Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Robben Island, South Africa

Robben Island is 10 km (6 miles) from Cape Town.  The small island is 3,3 km (2,1 miles) long and 1,9 km (1,2 miles) wide.

Dutch settlers first used the island as a prison in the mid-17th century.

In 1845 it became a leper colony and it eventually became an animal quarantine station.

In 1961, South Africa's Apartheid government used the island as a prison for both convicted criminals and political prisoners.

This is where Nelson Mandela served 18 of 27 years before the end of Apartheid.  He, along with Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma, are former prisoners who became President of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela's cell 

In 1991, the maximum security prison for political prisoners closed.  Then in 1996 the medium security prison was closed.

In 1999, Robben Island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are three tours a day from Cape Town.  The 3,5 hour tours start with a ferry ride from the V&A Waterfront.  The tour guides are former prisoners who are able to share their personal experiences.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is on the western cape of South Africa.  It's about an 1,5 hour flight (1262 km / 785 miles) from Johannesburg.  The city is called Kaapstad in Afrikaans and iKapa in Xhosa.

Cape Town was founded in 1652 when the Dutch set up the first permanent European settlement here making it the oldest urban area in South Africa.

The city is home to over 434,000 people, with +3,7 million in the greater metro area, making it the 10th largest city in Africa.

Cape Town is the country's legislative capital.  The parliament building was completed in 1884.

The Queen Victoria statue was erected in 1887 as part of the queen's Jubilee celebration.

The Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront is a mixed-use facility located at the country's oldest working harbour.

The Clock Tower was built in 1882.

At Nobel Square are statues of South Africa's four Nobel Peace Prize winners.

The Company's Garden is a park in the centre of the city that dates back to the 1650s.  In the middle of the park is a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

The Iziko South African Museum was founded in 1825 and it was the first museum in the country.  It moved its current location at the Company's Garden in 1897.  The museum is well known for itsAfrican zoology, archaeology and palaeontology collections.

The South African National Gallery contains primarily African, British, French, and Dutch works from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Construction of St. George's Cathedral began in 1906 but it wasn't completed until 1936.

Cape Town City Hall was built in 1905.  The building is now used for concerts and other functions while the actual city offices are located in the Civic Centre.

The Castle of Good Hope is the oldest building in South Africa.  It was built by the Dutch East India Company from 1666 to 1679.  Today it is a museum.

The Slave Lodge was built in 1679.  This is where the Dutch East India Company would house up to 1,000 slaves at a time from the 17th to 19th centuries.

The Cape Town Stadium was built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.  It can seat 55,000 people but I was told that most events barely break 5,000 - 6,000 spectators. 

Table Mountain dominates Cape Town.  The flat-topped summit is 1085 metres (3,558 feet) tall.  The plateau is about 3 km (2 miles) across and is flanked by Devil's Peak to the east and Lion's Head to the west.  

You can hike to the top or take a cablecar that rotates 360 degrees during the ride up and down. 

"City Bowl" view of Cape Town from Table Mountain.

No visit to Cape Town is complete without a visit to Robben Island.  The former island penitentiary is 10 km (6 miles) from the city by boat.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Pretoria, South Africa

Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa.  It was founded in 1855 and achieved city status in 1931.  Today it is home to 742,000 people and there over 2,9 million people in the greater metro area.

Pretoria makes up the central part of the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality.  While there have been proposals to change the city's name to Tshwane, it is doubtful that this will happen.

Pretoria is about a 55 km (34 miles) northeast of  Johannesburg.

As the country's administrative capital, this is where country's place their embassies.  With three universities it is also a popular student city.

Just south of the city is the Voortrekker Monument.

It commemorates the Boers who, due to grievances with the British Colonial Administration, migrated east from the Cape Colony between 1835 and 1854.

The migration is known as the Great Trek.

The granite monument is 40 metres (130 feet) by 40 metres by 40 metres.  Construction began in 1937 and it was completed in 1949.

Pretoria is named after Andries Pretorius who was one of the Voortrekker leaders.  There is a statue of him in front of the city hall.

Kruger House is a museum that was once the residence of Paul Kruger, the Boer leader and President of the South African Republic (the Transvaal Republic).  The house was built in 1884.  This house was one of the first in Pretoria to have electricity. Apparently, milk had to be used, instead of water, to mix the cement used because the cement available at the time was of such poor quality.

Across the street from Kruger House is the Reformed Church.  It was opened by Kruger in 1897.  The church was declared a national monument in 1979.

