29 July 2012

Nigeria: A Memorable Week in the Scenic Beauty of Cape Town


Our journey to Cape Town, South Africa started inevitably at the country's High Commission in Abuja where we applied for visa. We discovered that to get a South African visa you need firstly to prove you have a fat bank (local) balance by submitting a six months' bank statement.

Secondly you need a valid hotel reservation in the city you are travelling to and thirdly a flight reservation or a potent return ticket to your destination.

We also found to our cost that there are no immigration facilities at Cape Town Airport, all checked-in baggage bound for Cape Town has to be physically removed at Johannesburg arrival conveyor belt and rechecked in at Johannesburg Airport for Cape Town! Because we didn't know this our luggage was left at Johannesburg even though the luggage tags were labeled Cape Town. So we had to shuttle several times between the Hotel and Airport at Cape Town to claim our luggage that was brought later after we complained.

All these hiccups didn't stop us from savouring what Cape Town had to offer. TOURISTS' DELIGHTS

South Africa has so many tourist attractions that it would be impossible to savour them all in one short trip. These range from natural endowments like the Table Mountains in Cape Town, to historical sites like the Robben Island (where Mr. Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for over 18 years) and museums, artistic shows like Opera Houses and Ballets in major cities like Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Pretoria the Political Capital. There are also many games reserves and national parks spread around the country. Personally my biggest dream is not only to meet Mr. Nelson Mandela whom almost all South Africans lovingly call 'Madiba' but to actually shake hands with him!

I spent a little over one week in Cape Town in February this year. During that time I promised myself that a trip to that oldest town in South Africa would be incomplete without visiting the Table Mountain, Robben Island and Madiba. So my first Port of call was the Table Mountain. It actually consists of three parts as it is flanked by the Lion Head on its left and the Devil's Peak on its right. Needless to say the whole mountain range is a fantastic spectacle to behold.

Believe me it is at its most majestic element when viewed from the top i. e. the table part. And the best way to reach its peak is by a ride on the cable car unless you are the adventurer and energetic type who delights in trekking up its face rising up to over 1 kilometer above sea level! Once there you can take in the whole city of Cape Town stretching in all directions - an experience you are not likely to forget in a hurry.

Even Robben Island looks so small and less horrible from the top. It would cost one adult 200 Rands (equivalent to about 30 US Dollars) to ride the cable car to the top of the mountain. I believe the mountain got its name - Table Mountain - because its top actually looks like a table and is dotted with mini parks and relics and memorabilia shops as well as restaurants. The ride to the top is a bit like a roller coaster ride but affords one a panoramic view of its surroundings. It also offers numerous opportunities for taking photographs for one and family members and friends.

The visit to Robben Island, on the other hand, is by ferry and costs 250 Rands (or 37 US Dollars). It is 12 kilometers from Cape Town but takes 30 minutes either way and the ride can be turbulent especially on windy condition causing some sea-sickness for quite a few people.

An interesting episode took place when we tried to buy ticket for the ferry. Unknown to us, one is required to book in advance for the ferry ride. We got to the tickets counter at about 10.30am but the ticket seller told us that the next ferry would leave at 1.00pm. As it turned out later, the next ferry was actually leaving at 11.00am! Even more strangely, the ferry was not full! Anyway, we came back before 12.00noon in time (or so we thought) for the 1.00pm ferry. The same ticket seller again told us that the next ferry would be leaving at 3.00pm. But we protested that she told us to come back for the 1.00pm ferry and it was just 12.00pm. She tried to deny saying that and that we should have bought the 1.00pm ticket then.

So why didn't she tell us to buy the ticket then. It took the intervention of another more sympathetic ticket girl who decided to sell us the tickets. Later we realised that some apartheid hangover was responsible for this bizarre incident. The first girl was coloured (mixed race) and somehow she was trying indirectly to discriminate against us seeing that we were black (from Nigeria).

