The dismantling and end of apartheid in 1994 marked a dramatic step forward towards hope and reconciliation for the world’s pariah, the amazingly diverse South Africa.  Over 300 years of white dominance and racial discrimination had lasting, heartbreaking effects on the “rainbow nation” an incredibly diverse melting pot with over 11 national languages.  

The promise and hope of Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president who was inaugurated on May 10, 1994, thrust South Africa to finally come to terms with its brutal past of discrimination, hatred and injustice that occurred under the many long years of apartheid (which literally means “separateness”). 

The apartheid system was widespread and touched every spectrum of the population based on skin color.  Whites were the privileged class who retained control and power of the government, the land and the nation’s wealth.  Blacks were at the lowest spectrum of the group and basically had no rights, no land and lived in poverty, desolation and constant fear.  A new class of people originated during this time called the “coloured” peoples.  These were people of mixed descent who were all grouped together as one race called the “coloured” and had to pretty much give up their “blackness” altogether resulting in destruction of families, livelihood and spirit.   Under apartheid, mixed race marriages were banned; and education, job opportunity, housing and living areas were all determined based on color leading to severe oppression, poverty and destruction of an entire race of people.

The dismantling of apartheid occurred in the early 1990s, when a new leader F.W. de Klerk took over power, unbanned the ANC and ended the 27-year-long imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, the infamous leader of the ANC.  Over the next four years through difficult negotiations, the first democratic elections were held and the New South Africa was born when Nelson Mandela, age 76, was able to cast his first ballot ever. 

Shortly after coming into power, Mandela launched the Truth and Reconciliations Commission to investigate the human rights abuses which occurred under the years of apartheid.  Although forgiveness was difficult to achieve, the country was somehow able to peacefully move forward to a new future of hope and freedom.  Long deprived and oppressed South Africans were slowly able to reclaim a sense of dignity and pride yet of course without problems.  Severe poverty exists throughout much of South Africa as there remains a large imbalance of wealth based on color, and the AIDS pandemic has struck the country like lightening.  Positive things are in the works as well, though.  Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has gained one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, has become a leading player throughout Africa, and has won the status of one of the world’s fastest growing tourist destinations, which has brought in much-needed capital to the country.

It was a decade after the end of apartheid, right in the midst of all this change, that I saw the ad in Conde Nast Traveler sponsored by South African Airlines and the government of South Africa, featuring an enormous gray elephant across the page with the words “Visit South Africa”.  The deal sounded too good to be true.  For US$1800, you received a coach fare ticket non-stop from Atlanta to Johannesburg, and then on to Cape Town for three days, a private safari near Kruger National Park for the next three days, and finally two days in Johannesburg—-including lodging and all flights!  We called South African Airways and it was indeed true. The government was trying to get more tourists into South Africa to help the economy and lucky us got to take advantage of this incredible deal.

We left on the eighteen hour flight from Atlanta with one short stop in Cape Verde, a small island off the western coast of Africa, in order to refuel.  It was the longest flight of my life and our lucky streak continued with a near empty 747. My dad and I both got an entire row of seats across so were both able to lie down flat and sleep!  (An unheard of rarity in today’s over-crowded, full flights).

We landed in Jo’berg and had a couple hour layover until our next flight to Cape Town.  It was late November back at home in Minnesota meaning cold, brown and ugly.  Cape Town, being on the opposite side of the equator, was in the midst of spring.  As we landed, lush green landscape surrounded me and awoken my senses.  The rebirth of spring and of myself had finally begun!

Here are few of my favorite photos from our first day in Cape Town, a magical, richly diverse town that offers endless amounts of fun and adventure.

The rugged, beautiful landscape:

View from the hotel…the beach isn’t far:

The gorgeous rugged beach:

The trendy, hip Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and marina:

Loaded with restaurants and yachts galore:

Me outside a restaurant featuring the “biggest wine bar in the world”…look at this extensive list!

The colorful streets portray Cape Town’s multitude of culture:

A veritable melting pot:

Dinner in Cape Town offers an amazing array of international delights given the immense variety of cultures. We chose a fantastic Indian restaurant for our first night in the Cape and enjoyed the savory, spicy flavors of curries, samosas along with a bottle of delicious South African pinotage. I went to bed feeling excited about the day ahead. On the agenda included a hike around Table Mountain and a visit to the famous Cape Town beach at the end of town. I couldn’t wait to learn more about this fascinating place!


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