Table Bay, etching 1683

For me Table Bay is a Cape Malay bredie* of images and thoughts.  Table Bay and, of course, the Table Rock, were what magnetized me from the rural landscape to become a Capetonian.  And this bredie … Table Bay calls up for me the desire for a bigger world, a refusal to settle for suburban answers.  These Westerners … was the bad they brought in equal measure to the good?  In the shimmer on Table Bay history clashes swords with the sun … Wolraad Woltemade and his horse in the curve of a wave; the postal stones; ships sinking, ships arriving; the noon cannon;  bearded sailors staring at the Table Rock; Adamastor that you hear in storms if you listen; the Castle, the Amsterdam battery, the Chavonnes battery; the pain and anger of the Flying Dutchman …

The Flying Dutchman, ghost ship

… the murmur of the beach-combers; gulls; Robben Island, smear on the ocean;  musicians on the deck of a ship full of freed slaves dancing and playing the banjo, bringing the blues back to Africa …

Then the second bay, the Bay of Angels.  This Bay, the Côte d’Azur in France, stretches from Menton, near the Italian border and ends near Cannes.  They tell me there were human beings here four-hundred thousand years ago.  I smile.  Where I come from, South Africa, we start at two million years.  Still, history hums in the Maritime Alps that guard the Bay.  Here the Celt-Ligurians, a civilization of thousands of years, erected their forts and grunted under monoliths.  In Antibes (then Antipolis), where I find myself, their remains from 600 b.c. have been brushed open from under the Cathedral with its proto-Christian history.

Nomade sculpture ponders the Bay of Angels

Then came colonial masters, the Phonecians.  For them, the Bay of Angels was a lesser part of the larger establishment of Massala (today Marseille).  The Greeks arrive with an It’s our turn.  Monaco, Nice and Antibes all had Greek names originally.  Whether there were epic battles after some hundreds of years when the Romans marched in is uncertain.  Another handful of centuries.

In this time Roman soldiers regarded the mists of Scottish mountains and the rivers of Northern Europe.  After the assassination of Julius Caesar the coastal town along the Bay, Fréjus (the Forum of Julius), was honoured with his name.  His descendant Augustus had La Trophée built, today a sad, proud ruin, above Monaco. He instituted a census in the Empire, even to the far-flung town of Bethlehem in the Middle East.

Trophée of Augustus at La Turbie

Antibes has a legend that Paul came to the city.  Not unlikely when one thinks that Rome is but two or three days by boat.  Somewhere in the hills here there is a cave, its entrance collapsed and hidden.  In that cave is the Letter to the People of Antipolis written by Paul.  How would that be, if it were true?

At Juan-Les-Pins, the coastal town adjoining Antibes, there are few waves.  Here the Bay of Angels, or the Mediterranean Sea, often feels like a lake.  Over the shimmer on the water you see two islands, Ste Marguerite and St Honoré.  These islands, closer to Cannes, were occupied by the Romans and four hundred years after Christ, St Honoré and his following landed here, to establish one of Europe’s first Christian cloisters.

The islands of St Honoré and Ste Marguerite

These whispers across the water, music from distant times; strange instruments, lyrics unknown … they move over the creased sea … Table Bay and the Bay of Angels, two worlds, people who went before me, some of whose genes I carry … they saw what I now see and, perhaps, felt what I now feel.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

April, 2017

 *bredie – A Cape Malay dish of spiced curry, dangerously addictive



Pierre Tosan (ed.) : Dictionnaire D’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins (Hepta, Antibes. 1998)


Flying Dutchman –

Table Bay – etching by Allain Mallet in 1683, from “Hoerikwaggo”

Nomade, sculpture on the ramparts of St Jaumes, Antibes –  my photo

Trophée d’August – Côte d’Azur Tourism 

View of islands – my photo






Exuberance in Motion

If Nelson Mandela is not becoming one of the most written-about people in history, ranking with Muhammed Ali, Adolf Hitler, Jesus Christ and a number of others, then it may not be far wrong to say that he is the most popular statesman on the globe.

There is a memory I have which is in some ways unusual.  In the late-1970s when Mandela’s freedom was only graffiti on township walls, the apartheid government allowed international journalists on Robben Island.  Photographs of Mandela’s cell were published widely.  I was struck by one of the pictures which he had tacked onto his wall.  Even though it was small you could see what it was:  a naked young black woman running ecstatically along a beach.  What a lovely photograph for a man in prison to put up on his wall, I thought.

A year or two later I was in a doctor’s waiting room and paging through a National Geographic when I came upon that very photograph.  It was magnificent – an image of irrepressible joy and freedom!  I confess here that I stole that magazine from the waiting room.  I have it with me today.  I share the memory.

