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(Unless stated otherwise, all text & pictures are © Lee Labuschagne, all rights reserved.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

1+1+1 for 365, day 40:


“Perhaps it was history that ordained that it be here, at the Cape of Good Hope that we should lay the foundation stone of our new nation. For it was here at this Cape, over three centuries ago, that there began the fateful convergence of the peoples of Africa, Europe and Asia on these shores.”  - Former President Nelson Mandela, during his inauguration speech on May 9, 1994.

The Chain Gang – Mayors who served in Cape Town’s City Hall by David Bloomberg

Today, something that links to a bit of nostalgia that I picked up online yesterday:  lovely collections of historical photographs and press clippings that have been uploaded to Flickr. Click here for one concentrating on Cape Town and here for one with lovely old post cards  and then this one that shows historic Cape Town in art.  Finally, another that takes one back to being a tourist/holiday maker in SA in the 1960s.

It made me think of this book relating to the history of our city and that I reviewed recently for the Cape Times recentlyHere's my review:

One of the Mother City’s fascinating true stories concerns its municipal leadership and The Chain Gang by David Bloomberg tells part of that tale. It focuses on the mayors of Cape Town who served between 1905, when the City Hall was inaugurated, and 1979, when the mayoral office moved to the Civic Centre.

The author himself was highly rated as one of those office bearers (from 1973 to 1975) as was his father, Abe Bloomberg (from 1945 to 1947): one of four sets of father and son who have served as Mayor of Cape Town.

The chapters about the 35 members (34 men and one woman) of the affectionately named “Chain Gang” are put into context with a brief overview municipal government at the Cape prior to the period at the City Hall, a postscript bringing it right up to date with Dan Plato succeeding Helen Zille as Mayor, and brief notes about some of those other councillors “who gave outstanding service and could – and perhaps should - have become mayor”.

This is more than merely a book containing dry historical facts. Reading it is like seeing a tableau of 74 years of a city’s life unfolding with a dazzling array of characters from the Queen to sport stars, industrialists and cultural icons.

Woven into the account are explanations about the actual chain of office (which had become almost too heavy to wear by the late 1940s because a new link was added for each new mayor), to issues of political correctness when Joyce Newton Thompson was installed as the first female mayor (“… in council somewhat illogically, she would be ‘Mr Mayor’ but at non-council functions, her sexuality seemingly would be restored, and she would respond to Madam Mayor!”). We are reminded of Cape Town during two world wars, South Africa leaving the Commonwealth to become a republic in 1961, fateful decisions about District Six , the first heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital and many other milestone events. It reminds us how the City responded to major global and local events of the 20th Century - events that brought about the economic, political, social and cultural changes that continue until today. Most importantly, the people behind the mayors - their families and support staff - are not forgotten. Condensing all of this into just over 300 pages, is no mean feat.

Here is one example of how Bloomberg makes the facts come alive (from the short chapter about the history of the City Hall and the move to the Civic Centre): “The new clinical, arena-style sunken chamber lacked the intimate warmth of the old chamber… Perhaps one of the most missed features was the strain of beautiful symphonic music which came from the orchestra rehearsing in the adjacent Grand Hall, and which at times soothed the tangled nerves of some of the more sensitive councillors during tiresome debates!”

Although some may bemoan the omission of details or facts they deem important from this relatively short book on a big topic, it is a fascinating account by someone with a first-hand knowledge of what it was like to preside over City Hall.

Although illustrated with pictures of all the relevant mayors as well as a few other historical images, some more photographs would have been welcome.


Reading that last paragraph again, I realise that the links I provided earlier, help to some extent to fill that pictorial gap.


Cape Town & Table Bay from Milnerton

One of the classic views of Cape Town.   I take many pictures from Milnerton, Blouberg & Table View, since I live in the area.  I never stop enjoying this beautiful vista. Somehow it gives hope even when things look dark, and on a sunny day it makes one want to sing and dance right there on the beach. 
What made this one different was the low cloud - up until about 5 minutes before I took the picture, it had been a very misty day.  I was sitting at a beachfront restaurant at Milnerton with a friend of mine a few days after my birthday last year, and suddenly it started to clear.  Fortunately, I had my camera handy...

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