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Footnote ( We seriously looked at the possibilities of trying to pass through the Congo. Thank God we did not attempt to do so, as it would definitely have ended the trip.)

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What we Know:

Zulu. Boers. Cape Town. Table Mountain. Cape Hope. Apartheid. Stephen Biko. Afrikaners. Nelson Mandela. Robben Island. Soweto. Johannesburg. ANC. Maguba. Winnie Mandela. Tutu. De Klerk. Christian Bernard. Diamonds. Kimberley. De Beers. Cecil Rhodes. Springbok/Rugby. Rand. Wine.

Downtown Jo’burg, the city of gold is somewhat of a shock from the air. Its skyscrapers and large grey office blocks never had the walking African in mind. The car rules.Afficher l'image d'origine

Looking distinctly like an American city, it is totally out-of-place with its outer suburbs.   Soweto galvanized rooftops glittering in the southwest. To its north the sheen of blue mark white middle-class housing with a steep geographical ridge running east to west.

Sporting a reputation for all things nasty day or night, black or white the heartbeat of the inner city has long stopped beating by the time we leave the airport.

Our first Jo’burg problem is not the city’s scant regard for a life it is Kurt the Racist terrier.

With the cargo doors fully open his mother is standing on the tarmac wailing, “He is dead, he is dead.”

One empty cardboard box has come down the ramp.

A security guard is dispatched into the bowels of the plane.   The disembarking passengers form a small crowd around the tail of the plane. Unlike them, we know that if Kurt had his way he would reinstate Apartheid. If he is alive there is every likelihood that the guard will emerge with a terrier locked onto his black backside. A few minutes pass by with no sign of the guard.   Anticipations run high. It looks like Kurt’s liberation from time and space will have a physical and psychological impact, if not on him we hope not on his panic-stricken Dutch mum.

A spontaneous round of applause greets Kurt’s survival. We all clear immigration and are set to venture out into the land of fast food, street lighting, four-lane highways, and traffic lights.   Kurt, however, is nabbed once more for questioning. By the time he is given the all clear we have no time to mess around looking for lodgings. A phone call confirms that dogs with attitude are accepted – we are off to the first Hostel mentioned in the Bible.   Fairview house situated three kilometres from the city centre. It is described as a large old house with sunny rooms and a cheerful atmosphere.

On arrival in South Africa, the first thing one become aware of is that there are a lot of uniforms standing absolutely still, like sticks or scarecrows supporting walls, pillars, windows, counters, cars, doors. The second is the warning notices on doorways – ARMED RESPONSE.   It is said you can tell the wealth of any household by the sharpness of the razor wire on top of the walls.

Glittering with two Doberman.        –            Wealthy.

Dull with one Alsatian.                  –           Not so well off.

Rusty or glass with a black guard. –           Middle class.

Just after the crack of dawn, we are ready to set forth into one of the world’s most dangerous cities. Our early start is more to do with the Fairview dorm accommodation than anything else. It must be said however that none of us have that feeling of security/familiarity with our surroundings as we walked downtown towards the nearest shopping district.

The fortified garden /backyard walls give off an air of danger from under their bright-coloured flowering fuchsia Bougainvillea covering. The boarded-up shop windows do little to dispel this feeling of insecurity. By the time we come upon our first group of blacks lounging on the grass surrounded by last nights beer cans we have decided that Jo’burg is a sorry sight for any new eyes.

With a few days to kill before training it down to Cape Town, we decide to venture where no Kurt dares to go to Soweto, the lion’s den of modern-day South Africa.

But first, a competent modern bank is required not to stick up but to arrange the transfer of funds to top up our now very much in short supply stock of US Dollar bills.

While the girls look at a second-hand clothes shop I thank Jo’burg for a bristling modern bank that agrees to facilitate the receipt of funds on my behalf for a small commission. I instruct my Irish bank to forward the required amount of US dollars, requesting them to ensure the packet against theft. It would be unwise to ignore all the Burg’s claims to fame.

Eight a.m. our guide to Soweto arrives in a white transit. He is so full of chat I have made up my mind long before we enter the township to escape his barrage.Afficher l'image d'origine

First stop is the Soweto museum. Housed in two sixty-foot containers it is the only Museum in the world perpetually packed.   As a relic of justice, it reminds us that it is not always the mighty that write history.   Paradoxically its black and white photos graphically depict what went wrong with White Supremacy.

A donation to the upkeep finds us outside once more.   After yesterdays helping of razor wire and welcome notices I can’t help wondering if the new fashion of justice in South Africa is what the doctor ordered. The big question remains can there ever be justice in an unjust world?   A deliberation way and beyond our guides brief.

