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Cage-Diving with Great White Sharks

by - October 13 2010

Yesterday was probably my safest day in South Africa. I went cage-diving with Great White Sharks. Gansbaai is about two hours drive from Cape Town and is regarded at the great white shark capital of the world. While other places have sharks too, this is where they are the greatest, the whitest and the sharkiest. There are lots of different shark diving companies around. Lacking better information, I chose Shark Diving Unlimited because they are the company Brad Pitt dove with. We sailed our boat to a colony of fur seals - the sharks favourite food. The crew threw some fish into the water to attract sharks and I added some vomit into the mix. My long running history of motion sickness did not disappoint.

Once we found some sharks, we took it in turns to climb into a surprisingly flimsy looking cage and watch some huge sharks from close quarters. They are definitely impressive creatures. Some of them were pretty huge and went right up to the cage. It is definitely less easy to bond with a shark than a lion or a cheetah. It's hard to imagine a shark wanting to snuggle in my lap and easy to just see it as just being teeth that swim.

On the way to Ganbaai I stopped at Stellenbosch for lunch and saw a few other local towns. This is a White Afrikaans area. There are fairly few black people and most people are Afrikaans speakers rather than English speakers. The Afrikaans and English-speaking South Africans are quite different. They have a different language, different accent, different food, and even different hairstyles. I got a hair cut the day before and realised I'd got an Afrikaans haircut.

There has historically been a lot of tension between the two groups. The first concentration camps were built by the British to imprison Afrikaans people. Ironically, the Soweto uprising, one of the big events that led to the fall of apartheid, was an unanticipated consequence of a tussle between the British and Afrikaans white communities. The Afrikaans were upset that the British were suppressing Afrikaans culture by only teaching English in government schools and demanded that the two languages have equal official status, including a requirement that both be taught in government schools and (to make sure Afrikaans was being taught properly) that at least two subjects be taught in Afrikaans. The black students strongly objected to this. They had been learning English so long that they saw it as their own language and objected to being forced to learn a language that they associated with whites and for which they lacked good teachers. This led to riots that brought the problems of apartheid to the world's attention. It is ironic that the event that set things off was a court ruling that was supposed to grant more equality.