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Amidst Poverty We Found Community

On our visit to Cape Town in 2013, we wrote about several excursions we took including one to Bo-Kapp that covered a great deal of information on Apartheid. But more than a decade after the end of Apartheid, the majority of South Africans still live in dire poverty. We were pleased to have the opportunity to visit one of the townships, Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay.

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 In some ways, a person might describe Hout Bay as a picturesque seaside suburb that is like a microcosm of South Africa, with a wealthy (mainly white) community living along side both the black as well as a “coloured community” within the township.  

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Imizamo Yethu is an informal settlement established in the early 1990s when 450 families who had been squatting in “shacks” or temporary shelters around Hout Bay were moved to this area. Prior to that time blacks could not afford, and by law were not allowed to buy, property or homes in Hout Bay and had no choice but to look for vacant land on which to build their temporary homes.

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This was done without permission and led to struggles with white residents. In 1989 the local government intervened and a piece of land was developed with basic services on which blacks were allowed to build their temporary shelters. As mentioned above, however, the land was set aside for 450 families and now houses over 34,000.

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Imizamo Yethu (in the Xhosa language) literally translates to “Our Struggle” and is also purported to mean, People Have Gathered. It covers 18 hectares. The settlement has dismal water facilities; few toilets and a sub-standard sewerage system. However, the streets were free of debris, and we did not detect any noticeable small as we walked through the community.

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 The Niall Mellon Township Trust, a non-profit organization based in Ireland that sent volunteers to build several hundred basic homes for people in Imizamo Yethu in 2002, improved the living conditions. The community also includes a health clinic that is sponsored by two Rotary Clubs, one in Hout Bay, South Africa and the other the Rotary Club of Coolamon, Australia.

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Afrika Moni, was the ideal person to take us through the township as he lives in Imizamo Yethu; and therefore, explained the way of life and enumerated the problems within the township from an insider’s perspective. Additionally, he seemed to know everyone we met along the way.

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Within the community we saw a hair salon/barbar shop, convenience store, as well as an oil drop-off collection point for used automobile oil to be picked up by the city and a waste drop-off facility for sorting waste for recycling. These provided some employment for residents. 

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However, most people are dependent on outside establishments for their jobs. A young man we met had been promised construction work that day, but no one picked him up for the job. He did not exhibit bitterness; rather he was spending the day doing volunteer work in the community.

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 The children appeared to be well taken care of, healthy, clean, happy and content. Day-care is provided in one of the homes; and when we arrived the kids had either just awoken or were sleeping. In contrast, the children in a two-room primary school were wide-awake, enthusiastic, and both sang and danced for us with a great deal of animation and gusto!! 

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One aspect of our experience that neither of us will ever forget was the manners displayed by the children. We had brought chocolate squares that they viewed with interest. However, on no occasion did a child put out his/her hand to receive until it was obvious that we intended to give. And then, rather than grabbing, they put their hands together so we could drop the chocolate into their awaiting palms.

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Despite their poverty, lack of education, and their economic prospects, the people we met couldn’t have exhibited more camaraderie nor could they have been friendlier and more welcoming to us.

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A Different View of Cape Town

Cape Town is a thriving multicultural community with architecture, food, and culture that reflects its diverse peoples past and present. Considered one of he world’s most beautiful cities, it is surrounded by the spectacular scenery of Table Mountain, False Bay, the Cape of Good Hope, and the famed wine region that is dotted with Dutch farmhouses and vineyards of incredible beauty. Also, outside the city, surfing rules the nearby beaches and further out wildlife ranges from African penguins at Boulders Beach to gazelles, zebras, lions and elephants on nearby nature reserves. There is no other place like this special spot on the southernmost tip of Africa.

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Iconic view of Cape Town’s Table Mountain as seen from our cruise ship. 

On our two previous trips to Cape Town, we had emphasized the areas within the city and the drive down to the Cape of Good Hope to see the penguins. This visit we wanted to see the “other side” of Cape Town so our agenda was very different.

In this blog posting we shall show you the pictures along the beautiful Chapman’s Peak drive beside the Atlantic Ocean, Hout Bay, the resort areas of Camps Bay, Clifton, and posh Sea Point. 

In our next posting, you will get an introduction to the life in the Imizamo Yethu township, which was designed for 450 families but now houses over 34,000 people. We know you will find it interesting.

