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Prison and Rhythm

May 13
Today we are picked up at 8:15 a.m. by Godfrey, for our 9 AM tour at Robben Island, a half hour boat ride from Capetown. From the 17th to the 20th Centuries, Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, served as a place of banishment, isolation and imprisonment. Today it is a World Heritage Site and museum, a poignant reminder to the newly democratic South Africa of the price paid for freedom. 

 We are shown around the prison by a former political prisoner who speaks first-hand of the conditions, treatment and torture he endured. What allowed him to survive it and to come to peace with the experience was his ability not to take his suffering as a personal matter, but as part of a movement that was much larger in scope.  It’s a sobering, chilling experience of man’s inhumanity to man and an amazing glimpse into what preceded freedom. A pile of stones in the courtyard was created spontaneously by the former political prisoners at a reunion in 1995.  For Zoe, the visit to Robben Island is especially meaningful, as she can experience what she read about in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, LONG WALK TO FREEDOM.  The tour is 3-1/2 hours long including the two half-hour boat rides to get there, and our safari friends, Jill and Bob, join us.   


After the tour, we have lunch with Jill and Bob, then Carol, Zoe and I go on to the South African Art Museum, which is worth a visit. We then head back to the hotel to pack, blog and nap a bit.

This evening, we sample African cuisine at the “shabby chic” and “funky-authentic” Cape Town institution, Mama Africa, while seeing the performance of African Jazz band Abavuki, who are a powerful African Jazz outfit from Langa (where we visited yesterday) and have been playing their exciting, infectious afro-beat marimba grooves since 2001. The eight members in the group, all multi-instrumentalists, are influenced by kwaito, samba, jazz and traditional rhythms, which they translate within a modern format, using marimbas, percussion and brass instruments. The Xhosa name “abavuki” means “Wake up, early birds!” and this attitude is palpable in Abavuki’s high-energy, uplifting music that not only reflects their youth, but their optimistic outlook on life and their approach to music-making. It is a testimony to the resilience of South Africans and the redemption the country has found in music in its path to reconciliation. We’re joined by Jill and Bob again.  Surprisingly, even the food is excellent.  Zoe enjoyed the music and is into photographing everything for her blog.  Great fun.

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