Conventional audio tours tell a city’s story with only one or two voices, which doesn’t allow for diversity or individual perspectives. You can’t capture the essence of a place like Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap in the same way as the colonial Company’s Gardens or the Grand Parade, where Mandela addressed 200,000 ecstatic people after his release from prison. What brings these spaces to life, and connects you to them, is the personal opinions, anecdotes and sense of ownership reflected in the words, ‘I love’, ‘I remember’, and ‘I hope’.
The best travel experiences normally begin with a local showing you their city. It cuts through all the abstraction of being an outsider, making you a participant, with a point of reference that helps you identify with a place. You get to share somebody else’s feelings for their home – and that’s exactly what VoiceMap aims to do, with the help of our storytellers.
We’ve assembled a few favourites from our walking tours in Cape Town. They’re all excellent examples of personal storytelling, and its unique power to connect you to your surroundings.
Buses and Ubuntu from Rachel Chitongo’s Khayelitsha: Our Home
We’re at one of the main bus stops in the area. Let’s turn left here towards the mall. Follow the main foot path, aiming for the Capitec Bank.
To most people, a bus stop is just a bus stop. But to a person living in Khayelitsha it can mean a lot of things. Missing a bus can mean having to spend more time and money to get to your destination. For some, it could even mean losing their job for being late!
The local buses are really what made me fall in love with people of Khayelitsha. They all look out for each other. Every day, you see people sending sms’s or chats to check up on late arrivals, to make sure they don’t miss the bus. The morning bus is always full of passengers, still half-asleep, but they all shout greetings, and ask after one another. Sometimes, passengers hand sweets or fruit to those seated near them. That is their spirit – caring about one another.
The school children chat excitedly, but soon fall asleep when the bus starts moving, because that’s when the moving church sermon begins. Anyone can preach, pray or sing: no one is better than the other. Usually, it begins with someone starting to sing, and then everyone joins in. They sing along, and drum on the windows and stamp on the floor – it sounds as if the windows will crack! As the buses pass each other, different songs can be heard spilling from each bus. The drivers don’t complain. I guess they are only too happy to be awake and motivated.
Three Anchor Bay and Ingrid Jonker from Justin Fox’s Mouille Point Promenade Meander
In the early hours of 19 July 1965, at the age of 31, Ingrid Jonker walked from her Sea Point flat to the beach below you. She took off her shoes and walked into the sea, committing suicide by drowning. Jonker was a liberal Afrikaans poet who challenged the conservative literary establishment of the 1960s. She’s thought of as the Sylvia Plath of South Africa due to the intensity of her writing and her tragic life.
Although Jonker wrote in Afrikaans, her poems have been widely translated. Her sensitive and progressive outlook has made her a literary icon for a new generation of South Africans who’ve re-discovered her relevance.
Her conservative father – a writer, editor and National Party MP – was chairman of a parliamentary committee responsible for censorship laws under apartheid. To his great embarrassment, Ingrid was strongly opposed to these laws and he publicly disowned her. On hearing of his daughter’s suicide, he is reported to have said: ‘They can throw her back in the sea for all I care.’
Ingrid led a tempestuous life and had many affairs, notably with two well-known writers, André Brink and Jack Cope. One of these liaisons resulted in a pregnancy and subsequent abortion. The mental distress of her father’s rejection and the abortion contributed to her entering Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital in 1961. My uncle, the poet Uys Krige, was a close friend of Ingrid’s, and I’ve heard many stories about their wild, bohemian parties at his bungalow on Clifton Beach. Ingrid was brilliant, beautiful, promiscuous, volatile, unstable … and a magnet for men.
Just before her death, she witnessed a scene in which a black baby was shot in his mother’ arms. Nelson Mandela read her famous poem about this incident during his address at the opening of our first democratically elected parliament in 1994.
Chiappini Street from Shereen Habib’s Bo-Kaap Walking Tour:
Stop here, and look at the hillside on your left. Right up to the top you’ll see eucalyptus trees, and there’s a long aerial tower up there. My mom’s house is the last house before that tower. I was born up there. When my grandfather went to live there, my mom was only 7. That was 80 years ago, so you can well imagine that there were no other houses there. And when we were teenagers, we always told my grandfather that we want to live in District Six where the action was, and we wanted to move because we feel like fools on the hill, and then he’d say, “one day you’ll see, you ungrateful little girls, the whole city will come up to you!”
Today, that’s where we are. The city is all the way up to there, and they’re building more houses there all the time. But the houses are expensive. Our children will never afford to live here, and people who can’t afford to pay their property rates will have to move out. Some of the older people get subsidised. But many people had to sell their homes. It is sad, because you change the feeling of the “village in the city”.
Keep going down the steps in front of you.
An Accidental Revolutionary form Eve Sandler’s The Company’s Garden
Hidden behind the trees on your right as you go down the avenue is Tuynhuys, or “the garden house”. Stop for a moment when you see the large ornamental gates, where you get the best view of the building.
For most of its existence Tuynhuys has been home to the Cape’s governors. Now it’s mainly used by our President for photo opportunities with visiting dignitaries.
But it was from here that F.W. de Klerk made his historic announcement in 1990. South Africa had ‘closed the book on apartheid’. I remember the moment well. We’d lived under the Apartheid regime for so long. It was so out of the blue that we were afraid to believe it. For a few minutes it felt like the clocks had stopped ticking. I watched the announcement with a bunch of journalists in Zimbabwe, because I had lived outside South Africa for 20 years, in exile.
In 1971, I was arrested and held in solitary confinement for eight weeks, before being interrogated and taken to court. Truth be told I was an accidental revolutionary. I was studying in Johannesburg, and living in a typical student digs. The apartheid authorities had successfully stamped out most opposition. But stories of the student uprisings were starting to filter out of Europe and America. And they were affecting us.
On the other hand, the security police were frustrated. There just wasn’t enough for them to do. Then someone set off a couple of small incendiary devices as a way of distributing anti-Apartheid pamphlets. The Special Branch, or ‘the Branch” as we called them, leapt into action. A hundred people across the country were rounded up. We were part of that mass detention. Three of us were charged together, with terrorism. This carried a death penalty. Afterwards, when we were released on bail, we concocted an elaborate plan. We escaped the country by walking through the bush one moonless night. We’d studied maps and decided on walking into neighbouring Botswana. I was 21 years old and I had done nothing that could be seen as a threat to the state.
Even after two decades in exile, the pull of my homeland was strong. So when the ANC was unbanned after F.W. de Klerk’s announcement, I was one of the first to return.