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Cultural African Dance and Dinner

Our first evening in Cape Town we attended an African Dance and Dinner at the Africa Cafe. Through the universal rhythm of popular dance, emotive rhythm of popular songs, and the thunderous beat of he African drum, we witnessed the cultural evolution of this beautiful land. From the powerful war dance of African warriors, the show moves into the industrial era of Southern Africa.

 

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 No dance reflects this era better than the gumboot dance for which the dancers wore heavy gumboots. Originating in the mines of Africa, this rhythmic dance evolved from the need to communicate in code (with a thud and slap of boots on the boards) while deep in the bowels of the earth. The gumboot dance later evolved as a means to pass time while miners lived away from their families for months at a time. 

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 The dances then moved onto the dance-hall days of the 1940’s and ‘50s. Jazz was the tune of the day, and even though South Africa was in strife, nothing suppressed the indomitable spirit of the nation.

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After the show we enjoyed a 14-course African dinner, outlined below:

Africa Café Cassava Bread

Baked tapioca and cheese flat bread

 

Malawi Mbatata Chesese and Sim Sim Balls

Sweet potato and cheese balls rolled in sesame seeds 

Moroccan Lamb Stew

Traditional lamb stew sweetened with dates

Xhosa Imifino Patties

Spinach and maize patties

 

Channa Fish

Dusted with chic pea flour and lightly fried

 

Basmati Rice

 

Ethiopia Dora Wat Chicken

Chichekn thighs in a medium berbere-paprika sauce

 

Egyptian Koshery

Lentils, brown rice and noodles topped with a rich garlic tomato gravy

 

Cape Malay Dhal Curry Roti

Medium strength lentil curry in spelt flour roti

 

Congolese Spinach

Fresh spinach cooked with peppers and tomato

 

Africa Cafe Vegetable Soup

Vegetable soup flavored with seaweed

 

Traditional Vetkoek

Lightly fried bread balls

 

Ethiopian Lab

White curd cheese with homegrown herbs

 

Dessert

Carrot Cake

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As an interesting side note, Devyn Milne from Canada was one of our traveling companions (along with her mother and grandmother).

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 She spent most of her days onboard the ship enjoying Club HAL, which is a special children’s program for youngsters from toddlers to teens, with age specific activities for each group. As a special activity our first day in Cape Town, the ship arranged for some of the dancers and drummers to come to the ship to show the kids how to drum and some of their dance steps. So it was a special treat for Devyn to participate in the evening festivities with her more senior companions and to see how it all fit together during the performance.

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Stellenbosch ~ Old Homes and Chocolate Sticks

For our last day in Cape Town we took a tour north of the city to the wine growing area along the Atlantic coast. We traveled to Stellenbosch via Settler’s Way, the route young Dutch farmers walked in 1680 to find good agricultural lands on which to establish farms. This fertile area is nestled a broad valley of the Eerste River and sheltered by a group of mountains. Today the Stellenbosch is a major university town with a well-known wine industry. Many other crops are also raised n this area including cattle, grain, fruits and vegetables.

Stellenbosch is characterized by Cape Dutch-style architecture and is a clean, quaint, bustling village with oak tree lined streets. Mary Jane and I split up and she walked around the village and I went to the museum so each of us has completely different pictures and memories from our visit.

I found the museum fascinating! It was a living history museum comprised of four different houses depicting different eras (Schreuder House 1709; Bletterman House, 1788; Grosvenor House, 1800-30; and OM Bergh House, 1850). I had an hour and was able to see and photograph only three of the four houses. The third one was a movie set and a film crew kept us well away from the house and elaborate gardens. More importantly, I also did not have time to go through the fourth house as I had spent too much time seeing everything I could and conversing with the in-house guides to have done another one and gotten back to the bus on time.

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MJ had a great time strolling through the village and also bought me a chocolate stick that is a deep fried pastry stick delicacy, which was delicious. It’s great to have a wonderful and thoughtful sister to travel with! Now for Mary Jane’s pictures.

I had lots of fun exploring Stellenbosch that morning. It is a university town so there were a number of students on the streets going from one class to another. Beautiful buildings on the campus.

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Stellenbosch is definitely Dutch in flavor and architecture, but with a number of African accents here and there.

