Tuesday, February 9, 2010

the castle, slave lodge, and parliament

Last Wednesday (Febuary 3) we toured the Castle of Good Hope. It is really more like what Americans would call a fort, and it also housed prisoners. We got to see some of the prison cells. One of the prison cells had a powerful and dark poem carved into the door.

We were then taken to the rooms used for torture. If those in power decided someone was guilty, they would torture them until they confessed. First, they would lash them (I don’t remember how many times, but it was certainly a lot). If they didn’t confess after that, they would hang them upside down for an hour or so… and if they STILL didn’t confess, they would put them in a room with only a tiny little window, and no light otherwise. After all that, if they confessed they would most likely be executed, or punished however was fit for their crime. If they didn’t confess, they would either be executed or sent to Robben Island. (They clearly didn’t go by the “innocent until proven guilty” model).

After the castle, we visited the Slave Lodge, which I thought was one of the most (or perhaps THE most) moving tourist sites we have seen yet. The manners in which slaves were transported was vividly illustrated (with a 15-30% death rate during transport), and the treatment and harsh realities of human slave trade was presented in a powerful series of exhibits throughout the lodge. There was a column with spinning sections that listed names of slaves that had stayed in the Slave Lodge in Cape Town. There was something stirring about reading through these strange names of deceased people who were completely unrelated to my life. I felt compelled to read through them all, to recognize their lives and the suffering they went through at the hands of other humans.

Afterward, we ate at a park a little off Long Street in Cape Town. The park was beautiful and reminded me a little bit of Savannah, Georgia. There were pigeons everywhere, and a few strange, aggressive squirrels. I thought Vanderbilt squirrels were aggressive, but these were a whole other story.

On Thursday we went on a tour of Parliament. We had probably the best tour guide I’ve ever encountered, and I absorbed more information from this tour than I have from most others. He showed us the rooms where Parliament meets, where decisions are made, and where presidents are elected (I THINK it kind of works like this... The people vote for a party. Then, those heading that party, in Parliament I suppose, choose the president. I could be wrong on this). I was impressed with the presence of women’s representation within Parliament. They have a whole Women’s Parliament which meets regularly to address issues specific to women’s and gender topics. Within Parliament itself, 41% are women, which puts South Africa at #3 in the world for female representation. We walked down a hallway that was lined with portraits and brief captions of women that have impacted Parliament and South African politics over the years. I was most intrigued by Helen Suzman. Helen Suzman, a white, English-speaking Jewish woman, was the only woman in Parliament for years in the mid twentieth century, and openly opposed the Apartheid regime. Our tour guide described her as a “thorn in the side” of the National Party throughout Apartheid. I’m hoping to find more information on her. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Suzman

The room where the president of South Africa is chosen

After Parliament, we went back to Clifton Beach. There are four beaches at Clifton Beach... one for families, a gay beach, and two other less strictly defined beaches. We always go to beach 2, which apparently the guidebook says is for "models and narcissists." We got a kick out of that.


  1. What was the content of the poem on the door?

  2. If you click on the picture, you can see it bigger and try to read it. Or I'll go back and try to email you what it says.