May 11th, 1991 – Cape Town
Yesterday I phoned my uncle, who lives in Cape Town. I haven’t seen him for, what?, 25 years, or so, and that was only once, at my parents’ house. The idea was to look him up, maybe have lunch, but he insisted I’d stay at his house, in Constancia, a wealthy suburb of Cape Town. Of course I agreed. Free lodging for a few days was not even the main driver. I was looking forward to meeting my cousins, too, and I needed to get some perspective from people who live in South Africa, on how they thought this country would develop beyond Apartheid, which inevitably would have to be abandoned some day soon, in the future.
The experience of last night, in the bar of the hotel, was not very uplifting. One of the local ‘whites’, a young guy, felt obliged to explain to me how we stupid Europeans, like all those stupid Americans, really didn’t understand a thing about Africa, and about South Africa. And he kept swearing at the Kaffirs – the derogative nickname for the black people in this country -, who cannot do anything right, who need to be supervised constantly, and who are, really, no good for anything. The frightening thing was that he was quite drunk, and that he probably meant every word of what he was saying. A revealing conversation. I suppose it is this type of people this country can really do without, if it ever wants to move on towards acceptance in the rest of the world.
From Clanwilliam I drove through aptly named Citrusdal – indeed, one of the main orange growing areas, with at this time of the year trees heavy with bright fruits – and Ceres to Cape Town. More beautiful mountain scenery, once again helped by the brilliant autumn colours, and vineyards left and right. I will never forget my first reaction, upon entering Cape Town on a Saturday afternoon, a pleasant 25o C or so, car windows open, the smell of braai – the South African version of barbecue – wafting in from all sides: let’s trade in my return ticket, and stay here!
From far away you see Table Mountain towering above the city, which has been built on its slopes. A large and spacious town, broad avenues, plentiful trees, all again in the most spectacular autumn colours, yellow, red, brown. Fabulous! The house of my uncle, which I found without much difficulty, did nothing to put my feet back to earth. He is an architect, and had designed his own house, on the lower slopes of the mountain. Four different terraces, glass walls all around, with views over Cape Town a little below. Outside shower, garden full of flowers. Idyllic is the word that comes to mind.
The next day my cousin Colin picked me up to walk up Table Mountain. This is one of the things you need to do, when in Cape Town. So we made our way to the top, that is to say, my cousin, who does this often, strolled to the top, I struggled. But the reward was waiting: magnificent views over Cape Town, really. And across the entire peninsula, in all directions.
Downtown is equally nice. Most of the centre is low buildings, two- or three-story max., and fairly old, probably over a hundred years. Right in the middle of town is the Company Gardens, long ago started as the vegetable patch of the Dutch East Indies Company, now a botanical garden with a great collection of roses, amongst others. The waterfront, near the harbour, is full of nice seafood restaurants, in one of which I had dinner with my other cousin, Monique, and her family.
Oh, and I found out that you can also go up the Table Mountain by cable car, but never mind.
next: the Garden Route