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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

The Cape Town Connection

Carlos with Abigail and Nelson Mandela's prison Island in the background, Cape Town, 24 January 2012

Of sharks unhinged and other curious tales

Last week I was in Cape Town, South Africa for the first time in nearly 30 years. Nothing, or almost nothing is the same, not even the sea and beaches. How could the sea change, I hear you ask? Well, to be precise: what’s in the sea and who’s on the beaches. Let me start by telling you about my visit in the 1980’s.

I was on a national concert tour of solo recitals and concertos with various orchestras. Towards the end of my stay in Cape Town the late Elsperth Jack, professor of guitar at the University, threw a party to which came musicians, writers, artists and teachers and others I can’t now recall. I played a few pieces, others did the same, and a good time was had by all. Afterwards I was told by some present that it was the first time they had attended together a social gathering of blacks, whites, and “coloureds” (the official definition at the time for mixed-race peoples). I was really moved. I could see the effects of apartheid and segregation all around and glad that even in the more liberal atmosphere of Cape Town this occasion had been special.

In spite of knowing the old South Africa I wasn’t prepared for all the changes as I arrived in Cape Town on the 21st January in a heat wave. I was greeted at the airport by my friend Margaret Carey whom I know from her time in London. What a pleasure it was to stay with her and the family in their spacious home. She arranged for me to meet up with some of my ex-students James Grace, Michael Hoole and Peter Muhl. They have carved out distinctive and distinguished careers for themselves with the guitar. I also met guitarist Avril Kinsey and Steven Felmore who designed so beautifully my book An Easy Guide To The Guitar.

One day we took the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, 1000 metres above sea level, and watched the sun set while we picnicked. Another day Margaret’s family and I imbibed the odd bottle or two of wine while enjoying local dishes at the Delheim vineyard which dates back to the 1690’s. We sat al fresco and feasted on the Ostrich bobotie, which is ostrich meat cooked with raisins, apricot jam, curry powder, chutney, nutmeg and an egg on top. That happy mix of ingredients is typical of the people of Cape Town today who give the impression of just that, happy and a mix - a happy mix!

So how are things different from my first visit in the sea around Cape Town? (Skip the rest of the paragraph if you are a bit sensitive!) The answer lies with the sharks and their recently acquired taste for humans. Apparently, the adrenaline-charged pastime of descending in a cage so as to come eyeball to eyeball with frustrated sharks has encouraged them to exact their revenge on us teasing humans. Catching sight or sniff of an uncaged person out for an innocent frolic in the sea proves irresistible – well, put yourself in their position.

The beaches have changed too. Sun worshipers of all colours now enjoy them together but are wary of tell-tale fins coming ever closer to the shallow waters of the best beaches, the very same beaches which once were the exclusive preserve of whites. The blacks, on the other hand, were designated the ugliest, narrowest and dirtiest strip of sand and water, often close to sewer outpours and oily discharges. Segregation didn’t stop at beaches but also park benches, public transport, pavements, airport lounges, hotels and restaurants. More importantly schools and towns were totally separated by law.

Allow me to point out the obvious given that I love flights of fancy and time travel. Anyone over 40 years of age remembers the old South Africa during which time they became young adults, but for 30 year olds such as Margaret’s daughter Marianne and her husband Roger it is no more than a childhood memory.

So what of the youngest friend I made in Cape Town, Marianne’s and Roger’s 2½ year old daughter Abigail? She is as distant from the time of apartheid as today’s 25 year old was at his birth from the 1960’s Civil Rights’ movements in the USA and in Northern Ireland. More startling still, she is as distant as today’s 60 year old was at his birth from Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful rebellion against British rule in India in the 1930’s.

As I held Abigail in my arms for the photo Robben Island was just visible in the bay behind us. Here Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, cruelly and uselessly for 18 of his 27 years*. Abigail will discover that one day soon and will ask why. When she reaches my age in 2071 she may be able to answer the question I pose of her now: will Robben Island become the memory of a bygone age, or continue as the symbol of an ongoing struggle worldwide for justice, peace and harmony between peoples?

I would like to hold those thoughts in my mind and not let them go, fondly hoping that in that distant time to come, she will turn round to me and answer my question with confidence:
“Yes, we’re getting there.”

*In the winter of 1964, Nelson Mandela arrived on Robben Island where he spent 18 of his 27 prison years. He was released in 1990.

Read more:
Carlos Bonell: An Easy Guide To The Guitar
Art design by Steven Felmore

Delheim vineyard and restaurant

Table Mountain

Nelson Mandela and Robben Island

February 2012

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=987 .
© 2019.

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