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I liked this lady’s blue boots, so she let me take a picture of them.

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I could not resist visiting the Old Bank Bakery once I saw their sign in Dutch and the cute flower planters outside. Did not know what I would find inside, but immediately spotted the “chocolate sticks” (fried dough shaped into long stick shapes studded with dark chocolate chips). I bought one and it was yummy.

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Then I met these two ladies on the street and struck up a conversation with them. Told them about my chocolate stick and shared it with them. Then I had to go back into the bakery and buy another one to give to my sister when I returned to the bus.

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With these Dutch surroundings you forget you are in South Africa and then all of a sudden, just across the street, you see a lady carrying her groceries African style.

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We drove out of town to one of the many area wineries, stopping at Neethlingshof Estates. We arrived in a pouring rain and quickly hustled into the tasting and storage area of the facility. The history of the estate was shared with us as well as information on grape culture and the making of wine.

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Since it was the height of the production and processing season they could not allow two busloads of people into that part of the facility. We did go into the area where the barrels of wine are aged for various lengths of time in oak barrels before being bottled and sold. Some wine remains in the barrels for a short time and others for almost a year. They re-use their barrels four to seven times for the less expensive wines, but use barrels only once for their best grade.

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We were escorted into the tasting room and those imbibing were given samples of five different wines to see, smell, and taste.

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The view from the tasting room was fantastic out over the vineyards with the mountains in the background! The weather had cleared by the time we re-boarded the bus for our trip back to Cape Town.

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Many of our fellow travelers purchased multiple bottles of wine to take back to the ship for later enjoyment. Our guide said that this winery is discussing with some major wine distributors about marketing their wines in the United States in the near future.

That evening we said goodbye to Cape Town and Table Mountain, hoping we shall return some time soon.

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Apartheid ~ Separation But Not Equal ~ Day 2

The Dutch East India Company established a supply depot in Cape Town in 1652. The indigenous people refused to work with the Dutch so they imported slaves from Madagascar, India, Ceylon, Malaya and Indonesia to deal with the colony’s chronic labor shortage. There was also a shortage of women in the colony; so European men exploited the female slaves for both labor and sex. In time, the slaves also mixed with the indigenous (Khosian) people. The offspring of these unions formed the basis of sections of today’s Cape population, and also helps explain the unique character of the city’s Cape Malay population. By the end of the 18th Century the Dutch East India Company was almost bankrupt, making Cape Town an easy target for the British imperialist interests in the region. The British gained control of the colony and then the Dutch got it back and once again the British re-gained control for a second time in 1814. The slave trade was abolished in 1808 and all slaves were emancipated in 1833.

As Barb’s tour started up the slopes of Signal Hill into the Malay Quarter of town, she entered the predominantly Muslim area of brightly painted houses and local mosques. Bo-Kaap is a unique part of old Cape Town. A number of architectural influences and styles (Cape Dutch and Georgian) can be seen in the area. Much of Bo-Kaap was built in the early 1780s as rental housing for immigrant artisans and craftsmen of European origin who worked in town.

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After emancipation of slaves in 1833, there was increased pressure for modest housing and many freed slaves moved into parts of Bo-Kaap. They took over houses from the immigrants, who had begun to move to the suburbs south of the city. Bo-Kaap developed as a mixed neighborhood and included a large number of Muslims.

By the end of the 19th century the city had grown so fast that workers struggled to find decent housing. Some workers lived in the backyards and basements of city buildings or in crowded houses in the poor neighborhoods around the city. Many rental houses were owned by slumlords that also happened to serve on the City Council. By the 1930s, as the business district expanded, the municipal council began to force black resident to move to specially built townships on the Cape Flats.

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In 1934, the Slums Act was passed, which empowered the City Council to expropriate homes. In a bid to remove poor people from Bo-Kaap, the government in 1938 decreed that, in the future, this area would be a white area.

Despite strong opposition from the mostly colored and black residents, who had lived together harmoniously with whites for many years, the Council began buying up ‘slum’ properties in Bo-Kaap (including many in good condition), with the intention of demolishing buildings and redeveloping the area. However, due to a lack of alternative housing, the Council ended up leasing rooms in the expropriated buildings.