The second girl was black and that explained why she saved the day for us by selling the 1.00pm tickets in spite of the coloured girl's insistence that we had to come back for the 3.00pm ferry. We made sure we rewarded the black girl by calling her an angel to the annoyance of the coloured girl who retorted by asking whether she was a devil. We replied saying maybe not but she certainly behaved like one!

Robben Island (by the way robbe is a Dutch word for seal) Prison is now a museum mainly because it is where Madiba and his colleagues were incarcerated for over 18 years, Ab initio their treatment was intended to be inhuman and degrading and the Apartheid authorities made sure that it was exceedingly so. They were made to crush rocks with their bare hands in the open and exposed to all weather; cold or hot and for the whole day and the crushed rocks were thrown away before their very eyes.

We visited the stone quarry they were forced to carry out the dehumanising hard labour. We were taken around the prison by a former inmate who spared no detail in his account of the way all prisoners were treated. It is noteworthy that only blacks were held prisoners on Robben Island. All white and other non-black political detainees were imprisoned elsewhere. We entered some of the prison cells including the one in which Madiba was kept.

It was a tiny room with bare floor and the contents consisted of a blanket, a hard floor board presumably doubling as a bed and a pail meant to serve as his toilet. That is all. The rules were draconian and failure to keep to any of them was severely punished including solitary confinement for extended periods.

At present there are about 200 people employed at the island mostly working for the museum and related establishments such as the ports, the ferry services, relic shops and utility services. Also Robben Island has a lovely penguin colony in addition to the large population of seals native to the island.

We found out at once that the easiest way to take in most of the tourist attractions in Cape Town is to go on any of the numerous City Tours available. These are namely The Red and Blue Bus Tours, The Helicopter Tours, The Canal Cruise, The Night Tour, the Wine Tour, DownTown- On-Foot, etc. We settled on the Red Bus Tour largely because it has more stops (17) than the Blue Bus Tour (13) and because it is valid for the whole day and one could hop on and hop off anytime anywhere without having to buy tickets. Moreover, at 250 Rands (37 Dollars) per person it is far cheaper than say the Helicopter Tours which range from as low as 630 Rands (about 100 US Dollars) to as high as 7000 Rands (1,000 US Dollars). Most of the stops didn't interest us much though, but the tour afforded us the opportunity to see a good part of the city. One stop we actually wanted to go off at was the Castle Of Good Hope but just before we got there, all roads around that area were closed.

Reason? The President (Mr. Jacob Zuma) was billed to present the country's budget to Parliament that very day! Yet the roads were closed a full four hours ahead of time! You can trust African leaders not to disappoint you in these matters. So the whole tour was put in total disarray. At least, they should have the decency to refund our money. But that did not seem to bother anyone and in any case there was no one to complain to.

For Art and Culture lovers, there were plenty of activities and programmes to keep them happy. In the Artscape and Theatre Centre in Cape Town alone, there was The Phantom of the Opera at the city's Opera House, the Dreamcatcher a presentation of dance, drama and song by the Cape Academy of Performing Arts (CAPA) students. C. L. Huggins' When Dance Comes, a neo-classical ballet show by the Cape Dance Company was also on. Other shows that might be of interest were Other People's Lives, The Birds, The Italian Affair, Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, The Nutcracker On Ice and many more. Festival lovers might not be disappointed as there were numerous such activities at the Centre.

I would have loved to visit at least one of the many interesting games reserves and game parks that were reputedly well kept, but time was really not on our side so that would have to wait for another day and time.

