Cape Town 2019

Waterfront Cape Town – The South African

It’s fantastic being back in Cape Town! A location that stole my heart during the first visit in 1987. The beautiful coastal city is surrounded by incomparable Table Mountain.

View of Table Mountain from My Gardens Apartment

I arrived on May 2nd after a series of flights beginning in Catania Sicily and passing through Rome and Addis Ababa Ethiopia – including two plane and terminal changes more tiring than the thirteen-hour flight.

Cape Town at Night –

During the flight from Addis Ababa to Cape Town naughty Indian children commandeered the aircraft running wild through the aisles disrupting everything. A passenger complained in a loud way and the children were forced to sit down and behave themselves. Upon arrival in Cape Town, they continued wreaking havoc in the immigration hall, running races through cordoned off lines, clearly undaunted by their reprimand on the airplane. Their parents seemed amused.

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront Cape Town – Rhino Africa

After Berlin, Dubrovnik, Kotor, Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Sicily, passengers on Ethiopian Airlines were more diverse than any of the places visited, except maybe Berlin. I’m still processing the time spent in Europe and the Balkans – a valuable learning experience with priceless memories!

Table Mountain from Melkbos – Discover Africa Safaris

When returning to Cape Town I always notice changes – some subtle, others not. I’ll be here through mid-June and then on to Hermanus, Onrus Beach, and Walker Bay.

Cape Town –

My apartment in Gardens neighborhood is in a high-rise building with retail and parking garages on the lower levels and residential above. I’m on the 17th floor and look out at Table Mountain. It’s thrilling to watch the mountain constantly changing depending on weather, wind, and sky. It almost seems close enough to touch!

Pink in Cape Town’s Sky that Artists Try to Capture

The building is secure and comfortable. Everything is within walking distance including a great choice of restaurants.

Walker Bay Sunset – Unsplash

I have a rental car for day trips and places further away. After seven months without driving, it’s nice to be mobile again – even though South Africans drive on the wrong side of the road :)…

Table Cloth of Fog Over Table Mountain

Today the wind is howling – yesterday it was calm. Earlier the Table Mountain Table Cloth was visible as fog gently spewed over the flat-topped mountain. It’s mesmerizing watching sunrises and sunsets and spectacular scenery changes from foggy to clear and back again. Hiking on the mountain is part of my agenda.

Walker Bay Grootbos Nature Reserve – Robert Harding

The drought crisis is over but water and energy conservation are everyday concerns in Cape Town. Hopefully winter will bring significant rainfall. May temperatures are mild in the 60s and 70s but forecast to reach the 80s next week.

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway –

South Africa’s General Election is May 8 with another ANC (African National Congress) victory predicted. Elections are always exciting. South Africa’s economy and social inequalities create an emotional, volatile atmosphere with protests for change.

The Company’s Gardens Cape Town – The Heritage Portal

There’s considerable voter apathy in South Africa, especially among young voters. The ANC disappointed and is under pressure to improve the failing economy, address unemployment, provide better services (especially power), improve infrastructure, and curb crime, violence, and government corruption. All are complicated issues with unemployment, the economy, and a looming energy crisis heading the list.

Views Onrus Beach and Hermanus Bay – Pinterest

One thing I’d forgotten about (almost) is the Hadeda Ibis – known as the “loudest bird in Africa“. With Hadedas nearby, you don’t need an alarm clock!

More later…

Eleanor Kasrils Secret Agent

Cover - The Unlikely Secret Agent

Cover – The Unlikely Secret Agent

The Unlikely Secret Agent is a book written by Ronald Kasrils, a South African politician and former Minister for Intelligence Services, about his remarkable wife Eleanor.

Kasrils held many posts both before and after the first fully democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, including:

  • Member National Executive Committee of the ANC
  • Member Central Committee of the South African Communist Party
  • Member ANC Politico-Military Council
  • Member Transitional Executive Council’s Sub-Council on Defence
  • Deputy Minister of Defence
  • Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry
  • Minister for Intelligence Services

Following President Thabo Mbeki’s resignation in September 2008, Kasrils was among members of his Cabinet who also submitted their resignations. In 2009 Kasrils wrote Armed and Dangerous, a bestselling autobiography about his experiences in the ANC during the turbulent 1960s.

Former President Thabo Mbeki

Former SA President Thabo Mbeki

After Eleanor’s death in 2009 Kasrils wrote The Unlikely Secret Agent for which he received the 2011 Alan Paton Award. Named for Alan Paton, author of Cry The Beloved Country, the award recognizes literary “meritorious works of nonfiction that show:

• Compassion
• Elegance of writing
• Illumination of truthfulness
• Intellectual and moral integrity

Ronnie and Eleanor were prominent anti-apartheid activists and the book is a testament and tribute to Eleanor. Kasrils wanted South Africans to understand what she did for the country and to realize that ordinary, average people – women in particular – possess enormous potential.”

