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The First Seventy Years: Chapter 91 - Cape Town

...The following morning, Armistice Day, revealed the sheer splendour of this magical city. Blessed with a bright, clear sunny day, our hotel room looked directly on to the full majesty of Table Mountain....

Eric Biddulph was overwhelmed by the beauty and splendour of the city of Cape Town.

Eric’s book The First Seventy Years can be obtained for £10 by contacting http://mary@bike2.wanadoo.co.uk or telephoning 01484-658175.

All the cash raised by the book goes to a water aid project in Malawi.

We were into our tenth and last week of the tour. A couple of hours along the coast brought us to the final destination; Cape Town. I had a shortlist of cities around the world to which I had grown attached; San Francisco; Chicago; Vancouver; York; Durham. Would Cape Town join the list? The final seven days would be decisive.

Our Baz Bus driver entered the city after nightfall. Impressions of any metropolis are always different at such a time. Attention is focused on that which is visible only with the aid of artificial light. Nothing appeared to be very different from that to be seen in any modern city in the world.

The following morning, Armistice Day, revealed the sheer splendour of this magical city. Blessed with a bright, clear sunny day, our hotel room looked directly on to the full majesty of Table Mountain. This was surely the day to make the trip to the top of the mountain. Our taxi minibus was unable to take the direct route up to the cable car station owing to the Remembrance Day activities taking place in the centre of the city, paradoxically, a European event being celebrated in an African country.

The cable car journey rises over 1000 metres. Ensuring that passengers get the benefit of the tremendous views visible on all sides the cars do a 360 degree turn timed to be completed just as it reaches the top. The views are perhaps unparalleled anywhere in the world. In one direction the warm Indian Ocean stretches away to the horizon. Looking to one's right the colder Atlantic Ocean can be seen. It is the interaction of these two great oceans that brings about the famous 'tablecloth' which is frequently seen blocking out the view of Table Mountain. This is a blanket of cloud which drifts across the plateau forming the 'table' of the mountain.

An extensive choice of footpaths can be walked on the top. The most popular leads to Maclear's Beacon at 1086 metres the highest point. Here it is possible to look down on the Cape Flats. Robben Island can be seen several kilometres out in Table Bay. Symbolising the transition which has transformed this beautiful and cosmopolitan rainbow nation it acted as a magnet for my thoughts as I gazed down at it but it would have to wait for another day. For now I was happy to drink in the wonderful vista. Indeed, for the whole of my time in Cape Town I felt overwhelmed by its beauty and splendour.

In late afternoon I relished the opportunity to take photographs of the fading sun against a background of magnificent scenery. It was not to be; rising winds caused an early evacuation of the mountain. Nothing however, could take away the experiences of that day. The Victoria and Albert Waterfront is another experience not to be missed. Despite its commercialisation there is a thriving fishing industry with plenty of seals to be seen.

As an ex-anti-apartheid activist a visit to Robben Island was a 'must'. Booking on the afternoon ferry to the island provided an off-shore view of Cape Town and Table Mountain during the thirty minutes journey. A bus trip around the island revealed its early history as a leper colony and more recently as a lookout post during the Second World War. It is its history since the 1960s however, for which it is most famous. Most of the political prisoners sentenced during the years of the apartheid regime is what earmarks it as a location of special historical significance. All the leading figures of the African National Congress were incarcerated on the island for long periods of time. Nelson Mandela was held here for eighteen of his twenty seven years in captivity.

The tour of the prison was led by an ex-political prisoner who had been given a twenty years sentence for high treason in 1980. Needless to say, he had been released in the early 90s along with all the other political prisoners following the historic abandonment of apartheid and the embracing of a democratic non-racial election by the Nationalist Party Government. The quarry where so many of the prisoners worked endless hours was visited as well as the area of the exercise yard where Mandela was given permission to build a small garden. The cell which he occupied for the duration of his Island incarceration was the final location visited before the return to

Cape Town. I was left reflecting on this momentous day. All those years of committed campaigning to secure the release of all those political prisoners who had been locked up on this island outpost had ultimately been released. Mary and myself had done 'our bit' to bring about momentous change in this country. Events which I never thought could be achieved in my lifetime without bloodshed; another memorable day.


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