Part 4: Capetown, Last Day IMG_2453H&t Monday, October 27, 2014: A full day optional tour of the Winelands was offered, but we chose to be on our own for our last day in Cape Town. We still got up early, but moved at a more leisurely pace. Just what we needed. We decided to spend the day in Cape Town’s center, or city bowl, and get a look up close at what we’d seen from the bus the day before.
We took a taxi to the Jewish Museum and Great Synagogue, the first stop of our self-guided walking tour. The museum hadn’t quite opened. When it was time, we had to go through tight security which included showing a photo ID, preferably a passport, before entering the courtyard.
The Museum was officially opened by Nelson Mandela in December 2000. It’s a very bright, attractive, and modern looking building. Inside there are interesting interactive exhibits portraying the history of the Jews in SA. A serpentine staircase, similar to the one in the Guggenheim Museum in New York, leads up to the different levels. At the top is a to-scale rendition of a Lithuanian village, or shtetl, from where most of the South African Jews migrated starting in the 1880’s and up until the 1930’s. Of the various videos, there’s a 25 minute one, “Nelson Mandella – A Righteous Man,” that is screened all day. Nelson Mandela identified with the Jewish people as fellow victims.
The following is another of my “brief, very brief,” history lessons. I do it for my own edification, but everyone is welcome to read on. Jews in SA date back to the 15th century when the Portuguese discovered the Cape of Good Hope. There were Jewish cartographers and astronomers on the expeditions of both Bartholomew Diaz and Vasco da Gama. Later when the Dutch decided to colonize the Cape, two Jews arrived and became involved with building the Castle, really a fortress, as previously mentioned. These Jews were baptized because the Dutch East India Company only allowed the Calvinist Dutch Reformed Church form of worship in their colonies. It wasn’t until 1804 that Governor de Mist changed the laws to permit freedom of worship. Ironically, during the time of the Dutch East India Company’s rule of the Cape, Dutch Jews eventually became the majority shareholders of the company, but never tried to institute freedom of religion. When the British occupied the Cape in 1806, other changes occurred such as freedom of the press and the abolition of slavery. The British encouraged immigration, and in the 1820’s some practicing Jews came and settled in Cape Town where they established themselves in business. In 1841 there were enough of them to establish the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation. In 1863 a synagogue was built. With more Jews migrating to SA, the present Great Synagogue was built and consecrated in 1905. In the same year, the president of the synagogue Hyman Liberman became Cape Town’s first Jewish mayor. With the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the country grew rapidly and so did the Jewish community. Other congregations were formed.
The Jews became involved in the development of many industries such as wool, mohair, ostrich “farming,” sealing, whaling, and ship building. Diamonds were discovered in the 1860’s and gold in the 1880’s. This brought many Jews from Britain and Europe who played a major role in developing the mining industry and commerce in those areas. In 1880 there were 4,000 Jews in SA, and by 1914 there were 40,000.
Jews also participated in early South African politics. Saul Solomon became the leader of the Cape Colony Liberal Party and was called the “Cape Disraeli.” Both left Judaism in their early years.
Along with the successes, Jews faced anti-Semitism. They were barred from military posts, from positions of president, secretary of state, magistrate, and from supervision of natives and mines. Jews were considered foreigners and excluded from South African life. A few Jews identified with the white rural Boers, and were called Boer Jews. Some intermarriage occurred and was accepted.
The Africaners sided with Germany during World War II. Quota Acts were enacted to limit Jewish immigration, and Jews were banned from certain professions. After the war, some Africaners publicly apologized to the Jews for their anti-Semitic acts. In 1948 when the Africaner Nationalist Party came into power, they did not adopt any anti-Jewish policies. In 1953 the Prime Minister of SA was the first head of state to visit Israel. Even though it was considered a private visit, it started a long history of cooperation between Israel and South Africa. The Jewish community in SA maintained a cordial relationship with the government even though they objected to the Apartheid policies. There were many individual Jews who were openly and actively against Apartheid, but the majority of Jews were focused on Jewish issues. Even though they were unsupportive of Apartheid, the Jewish establishment didn’t come out publicly until 1980 when the SA Jewish Board of Deputies passed a resolution calling for all to work towards the removal of Apartheid and its discriminatory laws. Some rabbis had come out early against Apartheid, but it wasn’t until 1985 that the rabbinate as a whole condemned it.
Today there are 70,000 Jews remaining in South Africa. Many have emigrated to Israel, and other countries where Jews go such as Australia, United States, and Canada.
After visiting the museum, we wanted to go inside the synagogue. The door was locked, and we had some trouble finding someone to let us in. We met a woman who also wanted to go inside. We eventually talked to the right person, and someone allowed us in. He stayed with us until we were finished. Kayla Weiner, same name as my maiden one and also from Philadelphia, joined us. We had an interesting conversation and found out that she had also just written a book. We exchanged names, etc. The synagogue was of course beautiful. After visiting the synagogue, we made a brief stop at the gift shop, and I purchased a few small items.
We then set out on our walking tour. We stopped at the nearby National Gallery of Art, but couldn’t go inside. It was a Monday, and was closed although we were able to enter the lobby. Walked to St. George’s Cathedral where Bishop Tutu presided as Archbishop. We passed a prettier Catholic Church. It had a sign on it asking to “Say No To Secrecy Bill.” It refers to the controversial recently proposed Protection of State Information Bill. The Catholic Church believes the bill interferes with religious freedom. Moving on, we walked to the Parliament buildings. Took pictures. We didn’t go inside any of what we passed. We mostly walked and walked to get the feel of the city.
