Category Archives: Cape Town

Chaos in a place of sanctuary

I wrote this a few years ago and republish it every year. Lest we forget.

Today, 25 July, is 18 years since the St. James Massacre.

1993 was a dark and difficult time for South Africa. Bombs, attacks, APLA and the third force all trying their best to derail negotiations. Our transition was a miracle and relatively peaceful, but many innocent people still died violently.

Boipatong, Shell House, Heidelberg, the abortive AWB coup attempt in Bophuthatswana and the Jan Smuts airport bomb, all fomented fear.

St. James Church sticks in the consciousness.

It wasn’t a factional attack or one hoping to draw attention to grievances (the PAC denied it APLA was responsible for a long time).  The church had a multicultural congregation, made up of many races and different nationalities. The attack’s intention was not to make a statement, but just to cause sheer, destabilising terror.

11 people were killed and 58 were injured. Two brothers died trying to save others. A Russian sailor lost both his legs. A man who had been forced out of District 6 watched his wife bleed to death in front of him.

I remember it each year and still can’t comprehend it.

Sure, the APLA cadres apologised, rationalised and were granted amnesty by the TRC. One of the survivors, Charl Van Wyk, and Letlapa Mphahlele, the APLA Commander who ordered the attack, have even spoken at reconciliation events together.

But still, valid or not, all the reasons and explanations feel inadequate. They don’t really matter, they’re just vapour on a stain. A stain that fades but won’t go away.

Joburg Drivers vs Cape Town Drivers

We all know the popular South African aphorism – “Joburg has better drivers than Cape Town.” Even staunch, I-could-never-live-anywhere-else Capetonians say this. I certainly have.

We embrace our crappy driving and wear it as a mark of pride. There is no need for a sense of direction when you can just look up at the mountain to figure out where you are. Hurry? Why hurry? It’s not like anything is that far away. Indicate? Why indicate? You can only go one of three ways.

After six weeks of driving extensively around Joburg, I’ve noticed that Cape Town drivers are actually better in three ways:

  • Freeways: In Cape Town people moan if someone ‘sits’ in the right-hand lane. That doesn’t exist here. Joburg drivers have never even heard of “Keep Left, Pass Right”. It’s just “Pick A Lane, Any Lane”.
  • Traffic circles: I keep getting hooted at when I go through traffic circles. Why? Joburg drivers treat them as 4-way stops. The concept of “Yield to the right” has not trekked north yet.
  • Manners: Road users are more, er, “assertive” in Gauteng. The only people who let me in when I’m stuck behind a truck are the taxi drivers. Although I am driving around with a CA licence plate so maybe that has something to do with it.

All that said, Joburg still wins the Better Drivers Award for the following reasons:

  • A green light means go immediately – not 10 seconds later.
  • Indicators aren’t decorative.
  • Suburban roads are expertly navigated, despite enormous potholes and a million badly marked speedbumps.
  • There are less POSs* on the road and consequently less breakdowns blocking the freeway.

*POS – Piece Of Shit

Moving to Joburg

I dreamt about horses last night. According to the dream books this is indicative of a “highly stressful time of change”. Huh, it should have been a hundred wild stallions then. This moving to Joburg business is rather taxing and I’ve run out of single malt whisky. Fuck.

Bitching and whining aside, I’m pretty excited. A whole new city! New people! New restaurants! New bars! And, since it’s not Cape Town, nobody asking me where I went to school!

We’ve also found an incredibly beautiful, massive flat (three times the size of our Cape Town one) in an historic block we love, plus we have our friends as neighbours. Friends with a vastly manifold book collection and lots of single malt whisky. Sorted.

As for surfing, I’ve been assured of surf trips to Durban and Mozambique. For periods in between, I’m taking up tennis again. I have a mean forehand that’s served me well in advertising when client service needed a klap.

Ah yes, advertising. Eight years in the industry has been incredibly good to me, but it’s time for a change. Time to freelance, write more, read more, study more. To be the master of my own destiny and all that. Time to start something new… Or in the immortal words of retail copywriters – “Watch this space!”

See you in a few weeks Jozi. xx

Our new home in Joburg. Rather pretty, yes?

A passage to India

Alistair wrote this review of our splendid evening at Bombay Brasserie. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

When he said “Dining is and always was a great artistic opportunity” Frank Lloyd Wright was talking about more than just eating, he was talking about dining as a cultural experience.

And while he couldn’t have had an Indian restaurant at the tip of Africa in mind, his quote fits Bombay Brasserie as snugly as the elaborately brocaded gowns of the hostesses who greet you at its doors.

But the experience begins even before you reach the restaurant. Walking through the lobby of the newly opened Taj Cape Town, between fluted pink marble columns, you feel as though you have stepped into another time.

The building is indeed from another age. Built in 1932 to house the SA Reserve Bank, the building was apparently inspired by Florence’s Palazzo Pitti.

Bombay Brasserie itself nestles in another historic building adjoining the lobby – The Temple Chambers – a sunken, wood panelled lounge built at the turn of the century to accommodate the denizens of the nearby Supreme Court. Stepping down into its cosy interior you can imagine the whiskered barristers of old enjoying brandies and cigars.

The Brasserie experience is one of total immersion: from the moment you step through the doors and descend into the cosy lounge you are cosseted, fussed over, plied with delicious (if very sweet) cocktails and amuse-bouche and waited upon by no less than three separate staff.

In a wonderfully old fashioned touch, all the food is plated for you by either your waiter or the maître d’ who also recommends food and wine pairings with a refreshing candour and passion.

But the food itself remains the main event. Rather than blasting your palette with heat, the menu is redolent with subtler more aromatic spices.

Amanda and I shared Porchai Year (spicy grilled prawns) and Galouti Kebab (butter-soft minced lamb patties) to start, followed by Sunerhi Nalli (lamb shank in saffron curry) and Allepey (prawn coconut curry). We finished off with Masala Chai Custard (a delightful play on traditional crème brulee) and Malai Kulfi (cardamom ice cream).

All the dishes were delicious and immaculately presented, but the two prawn dishes were definitely the highlight of my evening. Amanda was tickled by the Galouti Kebab which was originally made for “the nobles that don’t chew”.

The portions are fairly generous, and the prices not unduly eye-watering. You’re unlikely to leave feeling either hungry or ripped off.

That said, Bombay Brasserie isn’t an everyday eating kind of place. With its carefully orchestrated pomp and ceremony and rich dishes, it’s not somewhere you can take the kids. This isn’t eating after all – this is dining.

Full disclosure: The kind fellows at the Taj picked up the tab. That doesn’t change how excellent the evening was, or the fact that I’ll be returning as a paying customer in the very near future.