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Franschoek

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Today we drove to Franschoek, the valley where French Calvinists settled in 1688. As refugees fleeing persecution by the Catholics in France these Protestant Reformers accepted the Dutch Government's offer of an area know as Olifantshoek (because of the vast herds of elephants that used to roam the valley) but which soon became known as Franschoek, the French area. A large monument commemorates the establishment of this French Hugenot colony under the supervision of my ancestor, Francois Villion (Viljoen) who actively recruited settlers from among those fleeing France. Hugenots also settled in New York and other Eastern U.S. States and in South Africa they established a wine industry that has placed South Africa among the elite of world wine producing countries.

Visitors familiar with the Napa Valley will feel a certain sense of being at home with the climate, the color, the vineyards, the wine tasting rooms, tourist nick nack shops and world class restaurants. However, here, in Franschoek, these farm houses really are ancient. White washed walls and dark black thatched roofs and curled facade in the Dutch style - old and dramatic against the back drop of the Swartberge (Black Mountains) - dramatic and majestic, as if the whole place had been commissioned to pose for a century to be painted over and over again.

Nearby Stellenbosch is famous also for its University where Dr. Christian Barnhard, of first heart transplant fame, was educated. Over lunch I asked my host what has been the most significant change in his life since the end of Apartheid. After some thought, because there has been a lot of change, both good and bad, he told me that on a personal level the change that has meant a lot to him is that now he can get married to anyone he wants, white, black, male, female, and that his choice is protected by the Constitution.

It takes a moment to take it in. It's true. In this country that has a history of hanging on to discrimination and segregation and imbalances of power...there is a real, experienced change. We've seen male couples holding hands in the street and sitting as close together as the heterosexual couple in the next booth in the same restaurant and white with black couples and among them all there seems to be an easy, obvious, straightforward acceptance of the way things are.

My host tells me "We have the most beautiful country in that we have everything in it from the magnificent scenery to the housing. I mean, we lack for nothing. We have it all. It's not that we're bigger or better or anything like that, but w have it all." I asked what the downside is. "We are so far from the rest of the world that it is a trek to get anywhere." What else? "I don't like that the population balance is uneven among the colors of people. It results in an uneven balance of power. In a way we're in the same position we we're before, when there was an uneven weight of power among the whites. We lack a balance in power."

I think of St. Bartholomews Day, Paris, September 17, 1572 when an estimated 110,000 Hugenots were killed in an unbalanced power situation when their Catholic oponenents went against the edict of the time and murdered their Protestant critics. Later the perpotrators were granted amnesty and more edicts promised safety. Like the irrevocable Edict of Nantes which granted equal status and safety to Catholics and Protestants, and which was revoked later - probably conributing to the exodus of French settlers to the Dutch East Indian Company settlement where they would become part of one of the most oppressing goverments and then, pendulum swing again - part of a constitution that is a model of human rights among the communities of the world.

Swing swing swing

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