How magnificent were the last few days, perfect for touring the Cape Peninsula and for wine-tasting in the Winelands. But today is different. Cool, cloudy, moody. Appropriate for the journey at hand. Because today we are going to Robben Island.
We take the ferry from Jetty No. 1 under a low-hanging sky. It is very cold and windy.
We arrive at the gate and are greeted by Thulani Mabaso.
He escorts us through the maximum security prison where he once was a political prisoner, an inmate along with Nelson Mandela and other ANC founders, for over ten years.
His crime? Protesting the hateful, oppressive apartheid regime. He tells us about the torture and the cruelty that the prisoners endured, and he speaks of the secret plans Mr. Mandela and the others made for the future of South Africa. He describes their high morale under the brilliant leadership of that singularly inspirational man.
At night, we go with Thandis, our guide, to Langa, the oldest black township in Cape Town, home to more than one million black South Africans. He introduces us to a woman who sells sheep heads called “smileys” (so called because the lips, when boiled, shrink back from the teeth to expose an unearthly grin). She stands by an open fire pit on the street for eleven hours a day, six days a week, in order to pay for her two daughters’ education.
We visit a pub–a tar-paper shack, really–where men socialize over a bucket-full of beer, home-brewed from sorghum and maize.
We talk to several of them, each of us eager to find out more about the other.
We meet Mvelli, a young man studying IT at a university in Cape Town, who hopes to have his own business one day. He takes us to some of the different kinds of homes in the township, where some families share one bed in a single room and others live in a single-family home. Finally, we have dinner at Vicky’s, the first township B&B–what the owner calls, “The Smallest Hotel in South Africa”.
We welcome the opportunity to meet people in places that sometimes feel off-limits or uninviting and to bridge the perceived divisions between races and cultures.