At 20h00 sharp, once all the VIPs and invited guests had taken their seats and the Dukes Band and the Navy Sea Cadets had departed, the bell in its round stone tower above the Simon van der Stel gate rang out eight times, its clear sound travelling through the cool night air. (Incidentally, the bell, which was cast in Amsterdam in 1697, 313 years ago (!), is the oldest in South Africa, and its sound can be heard up to 10 km away from the Castle.)
The next moment, two ear-splitting BANGS!! made everyone jump in their seats, as the two muzzle-loading cannons on either side of the Kat balcony were fired. For a mere second, the flash of the powder lit up the darkened arena, and then the clouds of smoke wafted across to the stands, carrying with it that unmistakeable acrid scent.
As Captain John Manning, the announcer, welcomed all the spectators to the CT Military Tattoo 2010, the trumpeters from the SA Army Band Cape Town (in red) and Kroonstad (in brown) and the SA Police Services Band (in blue) stepped onto the Kat balcony, to blow the opening fanfares of the tattoo.
As per the time-honoured tradition of the Tattoo, it was then time for the drummer to call the soldiers back to their barracks: “Doe den tap toe!” This is an instruction to the barmen of the surrounding city to close the taps on their beer barrels, so that the soldiers will return to the Castle.
This time around, instead of having a single drummer, there were six: the young men of the Limited Edition Drum Corps, who displayed considerable dexterity with their drumsticks, as they beat out complicated and catchy rhythms on their drums, each of which was patriotically decorated in the colours of the South African national flag.
These energetic young lads, jaunty blue-and-white ostrich feathers stuck into the white band around their black hats, all come from Manenberg and rehearse in their own time, after school, a couple of times a week. The youngest (and smallest) drummer, known as Smiley; at 15 years of age, he is also the prolific composer behind their routines.
They have participated in local competitions, as well as in the Basel Tattoo, Switzerland, and performed at the Cape Town Fashion Show at the CTICC, and with South African rock band Prime Circle at Kirstenbosch. During the FIFA World Cup, they not only performed at the various Fan Parks and Fan Walks, but also participated in the program of activities at the Castle of Good Hope, where several youth groups from disadvantaged areas of Cape Town showcased their talents.
Once all the soldiers had returned to the Castle, the main entrance gates were locked for the night: the eerie creaking sound and the hollow thud of the door closing echoed in the stone archway, making it all seem very real.
This closing of the gate is the responsibility of the Castle Guard, a group that was formed in 1986. Their uniforms are loosely based on traditional 18th century uniforms, and they carry replica 18th century halberds, whose sharp blades glint beautifully in the spotlight.
WO2 Alfie Wort, in his role as Guard Commander, thus fetched the key from Capt Francois Morkel, the Guard Captain, and issued the order to his troops to “close the gates”. Once it has been confirmed that all the soldiers have returned to barracks and that the perimeter is secure, the gates are securely closed, and the old key to the Castle is returned to the Guard Captain, waiting on the Kat balcony.
This Key Ceremony, a ritual that is based on the early-morning drills of about 300 years ago, is re-enacted by the Castle Guard at 10am and noon every weekday morning, although in that case they perform the opening of the Castle to visitors, and not its closing.