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A few years later Dr. Abdullah Abdurahman, a prominent Cape Town physician, City Councilor and president of the African Political Organization, initiated the construction of the Cape Flats, a public housing project on the edge of town. Of the 400 units planned, only 198 were completed by the time of the outbreak of WWII.

A prerequisite for securing accommodation there was that you had to be a ‘Malay Muslim.’ This term was used to describe people of the Muslim faith descended from ‘free blacks’ and slaves from Asia. Because this new project could not keep up with the demand, many of the displaced and now homeless people ended up living in shacks and forming “townships” – a residential area without governmental boundaries or organization.

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Between 1950 and the 1970s, the Apartheid government moved most of the remaining black residents out of Cape Town. After 1950, Apartheid laws ensured that black people had very little access to the amenities and services that previous generations had enjoyed in Cape Town.

The tour bus stopped at the Bo-Kaap Museum, which is housed in one of the earliest (1768) houses built in the area. The house was declared a national monument in 1965 and underwent restoration in the 1970’s. The museum was established in 1978 and initially it was furnished as a house museum representing the lifestyle of a 19th-century Cape Malay Muslim family. Today it houses mostly black and white photographs of the area taken in the 1950s and history of the area with a few period pieces of furniture and household items.

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Bo-Kaap Museum

Barb spent most of her time in the museum and photographing the vividly painted, low-roofed houses strung up and down the narrow (some cobbled) streets and alleys. As usual she wandered off a bit from the group to take pictures and asked a gentleman for directions to Dorp Street, which he gave her along with the suggestion that it was not safe for her to be walking around this area alone and she should rejoin her group immediately. Some of the houses are well maintained and kept up, but others are in need of complete restoration. Pictures don’t tell the whole story.

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Before 1966, there were close community ties between the inner-city neighborhoods of Bo-Kaap and District Six. Her next stop was the District 6 Museum, which was housed in an old Methodist Church that had lost its congregation many years ago.

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Here she learned how 70,000 families between 1966 and the 1980s were forcibly removed from a once-vibrant suburb that included homes, hotels, cinemas, churches and schools. If, after receiving a notice to vacate a house was not obeyed within two weeks, the contents and inhabitants were forcibly removed and the building demolished.

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Some schools and churches were initially spared. A small part of the area has been reclaimed and re-built but the majority of it remains uninhabited and in disgraceful shape, still covered with building debris, with only a flock of guinea fowl living there. Most of the displaced people were moved to areas situated all over the Cape Flats – a sterile, non-fertile area at the base of Table Mountain.

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The photographs, displays, and writings within the District 6 Museum are poignant reminders of a community who still clings to these memories: of a time, a place, of the people and community they called home, and a way of life that is no more. Those people lost their identity, their families and friends, their culture, their livelihood, and many even lost their lives. That was a sobering experience to visit that museum.

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Next they drove out into the townships, specifically to Langa, the oldest existing black township on the Western Cape. Local community workers hosted them to lunch in this vibrant black community as numerous squatters set about building their own brick homes with the help of government grants. Some of the less fortunate are still living in plywood and corrugated metal lean-tos or shipping containers as you can in the pictures below.

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The townships govern themselves, with a sense of community. Many of the townships have communal cooking, laundry, and showering buildings. Each member is given a certain number of free services and then must pay an affordable fee for extra services. The parents and township leaders handle discipline issues.

Some of the townships are making strides to rebuild their communities and are slowly making progress towards more habitable homes for their families, with some townships even having their own elementary schools. Government loans are used to finance these projects.

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The people were friendly and the children darling. The restaurant was constructed from a number of vacant adjacent houses and two busloads of people were accommodated at one time.

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The meal was very good and served buffet style. The restaurant owner had explained each of the dishes to us before we were served and Barb took a spoonful of most of the cooked ones and everything was very unfamiliar to her palate, flavorful, and edible. The combination of vegetables that were part of most dishes with different spices and sauces was mind-boggling. She thinks she will get a cookbook on South African cooking and be adventurous once she returns home.

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From Bo-Kaap to Denningsvleis at Karibu

Cape Town is the most populous city in South Africa, lying at the foot of iconic Table Mountain, and is famous for its gorgeous natural harbor. Much of the former dock area is now a commercial and natural beauty of reclaimed land forming the tourist waterfront area with museums, craft markets, restaurants and upscale housing.

