Saturday, February 10, 2007

Southern nights

I've spent the last week in South Africa - my first ever visit. Most of the time I was in Cape Town which is a beautiful city. I went up Table Mountain by cable car and admired the fantastic views, ate at some great restaurants and spent some pleasant evenings down by the harbour. But the highlight was the trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other black political prisoners were incarcerated for many years during the apartheid era. The tour of the island and jail - with ex ANC prisoners as guides - was interesting and also very moving. The picture shows the interior of Mandela's cell.
I first became aware of the horror of apartheid following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, and felt strongly enough about it to join the Anti Apatheid movement. No doubt my preference for black women arose at about the same time. Britain was reluctantly forced to face up to apartheid in the late 60s, when the white South African government refused to allow Basil D'Oliviera to tour with the England cricket team, but the Tory right, including of course Thatcher, did everything they could to defend the white South Africans. In the end of course the cracks became too great and the system ended, allowing Mandela to show the world what true statesmanship and forgiveness is all about.
After Cape Town I went to visit a Rio Tinto mine in the north of the country. It's located next to the Kruger Park and elephants, lions, crocodiles and many other animals are frequent visitors. I saw three giraffes wandering around at the hotel where I stayed near the mine and a group of a dozen or so hippos lazing in the mine's lake. A memorable trip.


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