Before leaving Cape Town, it was only right to take leave of some of the most memorable places.
Just one of the things that set Cape Town apart from any other city in the world is Table Mountain National Park – part of a world heritage site – in the heart of the city. We drove up Signal Hill to take a last look across the city to the imposing mass of the The Mountain. The V&A Waterfront, which took up 20 years of my life – first lobbying to get it started and then the first ten years of its development – lies below where the city meets the sea.
Across the bay, Robben Island took on a new meaning after democracy – “While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid we will not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering. We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil, a triumph of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness.” – Ahmed Kathrada
Signal Hill also has other memories for me, because this was where Akela headed after opening the parked bakkie’s window and jumping out one Saturday morning in the city centre in 2007. Her passage up Long Street and then up through BoKaap was tracked by the security personnel from the City Improvement District (CID) and relayed to me on my cellphone. I met them where she disappeared into the bushes. She was only too happy to jump back into the bakkie, none the worse for wear after all the excitement.
My relief was indescribable but, even more important, was my gratitude and appreciation for the CID’s security guys. I was accustomed to great security at the V&A Waterfront so I was a proud Capetonian experiencing similar levels in the city centre. Cape Town is a safe and well managed city!
One of the security officers involved in the chase phoned me on Monday morning to ask how Akela was. Now that really impressed! Being an efficient city is one thing, but being a caring city is the cherry on top of the cake.
Then it was off to Simon’s Town, with two stops en route.
First was Llandudno, where Akela and Kenya grew up. As we emerged through the Milkwood trees onto the beach, they suddenly realised where they were and charged into the sea. They used to spend hours swimming here but Akela also roamed the suburb.
She had a fascination for dustbin lids, which she stole and carried home. One of her favourite destinations was the primary school – she really adores children.
Next was a quick stop at Absa in Fish Hoek. Something I have noticed at Absa is that its usually the women who stand out – Lynette and Alta in Hermanus, the ladies who staffed the first bank at the Waterfront, one star at Sea Point branch, and Carmen Okkers at Fish Hoek. Being bound to a manager by one’s domicilium makes no sense when one gets bad service. Carmen is a real star and one hopes Absa appreciates her. Of course, the ascendency of women in Absa is proved by the appointment of Maria Ramos as Absa’s new CEO!
Akela and Kenya had never been to Simon’s Town before… and the statue of Just Nuisance on Jubilee Square.
But I have an indelible memory of visiting the statue many years ago with Shilo, a border collie/Alsation cross I had many years ago. He was also a constant companion and the only dog allowed into Cape Town docks for four years, while it was still a quarantine area. He rode tugs, canoes and hobie cats, and really did go almost everywhere.
His visit to Just Nuisance was memorable because it really puzzled him. He paced around the statue, approached from the rear and mounted the plinth to smell Just Nuisance’s rear. Then he climbed up at the front to smell the mouth. A group of bergies (vagrants) sitting on the pavement canned themselves laughing as they watched it all.
Akela wasn’t taken in by the statue at all and was more interested in peering over the wall at the boats below. Kenya had a brief sniff but I think he’s had lessons from Akela – she can sniff at a single leaf for ten minutes. What a story she could tell if she could talk!
Who was Just Nuisance? Just Nuisance was the only dog ever to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy. He was a Great Dane who served from 1939-44 at HMS Afrikander, a Royal Navy shore establishment in Simon’s Town. He died in 1944 and was buried with full military honours.
He belonged to Benjamin Chaney who ran the United Services Institute in Simon’s Town. Just Nuisance quickly became popular with the patrons of the institute, mostly the ratings who would feed him snacks and take him for walks. He began to follow them back to the naval base and dockyards, where he would lie on the decks of ships, normally at the top of the gangplanks. Since he was a large dog even for a Great Dane (he was almost 2m tall when standing on his hind legs) he presented a sizable obstacle for those trying to board or disembark and he became affectionately known as Nuisance.
Nuisance was allowed to roam freely and, following the sailors, he began to take day trips by train as far afield as Cape Town, 35km away. Despite the seamen’s attempts to conceal him, the conductors would put him off the trains as soon as he was discovered. This did not cause him any problems though, as he would wait for the next train or walk to another station where he would board the next train that came along. Amused travellers would occasionally offer to pay his fares, but the railway company eventually warned Chaney that Nuisance would have to be put down unless he was kept under control to prevent him boarding the trains or had his fares paid.
The news that Nuisance may be put down spurred many of the sailors and locals to write to the Navy pleading for something to be done. Although somebody offered to buy him a season ticket, the Navy instead decided to officially enlist him; as a member of the armed forces he would receive free rail travel, so the fare-dodging would no longer be a problem. It was a good idea: for the next years, he would be a morale booster for the troops serving in World War II.
He was enlisted on 25 August 1939: his surname was entered as “Nuisance” and rather than leaving the forename blank he was christened “Just”. His trade was listed as “Bonecrusher” and his religious affiliation as “Scrounger”, although it was later altered to the more charitable “Canine Divinity League (Anti-Vivisection)”. To allow him to receive rations and because of his longstanding unofficial service he was promoted from Ordinary Seaman to Able Seaman.
He continued to accompany sailors on train journeys and escorted them back to base when the pubs closed.
Nuisance had been involved in a car accident which had caused thrombosis which was gradually paralysing him, so on 1 January 1944 he was discharged from the Navy. His condition continued to deteriorate; on 1 April 1944 he was taken to Simon’s Town Naval Hospital where on the advice of the naval veterinary surgeon, he was put to sleep. The next day he was taken to Klaver Camp where his body was draped with a Royal Naval White Ensign and he was buried with full naval honours, including a gun salute and the playing of the Last Post. A simple granite headstone marks his grave, but a statue was erected in Jubilee Square in Simon’s Town to commemorate his life.
The Simon’s Town Museum has a room dedicated to his story, and since 2000 there has been an annual parade of Great Danes from which a lookalike is selected.