Ronnie Kasrils

“The book reads like a spy thriller, biography telling the remarkable story of a young woman’s courage in apartheid-ridden South Africa. As the book opens in 1963, South Africa is in crisis and the white state is under siege. On August 15, the dreaded security police swoop down on Griggs Bookshop – Durban’s finest literary haunt frequented by ANC and South African Communist Party comrades to receive or deliver messages and money to advance the cause of the struggle. They plan to arrest Eleanor Kasrils, the bookstore manager’s daughter. The police threaten to ‘break her or hang her’ if she does not lead them to her lover, Ronnie Kasrils, wanted on suspicion of sabotage for setting off explosions and toppling electricity poles.

Eleanor has her own secret to conceal. She is acting as a clandestine agent for the underground ANC by utilizing the books to deliver documents: contacts delivering documents handed them to her with a book for purchase. Similarly she hid documents for the couriers in the pages of books she handed over as a purchase.”

The transfer of secret documents only took place after the recipient whispered the code: ‘Well, let me take both books’. To protect her comrades and Ronnie, Eleanor convinced the police she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They sent her off to a mental hospital in Pietermaritzburg for assessment.

ANC President Oliver Tambo

ANC President Oliver Tambo

Born in 1936 in Kilmarnock, Scotland, Eleanor moved with her family to Durban where her father became a bookseller. As a Scottish-South African anti-apartheid activist she created ANC cells in Scotland and opposed the activities of the UK government in Africa in the 1980s. Eleanor joined the Congress of Democrats in the aftermath of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, where police shot dead 69. Educated in Durban she married and divorced by the age of 24 and raised Bigrid, a daughter from her first marriage.

Eleanor met Ronnie in the 1960s after becoming involved in ANC underground activities. They married in 1964 and have two sons. Eleanor “shared his life on the run from the security forces and in exile in Britain”. She was among the first women held without trial under South Africa’s 90-day detention laws. “Detained in 1963 she escaped from custody and – in an episode worthy of the Scarlet Pimpernel – fled the country in disguise.”

Ronnie and Eleanor Kasrils

Ronnie and Eleanor Kasrils

Held at Fort Napier – an asylum in Natal – she planned her escape with care. First she went on a hunger strike for six days and then she faked a mental breakdown. With a scarf over her head, she calmly walked out of Fort Napier through a gate left unlocked by a sympathetic nurse. At a safe house, she cropped her hair and dressed as a boy. She met up with Ronnie and they decided to try to make it to the Botswana border. Ronnie dressed as a prosperous businessman, while Eleanor put on traditional Muslim garb. Driven by a veteran of the escape route they traveled with two other passengers to lend authenticity to the group.

They avoided border patrols until they reached their cross-over point, where a ladder was waiting to get them over the fence. As they were saying goodbye, Eleanor spotted a dust cloud in the distance, on the South African side of the border. They hid behind boulders as a police car roared past. Then, staggering under the weight of their luggage – with Eleanor’s brown face cream beginning to streak in the heat – the couple made it over the fence into the British Protectorate, where they received political asylum.

Author Alan Paton

Author Alan Paton

In 1965 Eleanor moved to London to seek treatment for malaria. Ronnie joined her there and they set up house in north London. Eleanor worked as assistant to the ANC president, Oliver Tambo. Ronnie – a senior figure in Umkhonto we Sizwe intelligence – the ANC’s active military wing – traveled the front-line states.

In London Eleanor came up against supporters of the South African apartheid government. She found herself in the headlines when a Tory MP, Andrew Hunter, claimed that the IRA trained ANC members and that Ronnie Kasrils was “recruiting terrorists” in London. She replied with a tough statement, challenging the MP to repeat his charges outside the Commons: “I will be more than happy for a British jury to decide which of us is telling the truth and which of us is lying.” Hunter did not take up her challenge.

Nic Dawes, Sdumo Dlamini, Ronnie Kasrils, Nadine Gordimer - Right2Know Protest

Nic Dawes, Sdumo Dlamini, Ronnie Kasrils, Nadine Gordimer – Right2Know Protest

Following the political settlement, Eleanor returned to South Africa in 1990 with Oliver Tambo, who had suffered a stroke. She worked for him until his death in 1993. She also traveled extensively with Ronnie in the course of his ministerial duties. But Ronnie, seen as a loyalist to Thabo Mbeki, lost office in the palace coup that saw Mbeki’s overthrow. He and Eleanor settled near Cape Town.

