When visiting Johannesburg and Cape Town the difference in the two cities is remarkable. Cape Town is the light and airy beach city with Table Mountain providing a constant backdrop for your perfect Instagram post #blessed. Johannesburg is a bustling African city that feels like the heart of South Africa. Every day people arrive to Johannesburg from other parts of South Africa and the larger African continent and push all-in on the “City of Gold”. However, its difficult to find the story of the struggle against Apartheid in “The Mother City” of Cape Town.
Cape Town has two notable tourist sites when it comes to telling the story of the struggle here in Cape Town. One is Robben Island and the other is the District Six Museum. Everyone knows Robben Island as the prison island where Nelson Mandela served 18 of his 27 years imprisoned by the Apartheid government. The tour guides on Robben Island are s mix of former political prisoners and paid guides. The paid tour guides take you through the bus portion of your tour and tell you about the history of the island and some of the other sites on the island other than the main prison block. They do a good job of telling tourist about Robert Sobukwe, the leader of the PAC, who was imprisoned on Robben Island in a house, but in solitary. He was not allowed any communication with anyone during his confinement. The government considered him extremely dangerous for his mind and sought to destroy it because it was his most powerful weapon against their regime. The prison portion of the tour is still conducted by former political prisoners. They tell you about their time on the island, in prison, and their political activism. The guide we had this time was still fired up about political activism and I think everyone in my group would have followed him wherever he lead us!
District Six Museum is staffed with former residents of the neighborhood. They do a great job of telling their stories of forced removal. Each time I’ve visited this museum I have been moved to tears (today was no exception). Our guide today told us the story about his prized racing pigeons. Three months after the forced removal he decided to let his pigeons out, to see if they would come back home. He went to work and when he got home that night the pigeons had not returned home. He drove through his old neighborhood of District Six and found all of his pigeons waiting for him in the rubble of his old home. They didn’t understand what had happened to their home and even after all of these years the people are still trying to figure it out. The racism of the old regime is such an unsatisfactory answer, but its the only one we’re left with.
Tonight, as I watched the full moon rise over the city-I couldn’t help but wonder “where are the rest of the stories of the struggle in this massive city?” Has Cape Town not recorded this important history because the tourism industry does not need it to? I don’t have the answers to these questions but I will now add this to my repertoire of questions I ask to the activists I encounter.
Please, if there are more sights regarding the struggle or resistance in Cape Town let me know!