Field trip to South Africa Part 1

Hello everyone,

This is my first blog about my time in South Africa. I felt it was the right time to put some things online to let you know how it all goes. I’ll do it in English to keep this project an international one.

I had a hectic week on the one hand but a very quiet one as well, especially now that I’m alone in the big city, walking the streets for hours. The first two days at the Boonzaiers in Pretoria were pleasant as always. It is always nice to have a place where you can acclimatize before exploring this huge country. While waiting for my final grade of my MSc courses, I was a little stressed about the outcome of the grade thing and the further procedure of my graduation, but it turned out just fine. I celebrated the grading of my history thesis with a nice Savannah cider and some tapas at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, with sun and 27 C. Willem, the guy at whose apartment I’m staying, picked me up and brought me ‘home’.

Saturday the exploring of Cape Town started with a visit to the Castle in the city centre and the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, an old (textile) industrial area which has been ‘severely’ gentrificated the last years. It was very busy, because on Saturdays the neighbourhood market is open, which is comparable with the Foodhallen in Amsterdam. Large industrial halls full of food trucks and little food stalls, with large picknicktables to sit and enjoy your meal.

Because I took the bus to Woodstock and had to walk quite some metres to get to the Mill, I wasn’t feeling very comfortable with my large camerabag. I got very cautious and nervous and was definitely not in the mood for a meal. What struck me was the difference of people that you saw outside and inside the terrain of the Biscuit Mill. The closer I walked to the Mill the more beggars (a lot of children) and parking assistants (don’t know how to call them) were trying to benefit from the visitors. Being inside was to me as walking into an oasis. Safety and rest, though it was terribly crowded inside the premises of the Mill. It is bizarre how fragile your comfort zone is, if you come from a country like the Netherlands.

It seemed that I still had to get used to facing the problems of one of the most segregated and inequal countries of the world. It struck me in the face, though I had seen it before of course. But now I’m not the tourist anymore that can close its eyes to the poverty. I need to know everything about this country that is relevant to my project. I have to feel like I live here.

However, Sunday and Monday I kept myself at the ‘safe’ side of the city, around the apartment en up Table Mountain. Today I went somewhat more boldly to the city centre, with the nicest weather you can imagine. Now I felt way more comfortable than Saturday. I went to the South African Museum, which was the worst museum I have ever seen. Then I went to the Jewish South African museum, which was a lot better. I had an appointment with Laura Robinson, director of the Cape Town Heritage Trust. Her and other people I spoke to that are working in the heritage business are very interested in my project, which luckily shows that it is quite a relevant topic at the moment. Recently a large student group at the University of Cape Town succeeded in getting a statue of Cecil Rhodes at the campus dismantled. Laura told me that the statue is only removed temporarily, to a secret venue, because it is a monument. Now a permit must be issued for permanent removal. Who knows what discussions that would erupt, also about other colonial heritage. If there is a solution to maintain this colonial heritage in a sustainable way, I don’t know it yet. Let’s hope I’ll find something that could revive the common heritage of South Africa and especially the Castle of Good Hope.

Tomorrow I will meet Heinrich Wolff, which is an architect that cares for the community, a great inspiration! The next day I will visit Robben Island.