It was a beautifully crisp Saturday morning in the centre of the Mother City. Cape Town pulsates with activity during the week, but on a weekend, there is only a slight hum as everything takes on a much more leisurely pace.
We were meeting our tour guide for the “Slave Tour” hosted by Footsteps to Freedom, a company that runs a series of these walking tours all dedicated to different themes. We found ourselves standing directly across from a large piece of the Berlin Wall with the Taj Hotel as our backdrop. While looking at this authentic piece of history, we couldn’t help but feel like this is a little secret that Cape Town has been keeping. What else was she hiding?
This is what these walking tours embody, a chance to see the see the city from its story perspective and with a history as old as Cape Town’s, stories abound. This was only one piece of it and we couldn’t help but wonder about how many times we had walked these streets missing all the fascinating historical elements.
The groups are relatively small to keep the experience intimate and allow for an entertaining amount of engagement with fellow story seekers. Our guide was an exceptional story crafter capturing our attention from the beginning all the way through to the end.
Taking a stroll on Government Avenue we learnt that it was the first road in South Africa. Today it is lined with some of the most strikingly grand structures, including parliament. However, in the day’s of Cape Town’s humble beginnings, it was the site of the Dutch’s vegetable patch.
The Dutch East India Company had, at one time, over 60 000 slaves in Cape Town. As we walked and stopped and stopped and walked, there was a sense of humility that fell over the group. This was heightened when we reached Cape Town’s first church. Not far from the church, is the place where thousands of slaves were bought and sold less than 200 years ago. Alongside the original ‘slave tree’ are a series of monuments.
Polished black stone with the names of slaves, that could be recovered through historical records, adorn the blocks and we were told that some of these names were not even their real names. Slave owners gave their slaves names that they found easier to pronounce. A few of these stones have words etched as a stark reminder of the torturous acts.
As the morning continued, we wound our way past the first city hall where the clock tower is a smaller replication of Big Ben and the building stands regally in all of its imported, neo-classic, sandstone glory. Past the Grand Parade and it’s attention-grabbing stalls, showcasing some of the finest African curios to clothing and knick knacks, we made our way to the Adderley Flower Market.
It’s one of the oldest markets in the city. The sweet fragrance of lilies, daffodils and carnations makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a botanical garden nowhere near the concrete jungle. A member of the group commented that he remembered the days of paying two shillings for a bunch of flowers and that Proteas, South Africa’s national flower, are more than reasonably priced.
Although the subject matter of the tour was a sombre one, there were so many added tidbits that often lightened the feel with their humour or quirkiness. This route will take you around twelve blocks in the heart of the Cape Town including a stop at the Greenmarket Square and the Iziko Museum. The Iziko Musuem’s balcony is where the slaves were finally declared free and slavery was abolished.
To say we were enamoured would be an understatement, these walking tours are engaging and insightful. Delve into the city of Cape Town, touch it, feel it, see it and more importantly immerse yourself in its stories.