“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers”.
Sports was one of the key themes of my visit to South Africa for the conference on behavioral nutrition and physical activity (ISBNPA). During my free days exploring Cape Town, I had plenty of opportunities to engage in exercise. Cape Town is a great city which offers a lot of outdoors.
Paddling through Cape Town.
Upon the day of our arrival, we started with biking through the city (Awol tours; highly recommended). Our companion was a Dutch man who has been living for over 15 years in Cape Town. Together we explored the city by learning about Cape Town’s rich heritage. There are no bike lanes, which asks for being creative by taking pedestrian routes. While paddling through the city from the historic city centre, colourful Bo-Kaap to Green point, he shared several anecdotes about South Africa.
South-Africa has quite a young population. And with the turbulent history the country has, a growing part of the population has never experienced what it is like to live under apartheid, the unjust system that separated people on the basis of race. About forty per cent of the total population is born after 1994, the date on which the first fully democratic election was held. In other words, they are freeborns and they have no memory of apartheid involving recollection of going to separate schools or living in designated neighborhoods. It is expected that in the coming years a lot is going to change when freeborns step by step are gaining power at ministry positions.
While it is true that these freeborns have no recollection of apartheid, they are still living in chains due to high rates of unemployment. Also, racial preference (black freeborns are automatically assigned as previously disadvantaged) is under attack as it imposes costs on the economy and reinforces victimhood and entitlement. Our guide also shared with us how the government has offered to build stony houses just outside the townships. This deed is borne from a historic pledge signed by the ANC party in 1994. Sadly, the realization of these homes is too costly and takes up too much time. It usually takes about 10 to 15 years of waiting, in which case it makes much more sense to sell off these properties and build a shack instead.
Cape Town’s schizophrenia.
Although the apartheid is years away, Cape Town is only a paradise for a minority. This minority, usually white and advantaged, dwell in the most luxurious real estate that can be found on the entire continent. It seems that Cape Town is designed by an inner city and coastline for the rich, and the side settlements are for the poor. Cape Town feels schizophrenic since you can head from cliff located villas with infinity pools in the west to the townships in the east in a mere 20 minutes.
A must-see in Cape Town is Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated 18 of the 27 years before the fall of the apartheid. Two former presidents of South-Africa (Mandela and Motlanthe) and the current president Jacob Zuma were imprisoned at Robben Island where they fought against apartheid. This UNESCO world heritage site (declared in 1999) is just 9 kilometers offshore from Cape Town in the middle of shark-infested waters. It was named Robben Island by early settlers (the Dutch) referring to the seal population situated there.
The 1-hour ferry trip to the island is spectacular with views of Cape Town and Table Mountain. Over the centuries, the island housed the deprived, i.e., prisoners, lepers, mentally-ill people. Entering the island is paradoxical at the same time as the island is also a well-conserved sanctuary for bird and animal life – being a place for unwanted people in a mystic animal environment. We were guided through the prison by an ex-prisoner who had to stay there for 5,5 years. He was walking around with a wooden stock (arthrosis, due to sleeping on an ice cold floor for years, only a thin mat separated him from the cold floor). He was having eyesight and respiratory problems due to endured crushing and lifting of heavy rocks in the blinding sun and dust. It is incredible to see that the tour guides are former prisoners and you might think that it is very difficult to re-enter the island where immense brutality was set against them. However, the main reason for coming back is not a bold gesture but for the sake of money.
It was time to get rid of the inactivity and to explore the adventurous options the city has to offer. Early in the morning, we headed with a group of colleagues of the conference to Cape Town’s Icon Lion’s Head. Lion’s Head is majestically peeking out the skyline forms part of the Table Mountain range and has a height of 669 m above sea level. The Dutch Settlers called it Leeuwen Kop (Lions Head), its counterpart Signal Hill was called Leeuwen Staart (Lion’s Tail). This winding path, which travels around the mountain, provides constant scenic views over the mother city, Table Mountain and Camps Bay. Although the hike of around 2 hours requires a level of fitness (not suited for unfit or very young children) and no freight of height; it is not too difficult as you find chains and ladders to help you steep sections. Once you reach the summit, you are rewarded by astonishing views.
While walking down, we were triggered by the beautiful views of Table Mountain and wanted to climb that mountain as well right after. We asked the mountaineers and they mentioned that the ascent is less steep and can be taken lightly. A bit overconfident, the three of us started with climbing Table Mountain (1085m) directly after the Lion’s Head. We took the Platteklip Gorge, a beautiful hike with a straight, but in my opinion steep ascent. We already had some climbing kilometers in our legs and therefore the hike was for me quite exhaustive. After 1,5 hour climbing on a fast pace, we reached the summit, which treated me again with astounding views.
After a day of climbing both Lion’s Head and Table Mountain involving more than 20.000 steps, 4 hours of climbing, 900 height meters, I felt extremely satisfied, relaxed and any workload was disappeared. This made me realize that for me working out in the nature is something that helps me to relax and to gain a clearer mental picture of everything. How this is supported by scientific evidence, that is what I will find out during the ISBNPA conference, which will be described in my next blog.