The description of the woman in the National Geographic is as follows:  Exuberance in Motion, a Jarawa woman dances an explosion of merriment that lasted for several hours… “I’ve never seen people so happy before”, said author Singh.

The article was of the Andaman Islands, off the east coast of India where the people look uncannily African.  It would be this too, that would have appealed to Mandela.  The reasons for that picture, near a striking one of Winnie, must have been many.   It was a fragment, as the poet says, that he shored against his ruins.

Will van der Walt ©

November, 2012

Image Sources:

The photograph of the cell is from either The Cape Argus or the Cape Times (Reuters?).  The clipping was undated, but is estimated at 1979.

The National Geographic photograph “Exuberance in motion” is by Raghubir Singh who also wrote the article [National Geographic “The Last Andaman Islanders”, Vol. 148, No. 1, July 1975.]


A visit to Montebello takes you into the creative heart of Cape Town, all right, one of the creative hearts.   The setting alone is wonderful – umbrella pines tower over this cove of busy people, making things that fascinate.  It is worth the trip for any local or for international tourists.  You’ll find this on the website: Montebello Design Centre is located in Newlands, Cape Town, and is the result of a financial and property bequest by Cecil Michaelis. The Project is situated in the farm buildings of the historic site of Montebello. These buildings and land have a colourful history, being the birth place of Ohlssons Brewery and Continental China. Today, Montebello Design Centre is home to a broad spectrum of designers and artists, from jewellers to painters, film makers to landscapers.

There is much to see and some tasty edibles at two restaurants.  I was particularly interested in the wood carvings and in the metal work coming from The Forge.  I share some of my impressions.

A wrought-iron gate

Flower forms
Bird of wood


T a n g o


Face in wind




Sculpture garden

A place of great reward.  And:  I had the tastiest meal in the deli restaurant with an array of interesting goodies to eat.

Will van der Walt ©

October, 2012

Images Sources: Photographs by Will 

Hacking and Healing

Hacking and Healing:  Aspects of Heritage Tourism

In recent BBC World television coverage, I watched devotees of Ansar Al Dine hacking away destructively at the tombs of Sufi Muslim saints in Timbuktu, Mali.


Destruction of Sufi tombs in Mali

In 2001, the Taliban dynamited the historical Buddhist statues of Bamiyan fashioned in the sixth century c.e.



During the “cultural revolution” in 1966, Mao’s Red Guards did incalculable damage to Buddhist temples and art.  In the 17th century Protestants scrubbed art off the walls of cathedrals in Europe.  Through the first millennium c.e. Christians hacked at the monuments of the pharaohs in Egypt.

The history of religious and ideological intolerance in relation to heritage around the world is long and tragic.  The destruction is irreversible; the loss, absolute.

For South Africans in tourism the problem has been discussed and to a large extent we are dealing with it.  Thus far it would seem that the spirit prevailing in 1994 – a momentous political transition without a war – also prevails in matters of heritage.

How do people of colour in South Africa feel about the monuments of the past, set up by an authoritarian government during the apartheid era, an extension of a grossly unequal history?  Are these statues, buildings, memorabilia and sites part of their heritage?  The answer is, of course, yes.  But in what way?

Groot Constantia

Does a visit to Groot Constantia serve as a homage to Simon van der Stel or as a reminder of slavery?  For people of colour, probably the latter.  The owners of Groot Constantia have a permanent exhibition depicting aspects of the history of slaves.  It would seem that there is sensitivity about these matters, both from the government and from the side of those whose predecessors were represented by these inheritances.  One of most magnanimous gestures in recent times has been the subsidy for the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria which will help to preserve it as part of Freedom Park, a development that stimulates thought and feeling to all who visit it.

It is significant that township tourism has been the sector of the industry showing substantial growth.  With this growth is the recognition of sites, buildings and memorabilia that are deeply meaningful to black people.  The question remains:  to what extent can there now be a confluence of the two histories, often in painful conflict?


Church Square, Cape Town

When I stand on Church Square in Cape Town, I see the confluence of the two streams, one turbulent.  The statue of Onze Jan (Our Jan) has hitherto dominated that space, a man instrumental in the recognition of Afrikaans as a language.  He now shares that space with several marble blocks bearing names of slaves imported from other parts of Africa, Indonesia and Madagascar.  It is almost as if he stands amongst them, the two forming a single image.  Across the street is the Slave Lodge with ongoing exhibitions and depictions of history. The Prestwich Museum points us to a dark strain of our history – the mass grave for paupers and slaves uncovered at Green Point.  Cape Town and its tourist industry have in the past decade and a half become well and truly aware of a history  which includes the inequities, the injustice and the cruelty.

