The Slave Run
It was a clear, crisp, Sunday morning. I needed a long run. I didn’t have anyone to run with. But that was okay…because I’ve decided to take my Blackberry along, and when I #tweetmyrun I’m never really alone. I have my Twitter friends with me, even though some of them might be cosy in their beds on the other side of the country.
This would be a very special run, because I would do the route that I’ve worked very hard on for my club’s race in June, but never had the opportunity to run myself. It was the Slave Route…a run strategically passing many historical slave landmarks of Cape Town, which some of us walk past every day, yet don’t even know that they are significant. I park in front of the City Hall in Darling Street and as I gaze across the street to the Grand Parade, I witness a splendid sunrise. The Grand Parade is the site of Jan van Riebeeck’s Fort de Goede Hoop, where the slaves were first housed.
Not very far down the road I pass the south-western corner of Darling and Buitenkant Streets. This corner was once a slave Whipping Post…a place of torture & execution. There was a post to which slaves and convicted persons were tied when receiving corporal punishment.
Immediately after, I pass the Castle of Good Hope on the left. It was built by the Dutch / Jan van Riebeeck in 1666 after their arrival. It was erected as a 5-pointed star, and is the oldest surviving building in South Africa.
Continuing down towards Keizergracht Street, I realise that clearly this run is going to take me a while just because of the sheer beauty of the scenery. As I look to my right, I couldn’t help but stop to admire the majestic mountain catching the rays of the morning light against a clear blue sky. St. Marks Church is next on the slave landmarks list. Built in 1867 in District Six, it has served the Anglicans of that community since then until the present day. The church is now situated on the property of the CPUT campus.
My route turns opposite the Holy Cross Convent, a Catholic primary school, part of the Archdiocese of Cape Town, that was blessed and opened in 1916.
For a few kilometres I run through a site that arguably has some of the most painful memories of our beautiful country. The place? District Six.
The area was named The Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867. It was originally formed as a community for the freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. It was a lively centre with good links to the city and the port, and was Cape Town’s most mixed area. It was then declared a Whites Only area in 1966 by the Group Areas Act of 1950.
In 1970 it was razed to the ground by bulldozers after the forcible removal of its 60,000 inhabitants. In the process, over a century of history, of community life, of solidarity amongst the poor and of achievement against great odds, was destroyed.
The government renamed the area Zonnebloem, but ongoing protests successfully dissuaded developers from taking work in the area. Nothing was built and it remains a barren landscape. Today, disagreements over the land are still ongoing.
Overgrown cobble roads can still be made out near to the plaque that serves as a reminder of what happened and the promise of its abolishment in the words:
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER AGAIN…
Okay okay that’s enough sadness for a while now. Let’s continue exploring the beauty of Cape Town.
I continue through my journey and pass the National Parliament and the SA Jewish Museum, then turn into Orange Street for a short bit and turn into Government Avenue.
A haven for squirrels (and let’s not mention the other rodent-spottings) this road is the entrance to the Company’s Gardens, leads to the SA Museum, and also leads to the SA National Gallery and the back entrance to Parliament.
It’s a beautiful, pedestrian-only street that I always enjoy running or walking through. It’s tranquillity has got to be experienced first-hand in order to appreciate it.
Huh? What was that? Did I mention the word tranquil? But what is that I see a bit further down Government Avenue?
Oh Em Gee it’s the army! The man with the big gun tells me not to come any closer. I obey.
I think they were having a briefing before going to whatever function was going to happen here…
Chairs and a podium laid out next to the rose garden between the Gardens and the museum told me that a fancy government do was about to take place soon. I was happy to just run hastily through there because after running for many kilometres without drinking anything, I was looking forward to my planned water-stop in the Company’s Gardens.
To my horror, my planned water-hole was dry! After asking someone if they knew of another tap in the gardens, and following the directions thereto, that water fountain was dry too! 😓
Still sad about the lack of water, I pass St George’s Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop in Cape Town. The cathedral replaced a church built in 1834 on the same site.
The sun was starting to shine quite strongly now, and knowing that I would be heading into Bo-Kaap soon, a I knew a plan was to be made to get something to drink or else I would not survive the Bo-Kaap hills.
I decide to skip the Long Street / Loop Street loop, but I do know that Long Street houses both the Palm Tree Mosque (Built in 1780’s as a house with a prayer room) and the Old Slave Church with SA Mission Museum (SA Missionary Society was founded in 1799 to spread Christianity to the slaves).
So quickly a Plan B was made, and luckily for me, the Auwal Mosque in Dorp Street was open. This is the oldest mosque in the country. Its history dates back to 1794 when the Muslim faith was brought to South Africa by slaves imported from the East. The property was owned by Salie Coridon of Ceylon, a freed slave.
I had a drink of water there, and actually find it very apt that this site would be my sustenance to continue on my journey.