Back aboard we pass Winnie Mandela’s pad with its manicured front lawn just as much out-of-place as Jo’burg skyscrapers. Spotting some of the local wildlife I call a halt outside a Shebeen.   No one seems too enthusiastic to give a mating call, so I slide the van door open and wave to our gobsmacked guide to continue the tour without me.   Perhaps here I will flavour some of to-days Sowetans and get some answers as to why I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stiffen in South Africa. I am stared at by one and all as I order my first bottle of Castle beer.

TOP TIP: It still pays in South Africa to announce that you are not a white South African if you want to unfasten some of the countries’ black soul, or for that matter in dealing with its police.

“Cunnis ta to I’m Irish.”   The ice broken, I am without further ado surrounded by the big heartiness of ordinary Soweto people.   Understanding I know is a kind of ecstasy, however, I am sure that the bottle of brandy I won in the pubs weekly draw had a lot to do with the ecstasy and the mistaken belief that I was in the market for a BMW.   There is something generous and rash in the spirit of their offer.

All are hungry to talk. So talk we did and as far as I can remember covering a wide range of subjects.  All agree that African leaders still think like chiefs telling their people what to do. Tourists are seen as a feeding frenzy to the street vendor, beggars, and the petty thief. National debts are the power kegs of African countries. That AIDS, lack of water and land will be the cause of future African wars.   That Afrikaners still think that they are gods chosen people of South Africa.

By the time the girls return the bottle of brandy is long finished I have also learned that Africa has 30% of the world minerals, 51% of diamonds, 47% gold, 5th of the worlds dry land and an 8th of the world’s population.   To the dismay of our guide, I have accepted an invite to play a game of pool. Firstly, a drink for the girls and then the guide has to be buttered up to drive us to another location, not on the tour route. A task set to by my learned doctor, teacher, car dealer, the Shebeen owner, and the pool game challenger. At the change of venue, we have a spot of dinner and a chuck and doris, (Last drink)

By the time my cruel hangover has lifted we are leaving Africa’s most dangerous city after a few hours delay on the overnight train to Cape Town. A year of youth work in Dublin’s inner city with a snooker cue had conquered the best that Soweto had to offer on the pool table. The brandy had conquered all fears of any armed response. The local cop shop has had its cash-dispensing machine pinched from the fourth floor – some feat it has to be said.

I begin to wonder as the train whistles towards Table Mountain, if Stephen Biko the founder of The Black Consciousness Movement was right when he said, “ Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude”.   I am sure if Biko were alive he would view modern-day South Africa not by the shadows of the past, but by the remaining razor wire. Regrettably, tribalism the deep-seated political illness of modern South Africa remains in the whole of the African Continent and we all know that one body can lead to thousands.

Enhanced by years of bad world press the vastness of South Africa slips by while we sleep to the sound of rolling stock.

Over breakfast, our train turns into a scenic kaleidoscope through which we pass one by one the many shanties town better known in South Africa as townships coming to a halt in downtown Cape Town.

We emerge into Africa’s best-known city famous worldwide – not because of its African culture or its African architecture or its stunning setting.   It is more to do with that it is here in 1910 the Union of South Africa was born by educated men who decided that there were only five species of humans left living in South Africa. Europeans (Dutch Calvinist / French Huguenots) becoming Afrikaans speaking Boers the Coloureds who made up of what was left of the Zulu, the Swazi, the Xhosa, the Sotho, the Nguni, the San or Bushmen referred to as the Khoi- San   is long gone leaving the Asians Indians who were brought in by the British as laborers not forgetting the Blacks leaving I suppose the Tourists– us.

It is here the Dutch East India Company arrived in 1652 establishing the Cape Colony in order to supply their ships on the way to and back from the East Indies and India only to have it grabbed off them by the English in 1795 and then given back 1803 then surrender, to be annexed in 1806 officially becoming a British Colony in 1814.

It is here where the British invented concentration camps to beat the Boers, (meaning farmers in Dutch). It is here where Michael Cane immortalized the Zulu or perhaps it was the Zulu’s who immortalized Mr Cane. It is here where Cecil Rhodes founder of De Beers in 1889 or thereabouts laid the seed for today’s troubles in Rhodesia (named in his honour) now Zimbabwe.   It is here where the Indian Ocean meets the South Atlantic.   It is here where the Portuguese navigator Bartholomew Dias discovered the Cape of Good Hope, naming it Cabo Tormentoso until John И renamed it Cabo de Bõa Esperangça.

It is here where the truth reconciliation commission in 1997 found that the five police officers had murdered Biko in 1977 while he was in police custody.   It is here where under the terms of the Commission all five were given amnesties.   It is here where one human’s heart is transplanted into another human in 1967.   It is here where we are to be reunited with Williwaw. It is here where homeward bound we turn and modern shopping malls called Victoria and Albert await the girls.

