buses waiting with tour guides, all of whom are former prisoners at the island.  I was particularly lucky to have, as my tour guide, Yasien Mohammad, former Secretary of the leftist Pan Africanist Congress. A South African of mixed Indian background, he is knowledgeable and intelligent with a sense of humour. 

The historical narration and geographical introduction over, we leave the bus for a tour of the actual maximum security prison, another former inmate again acting as our guide. The climax of the tour, standing next to the little cell where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment, it is hard to hold back tears.  Not far is the large courtyard where one can see, in the mind’s eye, Mandela breaking rocks under the watchful eyes of his white prison guards for nothing more than demanding equality and dignity for blacks in their own country.

Robben Island is about 10 km west of the coast of Cape Town, roughly oval in shape, just over three kilometres long and two kilometres wide. On a good day, if ever they were allowed outside the high perimeter walls of their prison compound, the inmates would have had a view of beautiful Cape Town – so near, yet so far! 

Conversely, the black men and women who toiled at the waterfront cafes and restaurants in the service of their white masters could see the island where there leaders were incarcerated for daring to challenge the legitimacy of government based on race.

Ensconced in central Cape Town is Bo Kaap, home to Cape Malays.  There are estimated to be over 150,000 of them in Cape Town and a few thousand in Johannesburg.  They are the descendants of Indonesians, transported here as punishment for opposing Dutch rule in their own country, and used as slaves. Their houses, along narrow centuries-old cobbled streets, are invariably brightly coloured. 

There are shrines, called “kramats” of Muslim saints here. Having lost their ethnic identity and language, and all connection to their ancestral land, these so-called Malays now strongly retain and cohere around their Muslim identity.

South of Cape Town, Chapman’s Peak Drive is one of the most spectacular drives in the world.  This 9-kilometre road with 114 curveswinds along the Atlantic Coast, between Hout Bay and Noordhoek, near the south-western tip of South Africa. Rising nearly six hundred metres above the sea, it offers stunning 180° views of the sea and the coastline.

First opened in 1922, it was closed in 2000 after some fatalities from rock falls, and reopened in 2003 as a toll road after some major restructuring with Swiss engineering assistance.  I have had the pleasure of driving on some other spectacular coastal roads, such Australia’s Ocean View Drive in Victoria, California Highway 1 in the United States and the Coromandel Coast drive in New Zealand.  Chapman’s Peak Drive may be the shortest of them all in length, but the views it offers are nothing short of stunning.

Further down, the road takes one to Cape Peninsula, at the end of which are Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope, the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the graveyard of many a ship since it was first reached by Bartholomew Dias in 1488.

Mineral-rich South Africa is Africa’s biggest economy, with a good network of roads, airports and trains. It has a GDP greater than Pakistan’s with only a quarter of the population.  In contrast, the largest African country, oil-rich Nigeria, is an economic failure and a political catastrophe, entirely due to corruption and poor governance. 

So far, South Africa has done rather well in terms of democratic political process with a free press and an independent judiciary.  But there are warning signs on the horizon.  It is quite a fall from the presidency of Nelson Mandela, who towers over all his contemporaries in the world, to that of Jacob Zuma, flamboyant, promiscuous, polygamist, tainted by allegations of corruption.

Besides widespread corruption, there are the malcontents and agitators, the likes of Julius Malema, ready to employ racist rhetoric in the service of political goals.  It is easier to arouse expectations with vitriolic, anti-white speeches than to be able to fulfil them.  We have seen Zimbabwe dragged down this path by President Robert Mugabe with woeful results.

As the plane took off from Cape Town, skirting over Table Mountain, my African trip was over.  But I have seen only a fraction of this large continent.  Fascinating it is, dark it is not.  Personally, for me, the trip was quite illuminating.  I owe Africa at least one more visit.

(concluded)

By Razi Azmi

This entry was posted in Travelogues. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Charms and challenges of “rainbow nation” – III

  1. Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur says:

    Thank you Razi Sahib for taking us along on this insightful tour of South Africa.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *