Chapter Two CAPETOWN
We sighted Africa as darkness fell on the 27th of April. For eighteen days we had been comfortably following a Great Circle Route down across thousands of miles of the North and South Atlantic. In all that time no sign of land had been seen save Ascension Island, which appeared remote and cloudlike on the far horizon, and then two days later we spent all morning passing St. Helena. Now, with Capetown not so many miles ahead, we had made our final landfall, though what we had sighted was not actually land. Instead, it was the nearest point of light shining faintly in the gathering night far off on the port bow.
It is strange how powerful one's imagination is. Had we caught our first glimpse of Africa in the full light of
Capetown Flower Market
, we would have seen merely what was visible—a hazy, distant coastline that would slowly have grown more' clear until the distant hills appeared—-darkened here with trees—lightened there with grass—or varicoloured where patterned fields of crops were planted. Here or there we might have seen a house or two, white in the sunlight—half visible in surrounding gardens.
But we made out landfall after dark and, for some time, we saw nothing but that single tiny point of light. Yet in that trifling bit of brightness our imagination enabled us to see almost the whole of Africa—Africa, the giant continent where a thousand strange conundrums still exist. There are modern cities in this land, of course—cities much like those at home and with them all their appurtenances—shops and traffic—hotels and tourist centres—officialdom and regulations—railroads —highways—airplanes, and all the rest. But in that distant point of light these were not the things we saw. Instead, there was the vastness of a continent still rich in the things that Nature gave it—still, in large part, untouched by our restless civilization.
We saw a thousand native tribes, some but little changed from what they were in 1488 when Bartholomew Diaz first sighted this continent's southern tip. We saw vast game fields—stupendous rivers—mighty forests. We saw deserts—-jungles—an ever changing and vast expanse stretching from the young country that lay before us to that immensely ancient nation far to the north where civilized men have lived since history began. We saw the early beginnings of this southern land. We saw the "Great Trek" from rude and early settlements into a wild interior and then the troubled growth of this and of farms and gold and diamonds. Across this a most endless, region stretched the road we were to travel—north and north and north from the continent's southern tip—through cities and farming communities— through mining towns and reservations set aside for the natives, where no white man may own property— through rough bush country and across vast grasslands, and finally to a region of great lakes from which great rivers flow. One of these, the Nile, we hoped to follow from its source to its rich delta on the Mediterranean littoral.
Other passengers, too, were gathered at the rail, straining their eyes in the dark. The conversation was desultory—the voices eager but subdued. The sea was smooth and whispered softly past the ship's steel side. Reflected in the water and sparkling vividly overhead, the stars shone with startling brilliance and the moon, having drawn across the water an undulating line of light, began to outline the growing coastline. By now, that first pin-point of light had faded.
Faintly, in the sky above the horizon ahead, shone the reflected light of the city of Capetown, and higher still hung the constellation of the Southern Cross. Night after night we had watched it from the ship as it had climbed into the heavens while the familiar Big Dipper had gradually sunk from sight as we moved south. Little by little the lights along the coast grew numerous. They came in sight first by twos and threes—then by tens and dozens, and finally as we swung into Table Bay by thousands, merging in a vivid line that edged the sea with brilliance.
We passed the outer harbour lights. The ship reduced speed and changed course. The pulsing of the engines stopped. Then gliding silently a little way, we heard the roar of the cable in the hawse pipe. We were at anchor—too late to go ashore till morning. The harbour lights glowed red and green and white. About us in the roadstead were the lights and shadows of other waiting hips Beyond the breakwater, outside of which we lay, were others still, their masts and funnels silhouetted darkly against the lighted waterfront. Piled dramatically behind the glowing city there rose the vast bulk of Table Mountain. In a straight line its high horizontal summit cut powerfully across the sparkling starlight of
the southern sky.
Rising early the next day we went out on deck in heavy coats to guard against the autumn chill of that southern - hemisphere April morning. Cape pigeons circled here and there about the ship, their cries thin and pleasant as they rode the early morning breeze. Ashore, the lights of the city still sparkled and Table Mountain, grimly towering behind the awakening city, stood precipitous and iron grey in a shell-pink dawn. The captain called to us from the bridge.
"Well, this is it!"
Breakfast had long been over and mid-morning had arrived before our ship's lines were made fast to the quay. Within the breakwater the harbour was crowded with merchant ships that bore, the flags of a dozen nations. Tall derricks were busy at their waterfront tasks, their gaunt steel legs and long thin booms strangely giraffelike. Space at the waterfront was limited, and more than a little nautical manoeuvring was necessary before we were alongside and final preparations. for going ashore had begun.
Even before we had left New York, Mr. and Mrs. Percival had left Nairobi to join us. By rail and ship and by rail again, they had reached Capetown ahead of us> and now, even before we left the Robin Tuxford, they came out to greet us. Nor had we more than completed our complicated entry rites than all of us—Kep Lewis, the Percivals, and ourselves, with mountains of luggage —took a small fleet of taxis to the Mount Nelson Hotel.
We found the hotel to be a delightfully Victorian sort of place, situated amid handsome gardens of its own away from the centre of the city. Our quarters were remarkable. The sitting-room was very large, the bedroom more than ample, the bathroom simply enormous, and we had a private porch as well. All this spacious luxury came to no more than the cost of a really first-class room and bath in New York—and the daily rate included excellent meals.
Plans for the expedition were the first order of business. Despite the fact that the particular African natives among whom we were to make our most detailed studies and collections had not yet been chosen, it was clear that they would not be any of the South African tribes. The anthropologists connected with South African institutions had already studied these natives in detail. Originally we had intended to journey north immediately and by a direct route through the desolate Karroo, and select some tribe of Tanganyika, Kenya Colony or Uganda. However, Phil Percival now told us of the unusually heavy rains that had fallen in the Transvaal, in Rhodesia, and Tanganyika. His advice was to spend a little more time in the country south of Johannesburg so that the too wet roads farther north would have a chance to dry out a bit. This caused a shift in our plans.
A decision was made to split up the party. Kep Lewis would remain for a month to do some anthropological work at the University of Capetown. Then with the bulk of the luggage he would drive inland by the shortest route straight through to Johannesburg in the southern Transvaal. Meanwhile the Percivals and our-selves in two cars and with the remainder of the gear, would proceed by a very irregular route to the eastward of Kep's along the coast of the Indian Ocean—the "Garden Route" so-called. Thus Kep was to follow up one side of a triangle to Johannesburg while we were to go around the other two sides and include a loop back into the Orange Free State once we had reached Johannesburg. This would enable us to visit not only the Transkei, a region far to the east of Capetown between Basutoland and the sea, but also Zululand and several other South African areas that are so rich in native life. In addition, we would pass through all the major cities of the Union, which are centres of information relating to the natives of their districts. We might even be able, through local students and specialists to obtain here and there some worthwhile native material that would be valuable for the American Museum's collections even though it did not bear directly on the people who were to form our major goal.
A mining town with the picturesque name of Broken Hill had been selected as the rendezvous with our safari. This for the reason that beyond it, the comforts of civilization largely disappear. Once the split parts of the expedition had joined forces in Johannesburg, then the plan was to proceed in the three cars across the Transvaal and Southern Rhodesia and on into Northern Rhodesia in the middle of which is Broken Hill.
With our plans thus formulated and settled we set out the morning after our arrival to get acquainted with Capetown. Few cities in the world are more magnificently situated. In front of it lies the great width of Table Bay. Behind there towers the massive two mile wall of Table Mountain. The level top which gives this mountain its name rises to a height of 3500 feet.
Imagine a cliff as wide as Manhattan Island, three times as high as the Empire State Building, and with the city at its foot. In simplest terms, that is the setting for Capetown. But Table Mountain is not a plain, un-featured wall. Its iron grey face is scored by deep ravines. When the wind blows out of the southeast the famous "Table Cloth" of cloud lies undulating gently on the vast flat top. When the sun shines brightly on it, it is gloriously white, and the edge that tends to hang part way down the cliff is torn and tattered by the wind.
The residents of Capetown have grown accustomed to this magnificent backdrop of cloud and mountain, but during our first days there we forever felt its overwhelming presence together with the flanking elevations of Devil's Peak and Lion's Head. It is all but impossible even to think of Capetown except with Table Mountain
standing high and strong behind it.
* * *
South Africa is a land of many advantages—of natural riches, great area, and many opportunities. But it is bedevilled by racial problems beside which those of other nations are pale and weak. Out of a total population in the Union of some ten or eleven millions, there are but a few more than two million white inhabitants. Nor are all the others natives of this land. Due to a mid-nineteenth century policy, thousands of Indians were imported to work on the sugar cane plantations then being rapidly extended in Natal. For fifty years or more these labourers continued to be brought in, and their numbers have grown greatly in the Union. Surrounded, as the world now knows, by many discouraging difficulties, they have as yet shown no inclination to flee in any numbers from the problems that face them in
South Africa to the greater difficulties in India. Thus, with this increasing group, new racial problems have been brought to a land already amply troubled in that regard. However, the Indians have contributed their varied skills and abilities in work which the African native was formerly unable to do.
These racial differences do not end here. Little has been heard from the people of mixed blood. Long frowned upon by those ^ho have contributed to their existence—Europeans, natives and Asiatics—these members of a racial group peculiar to the Cape Province, are now more openly making their bid for further opportunities and privileges. Even the country's white minority is more or less equally divided between those of British and those of Dutch origin. This division is clearer than the uninitiated might imagine. Not only is there a difference in language, but also, those of British background tend to live in cities, while the Afrikaners, whose origin is Dutch, are still attached more closely to the soil.
At first we had not been especially conscious of Capetown's Mohammedans. But little by little, we came to realize that they are present in some numbers. The fez has long since been banned in Turkey, but here in South Africa it is commonly worn. Most of those we saw were red, but now and again a green one bore witness that its wearer had made the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Mohammedan women still wear their veils in Capetown, and we came to accept as a normal part of the city's life the occasional veiled women whose sisters in Ankara and Istanbul have long since learned to take their fashions from Paris and New York.
No casual or hurried visitor to Capetown is likely to feel the full impact of these problems. Especially will the casual English-speaking visitor tend to miss or minimize them. For South Africa is bi-lingual. In fact, it is much more than that, for many Indians and natives still depend primarily upon their native tongues. But to anyone who speaks English, Capetown will appear to be largely an English speaking city. The reason for this is the Constitution of South Africa which gives equal status to both the English and Afrikaans languages, and the two principles set forth in the schools that "A child shall be taught through the medium of his home language, at least in the primary standards; and every child shall learn the second official language." Signs and much printed matter are in both English and Afrikaans. Even the coins are stamped with both. Nevertheless, on the streets, in the shops—in hotels, business offices, and elsewhere—Americans may feel at home, and can get along quite as well as in New York City where any and every language may be heard.
About half of the city's population of slightly more than 400,000 persons is native, Asiatic, or of mixed race. Despite this, the city is "white"—"white" in its control —in its atmosphere—and in having been developed since its founding in 1652 primarily with white interests in mind. And it was " white " Capetown that we, for the most part, saw. We drove through busy Adderly Street, conscious of the unfamiliar left hand traffic. We went past the House of Assembly, a dignified and unpretentious structure, where Parliament meets every January for a five month session. We saw the fine old oaks nearby, planted, so we were told, two hundred years ago. We drove into the suburbs and took the road to Rondebosch not far from which are the handsome buildings of the University of Capetown with its beautifully planted grounds. We stopped and took the footpath to
the columned memorial to Cecil Rhodes, with its terraced steps, its eight recumbent lions, and its spirited bronze horseman with his face turned toward Rhodesia. We saw Groote Schuur—the "Big Barn"—a handsome, red roofed Dutch structure, the former residence of Rhodes, and now the official residence of the Prime Minister.
In the suburbs of* Capetown, and even nearer to the centre of the city, handsome homes of charming Dutch design are frequent. The evening before we left we were so fortunate as to dine in one of these—the residence of the American Minister which was beautifully furnished with heavy old velvet curtains and fine Dutch antiques. Even the fireplace in the drawing-room was faced with Dutch tiles. Appropriately enough when cocktails were served in that Dutch setting we had our first taste of "biltong"—the dried and salted meat which was the staple in the early days of the Dutch treks into the interior—served to us in the form of canapes as a cocktail accompaniment.
The business section of the city is quaint in part. We enjoyed the frequently arcaded sidewalks, and here and there came upon objects that suggested real age—the clock in Groote Kerk toWer, for instance, said to be the oldest in all South Africa, and still telling the time after the passage of almost two hundred and fifty years. In contrast, too, we contemplated a lighting system that spaces decorative lamp posts down the middle of traffic filled streets, with little islands of safety about them for the use of harried pedestrians. In fact, South Africa is ever being played in counterpoint. Even while we were grumbling about the irritating police regulations requiring the photographing and the registration of foreign visitors which caused us to lose valuable time from sightseeing, we were chuckling over a notice we saw posted, telling of a rugby game that was to be played by two native teams named—to our delight—The Pink Varmints, and The Lily White Blues.
In the days that followed, we drove to the lovely, hill-surrounded town of Stellenbosch, twenty-five miles to the east, visiting a huge and excellent co-operative winery on the way, and sampling some of the unusually fine South Africa wines. Many of the huge vats are named, and it was amusing to hear two of the biggest called respectively "Big Bill" and "Mrs. Bill." Returning, we browsed among the delightful book shops, and lunched at a fashionable little cafe. An aerial cable car took us to the top of Table Mountain, where we stared down from that awe-inspiring cliff upon Capetown lying in the curve of Table Bay. We visited the House of Assembly and were almost as impressed by the bewigged clerks and that impressive symbol of authority—the huge mace—as by the parliamentary debate carried on, to our bewilderment, in both English and Afrikaans. Then there was the South African Museum and its exhibits of native material where we especially admired the fine and unique presentation of Bushman life and culture.
On Saturday morning we went to the flower market in Adderly Street. Here was a sight that made us realize the richness of the flora of this region. Both sides of this street were lined for blocks with scores and scores of flower merchants—natives in every stage of dress and undress, though mostly in rags and tatters. Beneath the turbans and shapeless woollen hats that crowned their woolly heads, their eyes were bright and. friendly, and before them in tubs and containers was such a riot of colour and bloom as few other cities in the world can boast. Great masses of vivid orange marigolds glowed
in the sunlight. Chrysanthemums of every size and colour were there by thousands, and even the long stemmed giant varieties were offered at six shillings or so a dozen.
"Cheap, madame," we heard a boy call out. "I make only two bob myself."
At six shillings a dozen he could hardly have made more!
Roses there were in every colour, and at such prices as we had never known—a shilling a dozen, or even less. Some of real beauty could be had for sixpence. Huge collections of gladioli flaunted their reds and pinks, their whites and salmon tints and yellows in unbelievable profusion. Even violets had been brought to market in basketfuls. The national flower of the Union of South Africa—the protea—with its rigid leaves and dense, cone-like flowerheads, alternated with lesser wild flowers of the veldt—with "everlastings" and Pampas grass,
and many others unknown to us.
* * *
Capetown, it should be recalled, is situated at the northern end of a strangely shaped peninsula. Joined to the mainland by a wide, short neck, this juts out into the Atlantic curving sharply to the south between the broad expanse of False Bay and the open ocean. This odd shaped bit of Africa measures some thirty-two miles, and as it runs south its width at no point exceeds five miles. At its southern tip, it grows much narrower, ending in the abrupt and rocky point which is one of the most famous capes in all the world—the Cape of Good Hope. t
Here, but a little beyond Capetown's doorstep, is one °f the most dramatic "corners" in the world. It is not the southernmost point of the continent of Africa. Cape Agulhas, a hundred odd miles to the eastward, lies some thirty miles farther south. Nevertheless, for centuries the Cape of Good Hope has been regarded as the very tip of Africa, and as a symbol it stands almost alone. Cape Horn compares with it, of course, but Cape Horn —remote from civilization—is wild and rude and stormy. In these days of steam and diesel engines it is rarely seen by men, and rarely passed by ships, which pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific by way of the Straits of Magellan or, more directly still, through the Panama Canal.
The Cape of Good Hope, on the other hand, is a pleasant drive from Capetown, and it is daily—almost hourly—rounded by ships. Even Suez has not deprived this tip of Africa of its great stream of nautical traffic. Many ships sail to and from the South African ports, and many more, sailing from the English Channel to Australia, find that Suez does not shorten the way enough to pay the toll. Thus Good Hope is still a consequential guide post of the sea, just as it has been ever since it was discovered by Bartholomew Diaz, and Vasco da Gama rounded it on his first great voyage to Calicut in India. The voyages of Columbus and da Gama suddenly changed the size and shape of the whole world, and to this day Good Hope is a symbol of that change.
Oddly enough, the name by which this famous cape is known around the world is not widely used in Capetown. To the South Africans "the Cape of Good Hope" is not merely the southern tip of the peninsula on which Capetown is situated. It is instead the whole peninsula. In Massachusetts it is the same with our Cape Cod, which comprises much more than the mere point near provincetown. Thus, when one is in Capetown and wishes to see the peninsula's southern tip, he does not drive down to see "the Cape of Good Hope." He drives to see "Cape Point."
The people of Capetown are proud of their Marine Drive to Cape Point and with good reason. Out about the Lion's Head and Signal Hill we rode, keeping the sea on our right, through Sea Point and Clifton—past the "Twelve Apostles,"—those serried peaks at the back of Table Mountain—and on past Hout Bay. As we left the city and its suburbs we passed many "Cape Coloureds," some of whom rode in mule carts or on bicycles, though most of them walked bare-foot, with bundles and baskets on their heads or slung from sticks. Everywhere, on our right, were lovely coves with beaches of white sand, or bold black rocks against which the Atlantic breakers roared. The day was far from clear, and we had been warned of rain, but our time was getting short and this was one drive we refused to miss. Our luck was with us and the rain held off until we reached the foot of the steep hill that marked land's end. But there it came upon us. Stopping the car we huddled within it, waiting for the downpour to stop. It was no more than a heavy shower, and with the clearing came a rainbow, clear and lovely in a vast arch across the tip of the Cape from the Atlantic into the Indian Ocean.
The climb that lay before us was steep—about eight hundred feet to the summit, and the concrete walk might better have been made into steps. But it was worth the effort. The structure at the top was a radio station of the South African Navy. From it we looked out from the tip of Africa upon a sea that spread in every direction about us except at our backs. The view was magnificent. Then suddenly we realized that we were standing on the
very point that Diaz first had seen. The rocks far below were those da Gama had passed when he turned to leave the Atlantic on his first voyage to India. Here the remnant of Magellan's men turned their battered little ship to the north on the final leg of the first circumnavigation of the world. Here Sir Francis Drake, from the deck of his treasure laden Golden Hind, saw what he declared in famous words to be "the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth." And fair it is today.
The next morning saw the start of our long trek east and north. Eastward we would drive across the southern end of the continent to Port Elizabeth and East London and thence by way of the Transkei, to Durban and Pietermaritzburg in Natal. From there our route lay northward to Johannesburg. With our luggage much reduced, neither of the two Fords that were to come for us would be crowded. But the roads we were to cover were not broad and straight concrete highways. Two hundred miles a day, we had been told, would be about as much as we would want to average. But that did not diminish our enthusiasm. There is a tremendous appeal in any open road, and where, we wondered, could that appeal be greater than in this giant African continent, the whole enormous length of which now lay before us?