For us ordinary folks, South Africa is unique in the sense that you can't avoid feeling that it is actually two countries existing side by side. One is exactly a replica of Europe complete with its technology, architecture, philosophy, raison d'être, arts and culture. The other is just like the average African country such as Sierra Leone or even Gabon with its backwardness, primitive thinking , slavish adherence to primordial beliefs and superstitions and backsliding culture. The first country is dominated by whites and the second by blacks and the two countries are seamlessly borderless. The real test the current leadership faces in an increasingly urgent pace is how these two countries can be fused into one with comparable standard of living and common aspirations for the future. The impatience with which the black population expects this change is what caused the swift exit of former President Thabo Mbeki, the successor to Madiba. It is doubtful if the successor to the successor, President Jacob Zuma will deliver on this exacting expectation. He should try for everybody's sake. This is not only in the interest of the black population but that of the whole country - whites and other non-whites inclusive. Luckily for South Africa, there is a perfect example to copy or emulate from and that is Malaysia which I hope is my next destination or at least my next subject.

However, we must not lose sight of the recent events that culminated in the death of Apartheid as a political system and the enthronement of black majority rule without a single shot being fired in the process. This is no mean achievement and the prime movers of this transition namely Mr. Nelson Mandela and Mr. F. W. de Clerk, the last Supremacist President of Republic of South, were then (probably for the first time truly) deservedly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. What is remarkable about this peaceful power shift is that it was unthinkable quite up to the time it happened. For if one were to bet on this change happening in South Africa or Israel/Palestine as late as 1985 one would have picked the latter rather than the former.

This is because the ethnic dvide between the minority whites and the majority blacks is far wider than that between the Arabs and the Jews in Palestine/Israel as the latter group are, according to their own religions descended from the same Prophet Abraham and are highly indistinguishable even among themselves. Also the brutality inflicted on the black majority by the white minority in South Africa was more total. more debilitating, longer lasting and more institutionalized than what has been happening in Palestine/Israel.

In retrospect, after all it is said that hindsight is perfect, perhaps it is not difficult to piece together the reasons why there is democracy, peace and hopefully prosperity for all, at least in the "near" future in South Africa on the one hand and violence, outrageous human rights violation, hopelessness for all and absolutely no chance for peace in Palestine/Israel even in the foreseeable future on the other. One reason is the emergence of great statesmen like Mr. Mandela, Mr. de Clerk, Mr. P. W. Botha and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In Israel, in contrast the nearest statesmen that ever emerged were Mr. Yassir Arafat and Mr. Yitzak Rabin. These two leaders almost singlehandedly came closest to a peaceful though not the best solution and that effort was unfortunately aborted when a senseless or is it mad Jewish zealot mindlessly assassinated Mr. Rabin.

Secondly, ANC managed to garner support across the continent of Africa without exception. In Palestine/Israel almost all their Arab neighbors appear to oppose creation of Palestine and support though clandestinely Israel! In South Africa in the end even USA, UK and other Europeans ditched the racist regime. In Palestine/Israel, the USA especially openly and slavishly support Israel even when the UN passed sanctions against it. As of now there are several sanctions passed by the UN against Israel, yet the self-appointed world policeman USA is yet to lift a finger to enforce these sanctions.

Eventually the killer blow that hastened the death of Apartheid were the debilitating economic sanctions imposed and enforced by the whole world. There is not a single economic sanction against Israel currently being enforced thanks to the overprotection or some would say spoiling by USA. For Israel to arrive at the current position where South Africa is, is to follow the rigourous steps traversed by South Africa. Will they ever have statesmen of the calibre of Mr. Mandela and Mr. de Clerk? Certainly not when people like Mr. Netanyahu are calling the shots.

Will Israel's neighbours the Arabs stop their transparent hypocrisy and start to genuinely support the Palestinian cause? Will the world ever be serious enough to enforce the numerous sanctions the UN managed to pass against Israel despite USA's opposition. Will the world be serious enough to pass and enforce biting economic sanctions that finished off the Aparteid regime? This is what it would take to bring about peace and prosperity not only in Israel but in the whole Middle East. In this case, Israel too has a model copy from South Africa. So while South Africa is learning from Malaysia, Israel can learn from South Africa. The world is truly a global village.

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