Church Square, formerly Market Square, is in the historic city centre.  It's name comes from the church buildings that used to stand in the centre of the square from 1856 to 1905.  In the centre of the square is a statue of Paul Kruger.

Historical buildings around the square include the Palace of Justice the Old Capital Theatre, the Old Council Chamber, and the General Post Office.

There is significant construction work going on now.  Something tells me that the construction work will go on for years.

The Union Buildings, completed in 1913, are the official seat of the government and houses the President of South Africa.

The Union Buildings and the adjoining garden are on the highest point of the city.

In 2013, a 9 metre (~30 feet) tall bronze statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled in front of the Union Buildings.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg was established in 1886 after gold was discovered there.  The city is also known as Joburg, Jozi, and Egoli.  It is home to 4,34 million people, with +7,86 million people in the greater metro area, making it the biggest city in South Africa.

Johannesburg started off as a small village in 1886.  The population expanded rapidly after gold was discovered nearby.  It became a city in 1928 and in 2002 it joined with other municipalities to become the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality.

The Central Business District is the densest collection of skyscrapers in Africa.  It's not the safest area there is.  Many of the buildings are unoccupied or have been taken over by squatters.  Efforts have been made to turn the area around.  The general rule is to get out of the area before it gets dark.

The Maboneng District is on the southwest side of the CBD.  It's the artsy, groovy, hipster area and it's one of the few successfully rejuvenated areas of town.

The Hillbrow Tower is a 270 metres (886 feet) tall telecommunications tower that was built in 1971.    Until 1978, it was the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere.  The rotating restaurant at the top closed in 1981 because of security concerns in the local area.

The Brixton Tower opened in 1962.  It is 237 metres (778 feet) tall and was built as a radio and television tower even though public television didn't start until well after a decade from the tower's opening.

Ponte City was built in 1975.  At a height of 173 metres (568 feet), it is the tallest residential building in Joburg.  It was once a posh place to live until the crime rate soared in the late 1980s and gangs moved into the building in the 1990s.  The building's core filled with rubbish that was five storeys high.  There have been significant efforts to clean up the area.


The Carlton Centre is a 50 floor skyscraper and shopping centre.  It is 223 metres (732 feet) and since 1973 is has been the tallest office building in Africa.  On the 50th floor is the Top of Africa with great views of the city.

Although Joburg isn't one of the country's three capital cities, it is the seat of the Constitutional Court located at Constitution Hill in Braamfontein.  Next to the court is the Old Fort Prison complex where both Ghandi and Mandela served time.

Government Square was renamed Mahatma Ghandi Square when the square was refurbished in 2002.  Ghandi lived in Johannesburg, as a young lawyer, from 1903 to 1913.

There's a 6 metre (20 feet) tall bronze statue of Nelson Mandela at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton.  The statue was erected in 2004 on the 10th anniversary of the country's first democratic elections.  The statue stands in front of the largest retail complex in Africa.
Soweto, "South-Western Township", was a separate city from the late 1970s.  Located on the outskirts of Johannesburg, this is where blacks lived during Apartheid. 

The Soweto Uprising, on 16 June 1976, was a mass protest against the government's policy requiring education to only be in Afrikaans.  This was the world's first glimpse of life under Apartheid and let to countries imposing economic sanctions against South Africa.

The Hector Pieterson Museum opened in 2002 and was one of the first museums in Soweto.  It is dedicated to the events before and after the Soweto Uprising.

The Orlando Power Station was decommissioned in 1998.  The coal-fired power station provided power to the white residents of Johannesburg while the residual pollution remained in Soweto.  Today the towers are used by advertisers and the towers are a popular place for bungee jumping.

Mandela House, officially the Nelson Mandela National Museum, is the house he lived in from 1946 to 1962.  The house was built in 1945 and it was declared a National Heritage Site in 1999.  

The Tutu House is the family home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  The house is not open to the public.

Both houses are on Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world where two Nobel Laureate have lived.

FNB Stadium is also known as Soccer City.  It is also called the Calabash because it resembles the traditional African pot.  It originally opened in 1989 and it was renovated in 2009 in order to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup final.  Unlike many of the football stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup, this stadium is still actively used.

The Apartheid Museum opened in 2001.  The whole focus is 20th century South Africa.  

Under Apartheid, all individuals were classified as "white", "native", "coloured" or "Asian".  All visitors to the museum are randomly assigned a race and then you enter the museum through the appropriate entrance.

The Lion Park is a 600 hectare (1483 acre) wilderness reserve.  

It makes for a great mini safari and an opportunity to see lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, and wild dogs.  There's also the opportunity to pet a cheetah and a lion cubs.