We were getting hungry and decided to find the Greenmarket Square, a busy flea market with outdoor coffee shops and restaurants surrounding it. With the help of our map, we found it. On our way we saw a church that had a big yellow sign on it with the words, “SA betrayed for 30 pieces of Yuan.” South Africans are not happy with doing business with the Chinese. Bringing in cheap products made in China has interfered with South African manufacturers.
We walked around the square and settled on a Kurdish restaurant. We sat outside and had a good time watching the all the people milling around. We had a delicious lunch and an interesting conversation with the owner about the plight of the Kurds in the world. He told us that there were only about 15-20 Kurds in Cape Town.
After lunch we walked over to the stands. We bought a small South African flag. I bought a used book, “July’s People” by Nadine Gordimer, a book that was banned under Apartheid. Nadine Gordimer was a celebrated (Nobel Prize winner in 1991) South African Jewish writer. She was a fierce fighter against Apartheid, and one of the first people Mandela wanted to see when he was released from prison. We had an interesting conversation about books with the book seller.
We then went to the City Hall where Mandela walked to and spoke in front of immediately after being released from prison. We walked around that area, and then found a taxi to take us back to our hotel.
After reading and resting in our room, we met the group for our Home Hosted Dinner in the suburbs of Cape Town. There were 10 of us. After a 20 minute drive, we arrived at the home. It was in a neighborhood of modest homes. We were greeted warmly by the family and friends consisting of the host Lionel, his hostess wife Carol, their friends Marvin and Martha, the hosts’ 6 year old granddaughter, and Bregarson Alkana, a friend of their son’s who came to their home in a time of need and is still living with them.
For most of the dinner Carol and friend Martha were either in the kitchen or serving us in the dining room. Lionel and Marvin sat and ate with us. They talked about what their lives were like under Apartheid and now. They were very forthcoming and answered any questions we had.
Apartheid, “the state of being apart” in the Africaans language, was the racial segregation system in South Africa enforced by legislation under the rule of the National Party governments from 1948 to 1994. The rights, associations, and movement of the majority black inhabitants were defined and limited by the ruling minority Africaner whites. There was racial segregation as far back as the 1600’s during colonial times, but in 1948 it became a structured and official policy. The people of SA were classified into different racial groups – Black, White, a new race called “Coloureds”, and Indians. Residential areas were racially segregated. From 1960 to 1983, 3.5 million nonwhites were removed from their homes and forced into segregated neighborhoods, very far from where they originally lived. Most of the Cape Town Coloureds lived in the urban area of District Six. They were forced to move from there to the Cape Flats. District Six was designated a slum and bulldozed.
During Apartheid, Lionel and Marvin were classified as coloured. The coloureds were products of a black parent and a white, Indian or Asian parent. Our tour guide Arthur was classified as coloured because his grandparents were a mix of black and Indian. Under the government of the Union of South Africa, the coloured race supposedly had rights similar to those of whites. By the 1930’s their political rights were restricted, but after the National Party victory in 1948, they were completely disenfranchised with their final removal from the voter’s roll in 1956. Sometimes it was difficult to tell the difference between whites and coloureds. One of the classification tests was the pencil test. A pencil was put into the hair of the person whose race was visibly indeterminable. If the pencil dropped, the person was considered white, and if it stuck he/she was classified as coloured. Some families were broken up because of these racial tests. (Tony pointed out to me that as a result of the pencil test, I could have been categorized as coloured as well as my mother and brother, while my father and sister as white.)
The coloureds received education inferior to the whites but better than the blacks. They had some privileges such as being hired for some municipal jobs. Lionel and Marvin were firemen. They said that some of these jobs were opened to those qualified in the 1980s; but blacks remained excluded. Under the African National Congress (ANC) for many jobs blacks are now given preference to coloureds. Though we didn’t discuss this sort of thing at length with Arthur what he said was consistent. Lionel admitted that he did not vote for Nelson Mandela in the election of 1994. He said he had been brainwashed into believing that Mandela was a terrorist and a communist. Even though Lionel’s life had been so limited by the National Party, he voted for them. Lionel and Marvin had complaints about their present life and opportunities. Under Apartheid they weren’t white enough and now they aren’t black enough. There has been much affirmative action to uplift the blacks. Lionel was more positive for the future. It has only been 20 years since the first democratic election occurred, and it would take more time to erase all the horrors of so many years of Apartheid. Marvin was more pessimistic. He considered emigrating somewhere but couldn’t figure out where. Lionel is a minister and a funeral director. Marvin helps Lionel in the funeral business.
During our dinner which was very delicious and filling, Bregarson sang with Lionel playing the guitar. We were told that he had won a SA “choir” competition and now had a song on the internet which I have found under the contact name: www.reverbnation.com/BregarsonAlkana. Lionel’s little granddaughter sang for us too. We sat around the table for a while after dinner, and Carol joined us. She was warm and friendly, and also forthcoming. We all hugged and said our good-byes. The evening was a wonderful and enlightening experience.
Back to the hotel. We finished up packing. The next morning we’d be on our way to the airport for our flight to Durban.

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