Saturday 13th was a quiet day – we should have been flying with the Chief and Katie H from Blantyre – so no official engagements, though the FL and I are now standing in for Alistair Morris, the Vice President elect, and his wife Sandra who are due to be accompanying Jamie and Diane in a small dinner for CLA council members tonight, in preparation for this conference and beginning to look ahead to Glasgow 2015 – when Alistair will of course be in post as President. The Morris flights were suddenly rescheduled and the final one was going to get them in too late to attend (tell me about it!).
So the FL and I headed out for a morning of local sightseeing. This was in spite of my wrenched right ankle. (I was completely sober when walking on Thursday in the V&A, and an old rail from the days when the wharf was a working port had not been left flat with the surrounding stone flags, so I went partly over on it. What’s the Afrikaans for “It's never too early to call your solicitor?”) Anyway, we walked (I hobbled) through the Bo-Kaap and the old city centre to the Castle of Good Hope, which has been refurbished and is now a very atmospheric remainder – and reminder – of the original conquering and expansionist phase of South Africa’s history. You could almost see and hear the red-coated soldiers drilling and manning the walls and cannon to keep out the locals and/or the French. Speaking of which, later on by chance we passed the French consulate as we came out of Cape Town’s main park, the Company’s Gardens, and it is housed in a building adjoining one called Holyrood.
The Captain’s residence in the castle has been made into an arts museum and gallery, and worth a look for the paintings alone. In the castle there is also a memorial museum to that part of the Boer war (or the Anglo-Boer War as it is universally called hereabouts), with lots of models of army blockhouses, real weapons from the period, photographs (near our hotel was a prisoner of war camp – which were called, with more innocence than prescience, concentration camps), and uniforms from both sides. Indeed the castle retains a live military presence, as it is the HQ of the Cape Town Rifles and is actually used by soldiers.
We then left and passed City Hall, including the balcony from where (lawyer) Nelson Mandela gave a speech to Cape Town, South Africa and the world on his release from Robben Island.
This was on our way to the Slave Lodge, an emblem of everything that was wrong and shameful about South Africa and the part played not just by colonials but by other nations, including the United Kingdom, in the history of this nation. One half of the building was dedicated to an exhibition which narrated the struggle for freedom and citizenship by the non-white races of South Africa, told through the life and times of Oliver Tambo, who was a towering participant in the struggle, the black community and in the country as a whole, indeed a world figure. He was of course a lawyer too. His place on access to justice was at the sharp end throughout his adult life.
The other part of the museum was a grisly record of what the building had actually been. It was built as quite literally a slave lodge, where human property unloaded at the port was taken before going on to customers and near and far. I don’t have the space here to describe the whole exhibit, but two examples are worth mentioning. In one corner there is a gloomy wooden enclosure which is a reproduction of slave quarters on a slaving ship from the far east, with a bare undressed timber platform on which a dozen human beings were to lie unseparated, unsupported and with nothing but a cloth to cover them through a voyage of many weeks. Underneath the platform was the bare board, for exactly the same residential purpose. That floor, if that’s the right word for such a surface, was covered in ropes and filth, and one didn’t have to do much to imagine the rats and insects infesting the hellish hole.
The other exhibit was a wall of reproductions of adverts in the local paper for the return of escaped slaves:
"Escap’d slave. Batavian but with woolly hottentot head, known as Louis, of slight body, wears a red kerchief tied tight and has blue coat w’ steel buttons. Speaks English, Dutch, Chinese and Malay. five pounds will be offer’d for return live, with no further enquiry"
Interestingly, and I am not sure if there is significance in this, the building through its hundreds of years of establishment in Cape Town, was once part of the location of the Supreme Court of South Africa.
Moving on… in the evening the Millars and Laffertys met up with some Commonwealth Lawyers Association folk, including treasurer Laurie Watt from London (Scottish on father’s side), Katherine Eden-Haig, acting exec-sec, and incoming President Mark Stephens, he of the Julian Assange case among many other high-profile ones, whom I know a little, having appeared with him on an a legal radio panel quiz in London a few years ago. The dinner was informal, but it was important, especially for Jamie, to begin to get the ducks in a row, and for him to introduce those of us new to the CLA who need to contribute.
So that is the preliminary phase over. Tomorrow (Sunday) we register at the conference, and in the evening it’s our Law Society of Scotland event under Jamie’s hosting.Austin