Being in lockdown has made me long for some of my favourite Cape Town sites. I love looking down on the city bowl from the top of Table Mountain, or standing in the courtyard of the Castle of Good Hope looking back up. I know that the Castle reminds us South Africans of a dark part of our past where colonialism took its roots and where slavery was entrenched in our history, where as children we were frightened to death to hear about the dungeon, but I prefer to think of the Castle as the centre point in a compass to many Cape Town’s stories.
Inside the walls of the Castle there are lots of tales to be told. Some claim to have seen the ghosts of Lady Anne Barnard, Governor Pieter Gysbert Noodt, the Lady in Grey and even a big black dog (there are stories of quirky animals both tame and wild).
The Castle is still used as barracks and it is easy to forget how important the Castle was strategically, albeit symbolically, for defense. Not many people know how specially selected women came here incognito, to monitor our coasts during WW2.
My favourite prisoner story is about Frederick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne. He acted as a Boer spy under the alias “the Black Panther”. Between 1899 and 1901 he was imprisoned several times and was able to escape. Around 1901, after attempting to sabotage Cape Town, he and his party were sentenced to death. But he managed to avoid this by supplying the British Boer codes, which were actually false! He was one of a handful of prisoners who managed to escape from the Castle – or almost…He became a spy for the Nazi’s in WW2; the Duquesne Spy Ring is the largest espionage case in US history that ended in convictions.
Back to the Castle, looking towards the mountain from its walls you can just glimpse Philip Kgosana Drive. Kgosana was a mere 23 years when on 30 March 1960 he co-led 30 000 anti-pass protesters from Langa on this road. It was the day after the Sharpville Massacre, when police killed or wounded 250 pass protesters. The same tragedy could have happened here, but Kgosana convinced the crowd to disperse peacefully. Kgosana was arrested and fled the country while on bail. In 2016 he led a protest about the government’s lack of care for the poor. He died 13 months later and soon after on 12 Oct 2017 the road was named after him (previously it was De Waal Drive).
I have designed an unusual tour at the Castle featuring these and other lesser known tales about it and Cape Town. I look forward to sharing these with you once the Castle has re-opened to visitors (all enquiries welcome).
Jeanne Bonnema, tourist guide and Culture Connect associate.
Image credits: De Meillon c1830 and Thomas Bowler drawings (c1863 and 1864) from Parliament’s Collection, the rest from Wiki, the author (Jeanne) and editor (Kate Crane Briggs)