Will tolerance of the two histories prevail?  Or will there come at some future point extremist hackers with their hammers?  Are we developing a consciousness that can philosophically bring the two histories together and make them one?  The need to do this is founded on the value of preserving monuments from the past no matter what cruelty they imply, no matter how much pain they caused.


Val de los Caidos, Spain

The Valle de los Caidos near Madrid in Spain is an instructive example for us.  It was erected by the dictator Franco who held sway almost forty years, a monument to those who died in the bitter Civil War in the 1930s, 47,000 lives at the outset of that war.  It is said that this large edifice was in part erected by convicts and that many in Spain still do not accept the place as a monument to reconciliation as it was intended by Franco.  Should the Spanish break it down?  No.  The Spanish and we who tour there view it through an expanded consciousness.



Perhaps the most horrifying of such sites is that of Auschwitz in Poland where hundreds of thousands of people were systematically murdered.  It is an international monument with streams of tourists passing through it.  It is easy to see why it has been preserved as a tourist site and not destroyed:  we may not forget what we are capable of doing.


Bust of Dr H.F. Verwoerd

Though I am not sure of the details, I have heard that the statue of Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, often called the architect of apartheid, was removed from its public place in Bloemfontein.  I would imagine that part of the reason was to guarantee its safety.  In recent times there has been a call by a group of San descendants to remove the statue of Jan van Riebeeck from Adderley Street in Cape Town, seen as a symbol of white colonialism.  This is open to debate, I imagine, and I would argue that colonialism, for all its negativity, also brought benefits to the colonies that these very San descendants would be loath to part from.

There will be debates, but I feel confident that with the spirit that we have seen from 1994 to the present we will work it out.  I conclude with the transformation of Vlakplaas.



Vlakplaas, twenty kilometres west of Pretoria, was a farm housing the headquarters of the counterinsurgency unit in the apartheid era.  Opponents of the regime were “re-educated” or executed.  In August 2007, the South African Department of Science and Technology announced that the farm was to become a centre for healing where traditional medicines would collaborate with western forms of medicine.  This site deserves to have a respected place in a tourist heritage itinerary, the more so for being on a continent racked with pain on every conceivable level.

Will van der Walt ©

4 July 2012

Image Sources:

Destruction in Mali – source not traced

Bamiyan Buddhas –

Constantia –

Church Square –

Auschwitz –

Verwoerd –

Vlakplaas – 

Table Mountain

Table Mountain, I’m told, is a tenth the age of the earth. It is older than Africa. It was called Grandfather by those looking up at it centuries ago. The straight line spans two kilometres, though I wouldn’t bet on that. On the 12th of November, 2011, a collective cry went up from the streets of this city as the Table Rock was declared one of the world’s seven natural wonders. “A symbol of permanence,” the Mayor, Patricia de Lille said, “in a world of change.”

We live with it and it is sad that few of us allow this august presence to relieve us of our quiet desperation as we hurry through our streets and minds. Perhaps we do pause when the Table Cloth pours across the crag, a vast white cloud, dissolving massively before our eyes before it tumbles into the cradled city.

Hoeri-Kwagga they called it, those who inhabited the Bowl more than 100,000 years ago. To the right is Lion’s Head, claimed by some to have been the site of the moon cult by the Khoi-San people.

To the left, Devil’s Peak, the naming of which has an interesting history. British explorers wanted to name it after King James I, but a quirky little folk tale about a local who outsmoked the devil himself seems to be source and the name stuck.

In mid-July you can go to the observatory and view Mons Mensa, a constellation below Orion, named after the mountain by the French astronomer Nicolas de Lacaille in the mid-18th century. One wonders whether it was his description of Table Mountain to an artist in France that produced the charmingly inaccurate etching, amongst others, at that time.

“On the 6th April, 1652,” write Marquard and Mervis, “Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape to establish a halfway house for ships. On the 7th, he applied for a transfer.” So begins the funniest book about South African history yet written and it suggests that this gracious city took time to get there, as do all cities, with some of them simply limping, as far as aesthetics goes. Cape Town, of course, with Table Mountain, had an unfair advantage over every other city.

If we wanted to wax poetic about this place, we won’t be the first and we’d be in elevated company. The 16th century Portuguese poet, Luis de Camoens, in the epic poem The Lusiads, tells of Adamastor, a son of the titans, who was turned to stone, the Table Rock we witness. How can you not feel epic when you stand at Blouberg Strand and see it across Table Bay, spanning the city?

I stood there some time ago with a smooth pebble in my hands, its white sediments looking like a hotcross bun. I showed it to the geologist who spoke about the age of Table Mountain. He said that’s even older than the Mountain itself.

© Will van der Walt

Image Sources:  Table Mountain –, Lions Head –  source unknown & 18th-century etching – in public domain. 

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