Installed in Bunkers hostel at Sea Point in the direction of Camps Bay one street removed from the seashore we are overlooked by the Lions head we are all set to go and explore, to see if the ‘too painful to recollect’ supine politics of the past is being washed away from this vast country that makes up small part (3% in total) of the African Continent.

Our plan is no plan at all. We begin with an early morning walk along the seafront.   Intoxicated by blue sky, refreshed by the power of the sea, we mingle totally unaware with the 5 million Europeans (Whites), 29 million Bantu (Blacks), 3 million Coloureds, (Mixed race) and 1 million Indians.

As we clamber aboard one of the local minibus taxis that rocks and rolls to the sounds of a local radio station Table Mountain named by Antonio de Saldanha a Portuguese navigator in 1503 is cloaked from our view with a reverse waterfall of white cloud. Fairs are passed forward and change arrives back in due course while the conductor toots all walking humanoids to fill any empty seats. Our first port of call is the port converted into a waterfront of shopping malls, restaurants, bars, smart shops, and a large covered market, the tourist trap. Resisting a Big Mac we marinate contentedly in the windows of consumerism. We take in an IMAX show and the day ends with a sundowner at Ferryman’s Tavern, which is just across the road from the Customs, and Excise building Josh, and I target for tomorrow to retrieve our vehicles.Afficher l'image d'origine

The next morning we enter the ground floor to secure clearance for our trusty Land Rovers. It is our intention to save some loot by filling in the required papers ourselves. Knocking on the door labelled Customs produces a gruff, ‘Enter’!

We are met with a torrent of language that would normally get one in jail for abuse. A discourse of sewer gutter tongue is being directed towards a black woman. It’s our first Boer, red-faced, an exact copy of his photo hanging on the wall behind his desk. The black and white photo portrays him in shorts with a cane in hand when white was white and black was Robin Island. We stand shocked. Josh looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Our request for clearance papers is met with another insurgence of vowel vile that has him retreating to the door. The fat bastard would do well to take a holiday in Northern Ireland where he would see two other colours, Orange and Green. I follow Josh out into the corridor.

Irish temper is well-known worldwide but it has never served me better on my re-entry.

I threaten the bastard in true Celtic Zulu gift of the gab. In full flow, my outburst is brought to a halt by his hand sliding across the desk to pick the phone up “ Is that you O’Donnell? You’d better get your ass over here before one of your tribe has my lunch”.   In a stunning silence, the desk phone is returned to the cradle.   A complete makeover has a glass of whisky in my hand. “Yes, the container has arrived. We can get it cleared as soon when O’D arrives.”

Two hours later the seal on the container is cut. Out rolls Williwaw and the other two jeeps. No immigration inspections are required. Carnets stamped, a full clean bill of health is given with a handshake and “Enjoy your stay in South Africa”.   Over a glass of beer O’D tells us that ulcer mouth has a good side to him helping many a young one that finds themselves on the bread line.   I am tempted to inquire whether it is brown or white bread.

I threaten the bastard in true Celtic Zulu gift of the gab. In full flow, my outburst is brought to a halt by his hand sliding across the desk to pick the phone up “ Is that you O’Donnell? You’d better get your ass over here before one of your tribe has my lunch”.   In a stunning silence, the desk phone is returned to the cradle.   A complete makeover has a glass of whisky in my hand. “Yes, the container has arrived. We can get it cleared as soon when O’D arrives.”
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Some hours later parked in the car park we mount the steps to the Cape lighthouse (34°-23° South 18°-31°East). This is not as many believe the southernmost point of the Africa Continent.   Cape Agulhus 154k to its southeast is at (34°-51° South 20°-03° East.) Aghlhus. (Portuguese for needles) is the meridian boundary between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.   No matter! Being able to say ‘done that got the tee-shirt’ has us here.   For me, a Yachtsman Lighthouses warn of danger. The meeting of the waters some 256 meters below us looks far from inviting.   I am sure Mr Dias in 1488 gave it a wide berth when he first saw it.   Unfortunately, he perished off the cape – it could be the reason why Bartholomew Dias left the naming of Table Mountain to Antonio de Saldanha.   We resist the temptation to scrawl our names and date on the lighthouse, which appears to be the sole ambition of many, a visitor. The views, however, scrawl their images on our minds. We leave Bonne-Esperance without seeing a Cape buffalo, a Cape gooseberry, a Cape Sparrow, a Cape primrose or Cape jasmine.   We did see a Cape Pigeon.   Tomorrow it’s up Table Mountain.   TOP TIP: Bring some warm clothing. 

( To be continued)