In 2000 Eleanor received amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for bombing the Durban security police offices, stealing dynamite, destroying electricity pylons, illegally crossing the Botswana border, and escaping from police custody.

Eleanor Kasrils died at 73 of natural causes. Upon her death Nelson Mandela paid tribute to her work and referred to her as a “genteel and elegant Scottish woman”.

Other comments about The Unlikely Secret Agent include:

Ronnie Kasrils

Ronnie Kasrils

This is a wonderful book about a courageous and extraordinary woman who was highly principled, yet endowed by nature with clandestine skills. Her exploits recall the heroism of the women agents in Winston Churchill’s great Special Operations Executive (SOE) resistance group during the Second World War. The values she fought for so intrepidly are still in the balance today. Ronnie Kasrils tells her story with humility and a pride that the reader can only share. – John le Carré

Author John le Carre

Author John le Carre

This “little” book about an “ordinary” woman with the heart of a lioness confirms the truth that our freedom was not free. From its pages rings out another truth that among the outstanding heroines and heroes of the South African struggle were those who did not set out to do heroic deeds.

These are the heroic combatants for freedom like The Unlikely Secret Agent, Eleanor Kasrils, the subject of this engrossing “little book”, who did the equally “little” things without which victory over the apartheid regime would have been impossible… Eleanor’s story also poses a question about the future – what are the “little things” each one of us should do to win the new struggle for the further entrenchment of democracy and the defeat of poverty and underdevelopment, acting as our own liberators. – Thabo Mbeki

The Dalai Lama’s Visa

“Our government is worse than apartheid government, because at least you were expecting it from the Apartheid government…”

“We were expecting we would have a government that was sensitive to the sentiments of our constitution…”

“People were opposed to injustice and oppression and people believed that we South Africans would be on the side of those who are oppressed. Tibet is being oppressed…”

“Our government, representing me, says it will not support Tibetans who are being oppressed viciously by the Chinese…”

These are words spoken by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu about the South African government’s indecision in issuing the Dalai Lama a visa to attend his 80th birthday celebrations in Cape Town this week.

Withholding the Dalai Lama’s visa seems odd to many South Africans because it would have been his fourth visit since 1994 and Beijing also raised eyebrows at those other visas. The government denied the Dalai Lama’s visa application in 2009 because of a “justified fear” that his visit could be used to promote the Tibetan cause since it was to occur around the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising.

A local Cape Town newspaper article entitled “SA Flirts with Karma” posed the question, “Is the position of the Tibetans any different from that of other ethnic national minorities in China? If it is different, in what respect is it different? If it is not different, why does the issue of Tibet have such a high-profile, while the others are unseen and unheard? Few people realize that in addition to the majority Han ethnic group, China is home to 55 other ethnic minorities, including Tibetans. How these various people absorbed into China is a complicated story stretching over centuries.”

 Dr. Z. Pallo Jordan

Dr. Z. Pallo Jordan

The author of the article, Dr. Z Pallo Jordan, says “South Africa is caught between the rock of Western insistence on regime change in Libya and the hard place of a disunited African Union’s position requiring an inclusive government. As a member of the United Nations Security Council, China’s diplomatic support for South Africa could decide whether it succeeds or fails. China’s support allowed South Africa to become a member of the BRICS (emerging economies in Brazil, Russia, India, and China).”

Like Jordan, many think South Africa should tell China that their country defines its own path in international relations. Many also believe that neither China nor South Africa benefited by the country’s refusal to issue the Dalai Lama’s visa and that the action “backfired miserably” giving Tibet’s status in China a higher profile.

Dr. Jordan is the former South African Minister of Arts and Culture and a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee.

Another take on the visa debacle is that since Tutu is the “second most famous South African” after beloved former President Nelson Mandela, maybe the “powers that be” spoiled his birthday party and kept his friend from attending because of jealousy?

Julius Malema Ethics Charges

Julius Malema, President of the African National Congress Youth League – ANCYL (see May 22nd post) is on the front page of South African newspapers again. He’s under investigation about claims that he helped businesses win government contracts in return for personal payment.

Julius Malema

Malema – the sole trustee of a “secret” family trust fund said to have received these payments – declared war on “white monopoly capital”. His accusers say the trust fund finances his lavish lifestyle but Malema denies being paid to help businesses secure government contracts and says he did not spend money from the trust fund on himself. ANCYL officials and Malema supporters claim he set up the trust fund “to help poor and needy students”.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (SA’s largest labor federation and an ANC party ally) says the ANC, police, and South African Revenue Services should investigate Malema’s finances. A spokesman for the South African Communist Party also suggests that the police investigate Malema, decide whether he broke the law, and take “strong” action against him for any offenses committed.

