Yesterday, the winds dropped enough for us to take the tour of Robben Island – the offshore prison that was home to South Africa’s political dissenters, including its most famous resident Nelson Mandella, during the apartheid years.
The tour of the prison itself was mainly conducted by Dumisani Mwandal, a former inmate who was held on Robben Island for six years of a 30 year sentence before being freed in the early 90s. It’s a moving experience – I doubt I’ve ever been on a tour where people hang on every word of the guide – and an absolute must if you are visiting Cape Town.
On of the amazing things about being here is seeing how people, including Dumisani and our tour guide Saleigh, can now be so light hearted when it comes to talking about the old regime yet it’s obvious that while they can now look back and smile, there is still deep hurt at how non-whites were treated.
On the streets, things are seemingly better in the post independence years yet there is still inequality. You can only marvel at the size of the shanty towns on the way in from the airport and Saleigh, a former teacher in the townships, told us how he turned to tourism when he could no longer handle class sizes of 70 kids.
Also, on my morning runs, I see people pouring into work in the posh Waterfront area – almost exclusively cars are driven by whites with taxis and buses the exception. And at night, in the restaurants we frequent, the clientele is also mainly white while the servers are black.
The good news is that things are changing, albeit slowly. At least those people are in work and you would hope that, as conditions in the townships improve as more and more running water, sanitation and electricity is available, people will eventually be able to move out and give their children a better education.
The World Cup is also providing a catalyst of hope for people who are determined to show that South Africa is not the crime ridden hole that some people have as an image.
Saleigh did strike one note of caution however. He said: ‘In the Mandella presidency, it was a case of politicians looking at what they could do for the country, the ANC heirarchy now looks at what the country can do for them.’
It would be a crying shame if this beautiful country that has done so much to prove the yoke of history can be removed slipped into the ways of some of its neighbours where politicians get fatter as conditions for the people deteriorate.