Visiting Robben Island S. Africa for Freedom Day, Hugh Hefner saves Hollywood
CAPE TOWN, South Africa – South Africa is a nation of easy smiles. Perhaps that’s because the icon of their country can’t cry.
One of the fascinating things you will learn on Robben Island is Nelson Mandela’s tear ducts were so damaged from dust while he broke rocks on a limestone quarry that he can no longer shed tears. Others will do it for him today, the 16th anniversary of the culmination of the first democratic elections in South Africa.
More than 20 million people went to the polls over a two-day period in 1994 and Mandela’s ANC party won 62 per cent of the votes. He was 75 when he was elected president four years after being released from prison.
The first 18 years of his 27-year incarceration were served on Robben Island, the 574-hectare speck of land where the totality of apartheid will water your eyes when you hear the grim facts. Mandela’s oppressors covered every detail in their attempt to degrade the prisoners on the island that’s three kilometres from Cape Town and for many years was miles from humanity.
“The history here just hits you in the gut,” says Ntombomzi Mlonyeni, a young woman who conducts bus tours of Robben Island. Hundreds come each day and tickets, which cost 400 rand (about $54), sell out fast for the 15-minute ferry sailings that depart from Cape Town’s waterfront.
Former prisoners talk about their experiences in riveting detail. Michael Ntando was imprisoned on Robben Island from 1984-91 on terrorism-related charges. Remarkably, he is one of the 200 residents who now live on the island, along with a few hundred penguins. Ntando and other former prisoners reside alongside men who used to be their wardens. Together, they keep alive the deplorable history that is important for many reasons, not the least of which is Mandela.
When a tour group approaches his prison cell, the crowd clamours to get a peek. In no other jail cell in the world would you see people eager to go in. Mandela’s cell is locked, but there is one in the prison where people can enter.
As you might expect, Mandela is so revered here some consider him to be divine.
“It was a gift from God,” Gloria Pikitsha, a former Soweto resident, says of Mandela’s struggles and triumphs. “He was blessed with a great mind, wisdom and humility. He was meant to lead South Africa to freedom.”
Pikitsha was 16 when the Soweto uprising of 1976 took place. She was a student at Orlando West High School, the starting point of the black school children’s protest march. Security forces opened fire on the children, killing more than 600 on June 16-17. Pikitsha’s neighbour at the time, an 18-year-old named Mbuyisa Makhuba, was photographed carrying 12-year-old Hector Pieterson, the youngest victim of the violence. The boy died at a clinic and Pikitsha says she never saw Makhuba again. Like many who took part in the uprising, he disappeared. The photograph has become a symbol of the struggle against apartheid and a large print of it is outside of the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto.
“We recall we didn’t get this easily,” Pikitsha said over the weekend in Soweto when asked about her feelings on Freedom Day. “We didn’t get it for free. We paid a price for it, and that price was paid by kids.”
And now for something completely different...Jim Byers' regular travel blog
Word out of L.A. is that Playboy magazine Hugh Hefner donated $900,000 to help the Hollywood Sign Trust people buy enough land around the iconic "Hollywood" sign in the hills above Los Angeles and save the sign from a redevelopment scheme.
The fund is now said to have $12.5 million U.S. for the sign saving effort. The 138 acres of land around the sign will now become part of Griffith Park.
You probably already knew this, but the sign originally was to advertise a housing development and it used to say "Hollywoodland."
Anyway, it's nice of Hef to get out of his pajamas long enough to sign a few cheques. Guess all those magazines I bought as a kid had a good influence on tourism, if nothing else. (Just kidding, honey).
Thanks to the folks at the Arizona Office of Tourism for a fine meal at Buca on King St. W. on Monday night. They took a half dozen or so media types out to chat a bit about what's happening in their state.
There were some 514,000 Canadians who visited the state last year, and they're hoping/expecting that will increase to something like 530,000 or 540,000 this year. The strength of the Canadian dollar against the American greenback no doubt helps a lot, as does the continuous additions of new hotels, golf courses and spas in Arizona.
Ontario used to be the biggest contributor to Canadian tourism in Arizona, but officials say that's slipped a bit. Not because Ontario folks have lost interest, but because Alberta has grown so much.
It's certainly a lovely state, with lots of sunshine and plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy.
The meal at Buca was delicious, too. I had a nice pasta with testa (like a salami) and wild ramps (spicy leeks) and chili and garlic, but the pizza I sampled was divine; a great crust topped with homemade prosciutto. They make their own salami's on site and there's also a terrific wine list and wonderful cheeses.
Also thanks to Vincor for some fun wine-tasting at Origin: Hardy's, Kim Crawford, Mondavi and Ravenswood. Nice way to spend a Monday evening!
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