Last month Malema won his second term as president of the ANCYL. He continues to call for “the nationalization of South Africa’s mines and banks”. Malema’s support helped President Jacob Zuma win control of the ANC in 2007, and he remains the “commander-in-chief of South Africa’s economic liberation fighters”. Malema and his supporters claim the ethics allegations against him are “dirty tricks” funded by the “right-wing media” to sidetrack the ANCYL’s nationalization drive.

In Pretoria a civil rights group submitted a formal accusation of corruption against Malema and called for an extensive police investigation into his finances. They have asked tax authorities to audit him.


In addition to the corruption charges, many say Malema’s lifestyle and property is disproportionate to his salary which is about 20,000 rand ($3,000) a month.


Malema grew up in a township outside the northern town of Polokwane. In 2009 I lived in a nearby township called Shayandima for a month and did volunteer work with a local Venda organization providing childcare facilities. Living in a township was an interesting and learning experience. Compared to Cape Town’s European / continental atmosphere the northern provinces near the Zimbabwe border are more remote and less populated. The area is near Kruger National Park.


Malema now wears a Breitling watch, rides around in a chauffeured Range Rover, and is building a mansion in Sandton, a wealthy, affluent neighborhood in Johannesburg.


The ANC thinks the ethics charges are “a personal matter” and declines to discuss them with Malema “because he is neither a member of parliament nor does he hold a government position”.

Crossroads Squatter Camp Cape Town South Africa

Crossroads Township was a large squatter camp (shanty town) in the Cape Flats area on the outskirts of Cape Town. Many moved to camps like Crossroads to get closer to work opportunities, health care, and education services unavailable in rural areas.

Settlements like Crossroads consisted of thousands of shacks made of wood, cardboard, tin, and other scrap material. Living conditions were poor with entire families living in one tiny makeshift structure.

Crossroads Children


“Fighting and rioting at Crossroads was largely thought to be the result of the South African government’s political control methods and an example of the Apartheid policy of contra-mobilization.”


In 1975, four years after it was established, the South African government classified Crossroads as an “emergency camp”. After the June 16, 1976 Soweto Youth Uprising, that classification made it immune to the demolition that occurred in similar shanty towns across South Africa.


Khayelitsha Township with Table Mountain in the Background

“By the mid 1980s Crossroad’s population was over 100,000 and highly visible in the world press and flight paths of Cape Town International Airport. When authorities attempted to move Crossroads residents further away from the city to a new township named Khayelitsha (new home in Xhosa) they refused. There was rioting among rival gangs and fighting in the streets.”

“In the South African context, contra-mobilisation was used to organise and support ‘moderate blacks‘ to oppose revolutionary movements. Of necessity, it was a covert strategy that made use of ‘surrogate’ forces – concealing the hand of the state as provider of logistical, political, and financial support. Hence, the state was not seen to be involved in the conflict and violence between rival groups and resistance organisations” – para. 555, Vol 2, Chap 3, Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Report.

Crossroads Residents


Rioting in May and June of 1986 resulted in burned houses and 60 deaths. Almost 60,000 residents of Crossroads became homeless.”


Johnson Ngxobongwana was a local warlord with a strong political voice at Crossroads. He represented moderate Africans. Over the years Ngxobongwana built a popular following, including local thugs who wore white headbands for identification.South Africa’s Apartheid government and its security forces provided Ngxobongwana with “unofficial support”. It’s said that Ngxobongwana used those resources to eliminate his rivals and degrade women and youth groups.

On June 12th, President PW Botha declared a ‘State Emergency’ to halt the violence across South Africa by what he characterized as “revolutionaries supported by the African National Congress (ANC).”

Cape Flats


Open fires used for cooking and candles for lighting resulted in burns, accidents, and frequent fires. This continues today.


Steve Bloom Crossroads Aerial Photo

Although the South African media reported the violence as “black-on-black” the South African government’s involvement was clear. The government attributed the conflict to “historical rivalries and political differences between different groups and an increasing tendency to resolve differences by violent means”.



“Settlements like Crossroads consisted of thousands of shacks made of wood, cardboard, tin, and other scrap material.”


Crossroads Squatter Camp

Crossroads Squatter Camp

It’s interesting to note that today’s post-apartheid South Africa governed by the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s National Liberation Movement, has a growing number of squatter camps populated by Afrikaners – white South Africans.

White Squatter Camp


“Despite impoverished blacks in the region far outnumbering whites, poverty is a human issue, not necessarily racial.”


White Squatter Camp South Africa