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I go to Jail - and collect new friends
26 September 2012
Cape Town 1, towards Lion's Head
Gary looks towards Lion's Head
Francois Bonnici in the old prison
University of Cape Town: quadrangle
Solitary confinement cells
Carved graffito on prison wall of African warrior
Carved graffito on the Relief of Mafeking
Ship beside which we lunched: like something out of 'The African Queen'
South African heroes, with statue made of Coca-Cola crates in background
Gari ignores Peroni slipping by
Children fascinated by living statue
White shark: who's on the menu now?
A cameo in the CPSL office
Gary and Dirk with boxes of 'The Zeronauts', en route to next event
So here we go, with the first of three blogs on this week's trip to South Africa. It had been slightly terrifying to arrive at the head of ther immigration line in Cape Town airport and find that I had mislaid the immigration form I had so painstakingly filled in on the 747 in from London. Expecting to be sent back to the tail of the queue, which was extending for some way back as the rest of the aircraft deplaned, I asked the official directing people to different desks where I could get a new form? He pointed to Desk 9, where I again asked for a form -- only to have the delightful immigration officer ask me why I was there, and promptly give me a stamp and wave me through with a smile.
My answer to his question was 'Business', the reality being that I had been asked to do a whistlestop tour for the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership. I was met outside by Gary Kendall, CPSL deputy director, and an old colleague from SustainAbility. Delightfully, we had plenty of time to catch up, as we ground slowly forward in a traffic jam for much of the way into town. There, we dropped my bags off at the hotel, before heading up to a ski-lift overlooking Cape Town, where we got out and surveyed Lion's Head and other features of the landscape. Despite the fact that the summitsd were hidden by cloud, the views were striking.
Heading down the mountain, our first main session was at the University of Cape Town (the country's oldest university) Graduate School of Business, housed in the Old Jail. There we were met by Francois Bonnici, who I had first known when he worked with Pamela Hartigan at the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship: he now heads the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. We did a lively 1.5 hour session with an audience of some 50 people.
Afterwards, Francois took us around the old Jail, including visits to the isolation cells and the ghastly treadmill. It all reminded me of the nights in Nicosia in the 1950s when the prisoners would rattle their dishes against the bars of their cells when a prisoner was about to be executed. But the most moving sights, at least for me, were the old graffiti carved into the prison walls, including a celebration of the Relief of Mafeking.
Lunch was at a restaurant alongside the Aquarium overlooking part of the harbour, where we were joined by Elspeth Donovan and Dirk Visser of CPSL. Afterwards, Gary and I walked around a fair bit of the harbour, in a light drizzle. Wonderful to hear groups of schoolchildren coming in to berth on a ferry and singing some South African anthem: huge sense of national pride is palpable.
Then on to a late afternoon session, the latest in a series of Cambridge Resilience Forums, co-hosted by lawyers Webber Wentzel. Again, I did a 45 minute presentation, followed by 45 minutes of discussion. Among the people I met was John McLaughlin of Woolworths, a long-standing sustainability champion and entrepreneur. Turned out that his family knew Limavady well in Northern Ireland, where we spent three years in the mid-1950s. He helped set the precedent, with my compiling a growing list of people I want to develop conversations with.
Then, in fairly heavy rain, Elspeth, CPSL director Peter Willis and I headed back towards the hotel, stopping off in a small wayside bistro near where Elspeth lives, which gave me a chance to get to know Peter better over a ginger beer -- as the wind pushed the transparent plastic curtains aside, periodically letting a flurry of rain in. The food was great and we managed to make our way through the security systems at the hotel, which apparently had once been a brothel, at an hour when no-one else was around. I was more than ready for bed, with a very early start planned for our flight to Johannesburg. The rain was thumping down quite hard as I plummeted into sleep.