National Geographic : 1942 Aug
Busy Corner-the Cape of Good Hope Ships Bound for Faraway Battlegrounds Stream Past Capetown, "Tavern of the Seas," and Other Ports of Virile South Africa BY W. ROBERT MOORE ALLIED war strategy has rediscovered the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope. Not that it was lost, but to day, with the Mediterranean blocked, it is in greater use than at any time since Bartholo mew Diaz rounded the Cape and Vasco da Gama pioneered this path to India.* Ships and more ships cleave the Cape wa ters in an ever-growing procession. They move men and munitions to battlegrounds in the Middle East, Asia, or Australia and carry raw materials back to British and American arsenals (map, page 203). Capetown, the "Tavern of the Seas," is as busy as a hotel in wartime Washington, D. C. So, too, are other South African ports serving as vital centers for provisioning and repair. Capetown Born in a Cabbage Patch Catering to ships is an old story to Cape town. It was born in a cabbage patch for just that purpose. In 1652 Jan van Riebeek, a surgeon in the Dutch East India Company, brought a small colony of settlers down here to grow vegetables for scurvy-harried crews of the tiny sailing vessels making the long voyage to the fabulous Orient (Plate III). For a century and a half following Da Gama's discovery, Portuguese, English, and Dutch ships had paused here for water and to barter with the natives for cattle. Van Riebeek thus fulfilled the need for a perma nent victualing center when he planted his first gardens at the base of Table Mountain, in what is now the very center of Capetown. A single troop-carrying Queen Mary, how ever, would have stripped his modest gardens, depleted his livestock, and still gone away hungry. But today extensive countryside gardens, fishing fleets, and meat producers provide mountainous piles of foodstuffs for the fleets of dirty gray vessels that come and go. As a sign of the times, I saw a large vine yard that has given up making luxury wines, tossed away its vines, and is now growing army-needed potatoes. Elsewhere, canning plants are busy tinning vegetables and fruits for the boys "up north" in Libia and Egypt. Wheatfields seasonally wave green or gold on the Cape Province landscape, but to save the precious grain all South Africa eats its "standard loaf" of black bread. The Union is not risking a wheat shortage while shipping space is urgently needed for war supplies. Though South Africa has a white popula tion of only a little more than two million and had no armament factories until war came, its contribution to the United Nations' cause has been significant. Within six months after war was declared, howitzers, armored cars, and other munitions were being made in an odd assortment of fac tories. Mine and railway workshops turned to making guns and bombs. Fortunately, South Africa already had a steel mill and abundant electrical power that could be turned to war production. In this mobilization of industry a soda fac tory, for instance, with wide floor space, was made into an assembly plant. A company which specialized in making "tin hats" for miners is now stamping out helmets for sol diers at the front. A match factory produces steel-working lathes. Neon sign makers have turned their hands to fashioning spirit levels. The Union through its own efforts has pro vided its volunteer army of more than 163,000 with uniforms, rifles, ammunition, armored cars, and other field equipment. Airplanes and automobile engines are about the only essential items coming from abroad. "Fairest Cape" Drake Ever Saw What of the approach to this southern end of Africa? "This Cape is a most stately thing, and the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumfer ence of the earth," wrote Sir Francis Drake three and a half centuries ago (Plate II). After an anxious month out of New York on board a freighter of the American South Af rican Line, any port would have seemed good. But when Table Mountain resolved itself from the haze and loomed higher and higher above the notorious Cape rollers, we knew Drake's feeling. A "stately thing" indeed is this sheer, 3,550-foot, flat-topped bulwark with its flank ing Twelve Apostles and other peaks forming Cape Peninsula (pages 204-5, and 207). * See "Pathfinder of the East" (Vasco da Gama), NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1927.