22 May 2006
How are you? Brother Runoko is just great. I had a
wonderful weekend in Cape Town, full of life,
learning, and love for African people.
I last left you early Saturday afternoon at an
Internet cafe in downtown Cape Town. I had just
arrived late the night before. My luggage had gone
astray, I knew not a soul and I was trying to find
myself. Well, everything worked out beautifully.
Just walking through Cape Town is an experience. I
suppose it is like that in any African city. Just
looking at the people was an experience! The African
women looked so good! But I love African people and
so you should not be surprised to hear me say that. I
found an excellent used book store and an even better
information center. Then I visited four museums and
an art gallery.
The art gallery featured a display of San art. The
San are the people often referred to as "Bush men."
They are a fascinating group of folk and at the main
museum, the South African Museum, the highlight was a
video of a San men's healing ceremony. It was a short
(about fifteen minutes in length) black and white
video of a several San men apparently in some kind of
trance. Never seen anything like it! Words really
can't describe it. They walked round and round a camp
fire. Women, young and old, were gathered around the
fire. The music was awesome and their movements were
nothing short of incredible.
The second museum was the National Gallery. It was
mostly full of dead white folks with only a couple of
exceptions. But what exceptions they were! The first
was a special exhibit called "Picasso and Africa" and
featured numerous works by the Spanish artist. In his
own words Picasso paid tribute to Africa and his debt
to Africa's culture. I saw something similar in
Barcelona in March 2003.
The other outstanding feature of the National Gallery
was a magnificent bust of the great African-American
actor Ira Aldredge. The bust was white except the
face and beard, which were colored pitch black. I
could have stared at it for hours. I understand that
there is a similar piece in the foyer of the Schomburg
Library in Harlem, New York.
Aldredge is considered one of the greatest actors of
all time. He toured Europe extensively, achieving
critical acclaim in London in Othello and the Merchant
of Venice. He was named a German baron, created a
sensation in Russia, performed before Alexander Dumas,
pere at Versailles, and was buried with state honors
in Poland in 1867. What a man he must have been!
The third Cape Town museum that I visited was the
Slave Lodge and Cultural Museum. Yes, slavery existed
in South Africa too. It was extremely brutal and the
museum is a kind of place of remembrance. This was a
somber experience but I was able to talk extensively
with the museum director about a wide range of
subjects including slave resistance, the status of
women and rape in contemporary South Africa, and
HIV/AIDS. When I told her that there was a school of
thought among African-Americans that HIV did not cause
AIDS and that AIDS itself was just a gigantic hoax she
became visibly upset and pointed out what an
irresponsible position this was.
My last museum visit in Cape Town was the District 6
Museum. The District 6 Museum is also a place of
remembrance and commemorates the forced removal of
people of color and their relocation into the various
I have to say the District 6 Museum was a grim and
depressing experience but life is like that sometimes
and I am glad that I went. Life for African people
under Apartheid reminds me so much of the experiences
of Aboriginal Australians except on a vastly larger
So that was Saturday in Cape Town. Sunday was just as
interesting. First, there was an African market right
in front of my hotel! I saw some of the most
beautiful African art, and would like to have
Sunday I returned to the Distict 6 Museum and visited
three Black townships. The townships are where the
Africans were moved to when they were forced out of
Cape Town itself.
The first township was Langa--the oldest township.
The largest township was Khayelitsha--the second
largest township in South Africa, only smaller than
Soweto. I also visited Guguletu Township. I went to
a shabeen (I think that I am spelling it correctly)
where I drank some of the local brew, visited a
traditional healer, and then went to the local Baptist
church where the choir brought the house down.
Life in these Black townships is not easy but there is
so much vitality inside.
And then I had a meeting with a local community and
African National Congress activist who gave me even
more insight regarding Black Cape Town. To put it
mildly, I had a weekend to remember.
CONVERSATION WITH THE XHOSA ELDERS
Today is Monday the 22nd of May and tomorrow I leave
Cape Town for Windhoek, Namibia. So I wanted to do
something special. So instead of a city tour or a
visit to the water front or the top of Table Mountain
I returned to Langa Township. The trip was arranged
by Sam's Cultural Tours--the only African owned and
controlled tour company in Cape Town. A special
meeting was arranged for me with two Xhosa elders.
The Xhosa are the largest group in South Africa.
Nelson Mandela is Xhosa.
Through an expert interpreter we spent the better part
of the afternoon talking and talking and talking. I
asked them just about everything that I could think of
and they replied patiently and indepth. I really
think that they enjoyed the conversation even more
than I did. The lead figure was an advisor to the
late king of the Xhosa and the meeting took place in
his residence--a small room in a former men's hostel.
He was joined by his chief associate. Both these
elders were short men with dark complexions and white
hair. I was in my element.
The elders told me many things. They told me that
they believed that the Xhosa and all of the Black
people of Southern African came from the Nile Valley
many, many years ago! They told me that they did not
see the white people of South Africa as Africans in
any way. They told me that men and women were equal
and that homosexuality, abortion, and divorce should
be condemned in the strongest way. They told me that
the Black people of America were Africans and should
come home, and that they recognized and admired us so
much! I was in paradise. They told me that they
especially admired Venus and Serena Williams and were
so proud of them. They told me that AIDS was a real
problem, especially among the young people. They told
me that they were very hopeful for the future and had
So that was my weekend in Cape Town. It carried over
into Monday. What will tomorrow bring?
In love of Africa,
Runoko Rashidi in Cape Town, South Africa
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