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Because of its location and natural beauty, the town is the number one tourism site in South Africa receiving the largest number of tourists of any South African city. The proximity of wild game reserves, large convention center, and world-class soccer stadium has also drawn people to this area as well as its year round temperate climate and warm Indian Ocean water and beautiful beaches.

When we arrived it was a chilly morning in Cape Town and Table Mountain was covered with grey clouds and rain expected. Being the optimistic women that we are, we both headed off on our individual day’s activities.

Mary Jane chose to explore the Bo-Kaap area of the city on her own. She engaged a cab to take her into the area so she could photograph the brightly painted homes. During her stroll she met an older gentlemen, Mr. Gabier, who she engaged in an extensive conversation about the area.

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He told Mary Jane that his family has lived in Bo-Kaap for 50 years, but had been ordered to leave the area during Apartheid because he was colored (mixed race), and ended up living in District 6 (detailed later in the blog) for a number of years before his family was allowed to return to the Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town. We surmise that Mr. Gabier was certainly a man of importance and wealth, as not all past inhabitants of this area were allowed to return. He took great efforts to explain what happened during those troubled years: the effects it had on individual families being separated from spouses and their children, even thrown in jail and deported. Much emotional pain and suffering existed for those people. Even though Apartheid is now technically ended, Mr. Gabier said there still is segregation of the races, especially in the townships (detailed later in the blog).

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In Bo-Kaap there is some mixture between the whites and coloreds, even a few blacks live there, as well as people from other parts of the world who have multiple houses. It is considered a wealthy area, with homes selling for over $1,000,000 and up depending on the view. Many Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Lexus automobiles are parked along the street that, in some places, are interspersed with vacant, crumbling buildings.

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Mr. Gabier (who is Muslim) lives at 71 Dorp Street in the heart of Bo-Kaap, near the Auwal Mosque that was established in 1798. Within a few blocks of each other there are three different mosques dating back 200 years that Mary Jane saw during her visit.

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Mr. Gabier was quick to warn Mary Jane about wandering the neighborhood with her camera as people from outside the area come in with criminal intents and give the neighborhood a bad reputation. Later in her walk, two other gentlemen also gave her warnings.

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Mary Jane eventually got lost, having turned her neighborhood map upside down and ended up walking half way up Signal Hill and finally realized her problem when the streets and houses ended. But what goes up must also come down, so it was a long walk, but with many beautiful vistas of Table Mountain and the harbor area.

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She could not find a cab on the busy street on the edge of Bo-Kaap, so she walked back to the ship following the road signs that the motorists used. She also stopped to talk to some of the people along the way finding them to be very friendly.

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Barb on the other hand took a guided, walking tour of the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and returned to the ship a few minutes before MJ arrived.

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The famous coca cola robot statue sporting replicas of the 2012 Olympic medals won by South Africa.

After a short time in the cabin we decided to go back to the V & A to have some South African cuisine for lunch and then skip dinner. Barb convinced MJ into taking the shuttle bus to the waterfront development, where she and Carolyn had enjoyed a day two years ago when we were in the city on the Queen Mary 2.

After shopping in the Red Shed Craft Workshop and making some purchases, we chose the Karibu Restaurant for lunch. Barb had lamb curry and MJ had Denningsvleis, a traditional South Africa dish made with lamb and tamarind that was served atop curried rice with raisins and accompanied with a tomato, onion salsa and fresh springs of cilantro.

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Lamb Curry

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We returned to the Red Shed again and also visited the Blue Shed, also known as the Craft Market and Wellness Center. Both feature handcrafted gifts, original artworks, stylish clothing and contemporary furnishings and crafters’ demonstrations.

We shopped a bit more, wandered around the waterfront, and visited some of the sights and shops that MJ and CJ had visited earlier. About 6:15 PM we got back to the ship – exhausted and fell onto our beds only to be awakened about an hour later by our room steward wanting to prepare our cabin for the night. We told him to skip us, so he gave us our pillow chocolates and we got ready for bed.

Day 2 in Cape Town is the story of Apartheid as presented on Barbara’s tour during our second day in Cape Town. It gives more detail on District 6 and the Townships that was referenced above. So look for that Blog posting within the next couple of days.