Posted: 12/4/2009
Title: BLOCK B, CELL 7, ROBBEN ISLAND

Blog:                                                                                                                         

      I am in a very packed Fan Mile at the corner of Long Street and Pepper Street in downtown Cape Town and it is very crowded, very noisy and very happy. There are some historic old restaurants and pubs, some with two and three tiers of balconies. Pickwicks, Nandos, Backpackers, Bobs Bar and Grill, Mama Africa, Cape to Cuba..... Giant screens are in various locations and South African flags, painted faces and of course vuvuzelas. Also fans wearing jerseys of Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Cameroon, Holland, England, Germany -and Ireland.

    It's impossible to get to the ICC Convention Centre, site of the FIFA 2010 Draw. A hoaxer, who was caught, left a bag outside the centre and ran away, saying there was a bomb inside. With President Jacob Zuma and the world's press and soccer VIP's it was lock down for over an hour.

     At the draw we see who is paired with who are where and when they will play. You will probably digest all that information before I do. South Africa v Mexico on opening day, 11th June at Soccer City near Soweto (short for southwestern townships). A most interesting pairing is England v USA at the Royal Bafekong Stadium in Rustenburg about a 2 hour drive from Johannesburg and not far from Sun City. As a child I remember USA 1 v England 0 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in 1950 and have spoken to a few of the players on both teams in later years.  Two days ago I chatted withe the Belo Horizonte delegation for the 2014 World Cup at www.soccerex.com in Sandton.

      I had just got off the 400 capacity catamaran at the V&A Waterfront, a terrific entertainment complex, after a wonderful and thought provoking tour to Robben Island(Dutch for seal island) that the Dutch colonist Jan van Riebeech started using in the 17th Century. It has since been used as a whaling station, a leper colony, a World War II base and infamously in the second half of the last century as a prison for political prisoners of the Apartheid Regime.  

     Nelson Mandela was kept in Block B, Cell 7, which I visited, for 18 years in a 3 x 3 cell with a mat on the floor to sleep on. He had been arrested in 1962 after a tip off by the CIA in the USA as to his whereabouts Arriving at the docks we are transported around the 12 km circumference of the island by bus with an amusing guide, whose grand father was murdered by the police at Sharpesville near Johannesburg in the 1960 massacre of a peaceful protest. On the side of the bus it says ' The journey's never long when freedom's the destination.'. We see the graveyard of the lepers, a couple of churches, even the soccer field where Mandela and friends played. Also the tennis court where they hid notes in the balls and lobbed them over the walls to different blocks.

    There is some awesome wildlife. We see the thousands of cormorants and the visiting Egyptian sacred Ibys who are here to mate, plus about 13,000 African penguins on the rocks. They are cute and very small. However, the stars of the show are the few rare African oystercatchers with their bright orange beaks.

    At the lime quarries where prisoners worked, there is a cave. They relieved themselves there and also ate lunch during the cold Cape winters. You didn't just run into the bush for a wee wee. Guards had shoot to kill orders if they thought you might be escaping. They called it The Parliament. There the politicals discussed the future,and it is said that when they became free and leaders of a new South Africa, 60% of the constitution had been written and conceived there.

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