Thursday, May 07, 2009

Last Day in Cape Town

Dateline April 26, 2009

This is our last night in Cape Town. It's off to Jozi (Johannesburg) in the morning. I don't think I've been someplace for just under 3 weeks and been so sad to leave. We were so lucky to meet such a warm and political group of women our first full day here at a party hosted by Evelyn Bester. We decided we should throw a party for them last night. We had so much fun laughing and telling stories. The last people didn't leave until 5AM!

Today, Mercia and Shirley picked us up with Aunty Flori, whom we met at the beginning of the trip. Remember, she was first person Ellen interviewed and was deeply involved in the anti-apartheid movement as a labor organizer. She insisted that she wanted to see us one more time to show us Breakwater Prison. We're so glad she did. This prison's notoriety goes back to the 19th century when indigenous people were just rounded up and put in prison to better exploit their labor. This was also where the anti-apartheid activists were placed before Robben's Island.

The weird thing about the prison is that it serves as a hotel and business school today. I think the hotel is some kind of new form of historical tourism. "Stay in the lap of luxury while you tour the infamous treadmills that prisoners were forced to run on for hours at a time". Meanwhile the people who work there try real hard not to know anything about the history. Real weird.

Here's what they say in their literature:
It [the Treadmill] was a cruel invention and was the customary penalty for laziness and petty jail offenses. The prisoners had to keep a steady pace and if the men slackened off, the rotating planks would then lacerate their shins. A man could spend a day from 9AM to 5PM climbing these endless stairs with only 5 minutes rest every half hour. The Treadmill can still be viewed today and is located at the end of the row of isolation cells in the upper parking area.
What a way to advertise a hotel!

But Aunty Flori wanted us to see the prison because her people had been imprisoned there. She wanted us to understand how savage the initial conquest of the people was. I also got to see what a pan-Africanist she was. She kept saying to me quietly that Black Americans must come to South Africa and learn about the struggles. She inscribed a book, "The future belongs to us."

Book of punishments from 1890s. If one had a dirty bed, you lost the "privilege" of having a bed for a month. Taking coffee when not entitled: 2 days solitary confinement. Refusing to take porridge: 3 days solitary confinement.

Misc. photos from Cape Town:

The 2 Eveyln's and Elle at Willie and Evelyn Bester's artistic house

Table Mountain at sunset

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