If I didn’t know what was coming, I would start to think that Dorp Street was hilly. But ALAS I know this route far too well to be fooled by this climb. Although I can’t see it right now, I know what awaits me when I turn the corner just a few hundred metres ahead.
The end of Dorp Street leads to a left turn into Pentz Street. This is THE HILL that turned seasoned runners into walkers on race day…the one that separates the MEN from the BOYS! There were no koesiesters at the top for me like runners would receive on race day.
With names given to it such as Jou Ma se Heuwel, Dead Man Walking, and Dead Woman Crawling, the stretch is only 250m long, but the vertical climb is a whopping 80m! (a 32% gradient!)
I was tempted to skip this one, but I knew that would be cheating myself in so many ways. So I endeavoured to trot up slowly. Thinking that if I run slowly enough, I could maybe run the entire hill, was clearly wishful thinking. Halfway up I surrendered and walked the rest of the way, with a bit of help from the railing at the side of the road.
So there’s the monster, and the proof that I conquered it, albeit how slowly. After all… THERE’S NO SHAME IN WALKING!
I was now in the heart of the Bo-Kaap, an area inhabited mainly by descendants of slaves who were brought here by the Dutch East India Company in the early days of the settlement.
Running down Voetboog Rd (named after a ship that brought slaves here from the east), the views of the city and the mountain are breathtaking and awe-inspiring! If it doesn’t take your breath away and make you forget about the pain in your legs, there is something not right with your anatomy. I took the picture below from the highest point on my run.
From this point onwards there is a very welcome stretch of downhill as I pass a few more places of historical significance, and turn left into Chiappini Street. Here my eyes are once again treated with beauty in another form…COLOUR!
I continue to the end of Chiappini Street and turn left into Somerset Rd, Green Point. As I continue down Somerset Rd I approach another landmark that, when I think of what happened there in history, sends shivers down my spine!
The place I speak of is The Gallows or Gallows Hill, site of the current Gallows Hill Traffic Department, or more commonly known as Green Point Traffic Dept.
The Gallows is where slaves, especially those who dared speak out against their masters, were publicly hanged. The site was situated on a slight hill and therefore clearly visible from the town as well as the harbour, so the hangings served to warn slaves of their impending fate if they should commit a similar offence.
Some slaves were even executed at the Castle, their bones broken one by one and their bodies then dragged to Gallows Hill, where they were hanged again.
I continue down Somerset Road on the beautifully paved walkway, cross into Beach Rd, Sea Point and run on the promende toward the Mouille Point lighthouse. Opposite the lighthouse I turn and enter into the newly-constructed Green Point Urban Park. The park is a wonderful family picnic area that I believe absolutely everyone in Cape Town has got to explore. It features an outdoor gym, biodiversity garden, wetland park and many other features.
The park is part of the Cape Town Stadium Precinct, and the whole area is situated on a place that was once known as the Green Point Common. Farmers used the Green Point Common as a grazing area for cows in 1930, and before that (in 1899) it was used a military camp at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War.
Luckily for me, the water fountains in the park were free flowing, so I could grab my last drink of water before the very last section of my run.
I continue through the park, down the stadium precinct, past the Cape Town stadium, under the raised circle and back down Somerset Rd. Just before I enter the “Fan Walk”, I pass the St Andrews Presbyterian Church on the right.
Waterkant Street (Fan Walk) > Adderley Street > …
Towards the end of Adderley Street, I turn left at the Slave Lodge, which was one of the main residences of the slaves, at the corner of Adderley and Bureau Streets.
About 100m later I turn left into Parliament Street and step off the road onto another very significant landmark…Church Square.
This square used to have a tree on it, called the Slave Tree, but today has been replaced with marble monuments called the Slave Tree Plaques.
The significance of this site, and tree, is that this is the place where the slaves were bought and sold. Owners used to bid on the individual slaves like goods at a market.
I spend a few minutes here…pondering silently. As I look at the marble monuments a bit closer, I see that it contains names…names of the individual slaves that were auctioned off here.
The reality of the history hit me at that moment more than any other time before. These slaves had names, they were people like you and me, and our family and friends.
They weren’t just a random group of people that we speak about like an event from a textbook. Eleondra van Madagascar, Maria van der Kaap, Louis van Mauritius… these were individuals, people uprooted from their homeland, stripped of their dignity and identity, and given a new identity based on who their master was.
From there I had less than a kilometre left to get back to my car in Darling Street. A 17km tour through history… left me with a lot to appreciate… and a gaping hole in my belly. I believe that I deserved the sushi snack I rewarded myself with…
Thank you to everyone who made this blog post possible, for your assistance and encouragement to write it, and to actually get it done. And a HUGE HUG for always keeping me company on my long runs, ensuring that I might be alone…but never lonesome! YOU ROCK!