I arrived in Cape Town for the ‘Argus’!
No, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t actually doing it. My sixteen year old nephew, Campbell and my two besties, B and Jans, were participating. My role was to support and cheer them along.
The ‘Argus’ or Cape Town Cycle Tour as it is now called, covers 109 kilometres from Cape Town city centre to Green Point via the Cape Peninsula. I recalled last year’s ‘Argus’. It was B’s first time and Jans’ sixteenth. I had gone down to Cape Town with them and we’d stayed with my sister and family. I had never witnessed the ‘Argus’ before. It was exhilarating meeting Jans and B at various stops. They downed water, hastily ate banana’s and were off once more. That night, Campbell looked at the two flushed individuals drinking celebratory red wine, and announced: “Next year, I’m doing the ‘Argus’!
I love Campbell.
He hadn’t ridden the ‘Argus’ before. Yet he never had any doubt that he would cope with riding the 109 kilometres. When my sister’s family had visited George, he joined Jans and B on their two hour rides. Back home in Cape Town, he had taken himself off twice on two 57 kilometre rides. That was all. B and Jans have these really zoot-magoot bikes. Campbell’s is a cast off bike that has no cleats but which he rode with great enthusiasm. Jans had lots of advice for Campbell, which he listened to readily. As B said to me: “I have no doubt whatsoever that he will do it!”
Campbell was going to ride and finish the ‘Argus’.
On the Friday afternoon, the three of them went to the Cape Town Stadium to collect their race packs. They picked up their packs and Campbell bought his timing chip. Then they moseyed around looking at the Expo. Jans bought them all special socks to ride in. B chose ones with pink and green watermelons, Campbell selected snazzy stripes and Jans bought ones embellished with liquorice all sorts!!! The pre-race atmosphere was intoxicating. Tension, excitement and thrill inebriated the air.
Saturday dawned. Preparation day!
Tyres were pumped up as hard as possible, chains were oiled. Sorry – lubed! Race numbers were carefully fastened on the back of shirts. B pinned a sign on her back saying: ‘Deaf!’ Apparently, people coming from behind often shout out: “Watch it, am coming through!” B, being deaf, doesn’t hear this so the sign was essential. Water bottles were filled and special protein powder added. Pockets were filled with with all sorts of goodies – GU, jelly beans, wine gums. I am happy with the jelly beans and wine gums. Becoming a cyclist was looking more and more attractive!
Standing on my sister’s verandah in Cape Town, that Saturday morning, I looked out over the green belt. I could see black smoke billowing upwards in thick waves. It was coming from Hout Bay. The inhabitants of Mandela Park in the Imizamo Yethu township were battling a fire that had started early that morning. There was a strong wind blowing which increased it’s intensity. The fire engines were unable to get to them because there were no streets as such. The shacks, so close that they were literally falling over one another, were being gobbled up in flames. My heart went out to those inhabitants. They had so little and what they possessed was being greedily devoured by this orange and red licking destruction.
My mind turned back to the ‘Argus’ preparations but the fire continued to spread.
Jans and B had a sensible early night on Saturday. Campbell was a different case entirely. At eleven o’clock, he decided to try on his riding gear. He had my sister Liz in hysterics, as complete with bicycle helmet, shorts, his numbered shirt and socks, he demonstrated how he would tackle Chapmans Peak, Suikerbossie and positively zoom on his way. Bubbling over with excitement, Campbell eventually fell asleep.
The fires continued their ravaging. In Witsand informal settlement near Delft, a man, a woman, a little girl and boy died when the fire swept through their home overnight.
B and Jans woke at five and a short time later were eating ‘future life’ protein porridge. I wasn’t surprised that Campbell was still asleep after his night time exploits! He had a later start than the girls, so he slept on. Liz’s home is in a sheltered part of the mountain. As the girls drove towards the city so they received the full force of the wind, buffeting their car. Palm trees bent double as gusts of 100 kilometres per hour swept them along. On their way, they received a call from Liz. A protest had broken out near Masiphumelele which had forced the route to be shortened by thirty kilometres. Protesters upset about the allocation of land, had littered the road around Cape Point with un-passable debris. The girls actually gave a sigh of relief. Riding in this wind would be tough and demanding. Having thirty kilometres less to ride would ease things considerably.
Meanwhile the fire raged on.
They got out of the car and B actually stumbled forward as the wind threw it’s arms around her small body in buffeting delight.
“Whoooow, it’s strong!” she called to Jans as they unstrapped their bikes from the back of the car. They began to push their bikes to a friend’s pharmacy where they could have a cup of coffee before moving on to the start. A group of cyclists came towards them.
“It’s cancelled,” they called out. “The Argus is cancelled because of the wind.” Their words were almost blown away. B’s cell phone pinged. She looked at it and turned to Jans: “What they are saying is true. It’s been cancelled!”
Jans’ phone pinged.
The ‘Argus’ was cancelled on Sunday morning, for the first time in the 40-year history of the race, primarily because of the extreme force of the wind!
Encouraged and fanned by the wind, the fire was devouring all in it’s path. That was another one of the reasons why the Cape Town Cycle Tour was cancelled. They needed the roads clear for emergency vehicles to get to the devastation that the fires were causing. It was awful that the ‘Argus’ was cancelled but far worse was the devastation caused by the fire. Settlements were left ravaged in the fires wake. The fire spread sending out it’s destructive rage in the areas of Karbonkelberg to Sandy Bay and Llandudno. Thousands of people were left homeless, everything they owned destroyed and lying in ashes. Before midday on Sunday, it was estimated that 15000 people were affected by the fire, with 3500 homes destroyed. Nine people lost their lives!
The cancellation of the race must have caused the cyclists tremendous disappointment. The training, the preparation, the anticipation – all for nought! Four thousand had travelled with their bikes to South Africa from overseas. Thirty five thousand riders would have no Argus medal hung around their necks. Jan had just celebrated her 70th birthday and this was going to be her last ‘Argus’. For Campbell, it was his first.
And now – no ‘Argus’!
And yet somehow I see the hand of God in all of this. I think that God looked down at this terrible fire that was wreaking such havoc and destruction and thought: ‘How can I help? Ahhh, I think the wind must blow so hard that the ‘Argus’ is cancelled. Then all the gallons of water and mountains of food catered for the event, can be re-distributed to the fire victims.’
And this is exactly what happened!
And of course so much more……
In the ensuing 72 hours after the blaze was extinguished, Capetonians dropped off donations of food, clothing and other items to those who had lost everything. A friend of my sisters has taken in the woman that works for her, as well as her family of four. She lives in a two bedroom house!
On Monday night before the light faded, convoys of volunteers were still doing the rounds providing food and water to residents who had begun rebuilding their homes.
Good has come out of bad. When re-built, the new houses will be surrounded by fire breaks. Roads and paths will be laid down. Sanitation and electricity will be provided.
And what of the cyclists?
My nephew, Campbell and his friend Daniel took off last weekend on their bikes. Daniel had not ridden a bike since he was eight. They set off from the end of the M3 and rode all the way around the peninsula to the Cape Town Stadium. Their personal ‘Argus’ of 91 kilometres took them four hours. Campbell was delighted and Daniel very stiff!
For the rest, there’s always next year!