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Kirstenbosch Garden, a Winery and an Education in South Africa

Darren and I enjoyed another leisurely day today.  We visited the world-famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, the Groot Constantia Wine Estate and Rhodes Memorial – all very close to Cape Town.

Kirstenbosch Gardens

Kirstenbosch Gardens

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

This special garden was founded in 1913 and is located at the foot of Table Mountain.  Besides the dramatic scenery and serene atmosphere, what makes this botanical garden extra special is that it is the only botanical garden in the world that cultivates only indigenous plants.  Extremely rare plants and trees grow here, including the last remaining tree of its kind in the world – a male cyclad called Encephalartos woodii – with no hope for a future generation as a female can not be found.  After millions of years, this species is at the end of the road.

Groot Constantia Wine Estate

Groot Constantia Wine Estate

Groot Constantia Wine Estate

Despite my dirty clothes, I felt quite posh walking around Groot Constantia, South Africa’s first wine estate, founded in 1685.  Vast vineyards, stately buildings, and old oaks give the place a heavy presence.  There is a free exhibit explaining the long history of the estate with quite a bit about the estate’s slaves who toiled lifetimes away to make it what it is today.

Interesting facts:

  • Napolean was provided with Groot Constantia Wine for many years after his defeat of Waterloo.
  • Jane Austin mentions Groot Constantia Wine in Sense and Sensibility.
  • In the 1830’s, King Louis Philippe of France imported Groot Constantia Wine, becoming their biggest customer.

No wine tasting for me today, but we did enjoy a slice of uniquely South African (and previously Dutch) melktert or in English: milktart.  It is similar to a custard pie with a dusting of cinnamon.  Quite good.

Rhodes Memorial

Finally, Darren took me to Rhodes Memorial for a spectacular view of Cape Town.  I didn’t know who Rhodes was but now I have a far better understanding.  And it’s not pretty.

View from Rhodes Memorial

View from Rhodes Memorial

Cecil John Rhodes was born in England.  Among many things, he was a highly successful businessman and founding chairman of the diamond mining company of  De Beers, which once reputedly owned 90% of the diamond mines in the world and continues to be a controversial company today.

Believing in the superiority of the British, he worked tirelessly throughout his life to expand the British Empire in Africa, without regard for the native people.  He became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in 1890 and did many unscrupulous things including stealing the land from black people from South Africa all the way up to Zambia.

To show what a delightful man he was, take in this quote where he is speaking about the British:

“I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence, look again at the extra employment a new country added to our dominions gives.”


“the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa”


Those are just a few gems.  He was a racist and a thief.  And now an embarrassment to many.

It was HIS land-grabbing that is the foundation of the troubles that continue to cause tremendous suffering in Zimbabwe (formerly called Rhodesia) today.  A great man?  I think not.

On a more positive note, he is the man behind the Rhodes Scholarship and upon his death, he gave much of his land to the citizens of Cape Town and from then it was protected.  So he was a conservationist in that regard.

In any case, the views from his monument are stellar.  You can see forever.

Education about Apartheid

Apartheid is understandably a very touchy subject to bring up with any South African.  With apartheid ending only twenty years ago, the feelings and stories are still fresh.

I had the good fortune of spending the evening talking with a Kenyan man staying at my hostel.  He’s been a tour guide since 1991 and he shared his stories of visiting and struggling in South Africa during the early years of his career.

He told me that as late as 2002, he was refused service in some restaurants, not allowed to shop at certain grocery stores, made to stand in the back of lines behind whites, and not allowed in certain clubs, banks, or hotels.  He explained that as a Kenyan, he was accustomed to whites and blacks coexisting peacefully and this constant discrimination and harassment was as foreign to him as it would have been to me.  He could not understand it and found himself outraged on a daily basis.  He said that if apartheid hadn’t ended he fears he would have been killed in Cape Town because he challenged the rules, as anyone would who finds themselves suddenly being treated like a non-human – being mentally, physically and verbally abused by white strangers.

“But, so much has changed in the last ten years.  Now I can be here peacefully.”  He credits Nelson Mandela with that change and speaks of him with reverence.

Until tonight, I didn’t fully know what apartheid meant.  I’ve heard about it throughout my life, but until this man described his daily life in the atmosphere of apartheid I didn’t grasp the scope of it or the inhumanity.  I’m ashamed of that.  But, I didn’t know.  Today thankfully,  I am more educated than yesterday.

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