Two or three weeks ago, a blue-green boat with a strange cloaked figure sitting inside it suddenly appeared on the Black River, just north of the bridge where Raapenberg Road goes underneath Kromboom Parkway (or the M5).
Initially, I thought it was a fisherman, which struck me as rather peculiar: our urban rivers have become so severely polluted and toxic with chemicals in recent decades, that I’m not sure it would be safe to eat any of the fish living in those waters! When the figure was still in the same spot a day or two later, I realised it wasn’t in fact a live fisherman but some strange sort of artwork.
Fortuitously, the next edition of the “Tatler”, the local newspaper, included an article about the hooded figure in the boat: They were referring to it as an urban art installation depicting ‘the Grim Reaper’ or Charon, the ferryman from Greek mythology, who transports the souls of the dead across the River Styx to the otherworld of Hades, where they can rest in peace.
However, no one had come forward to admit that they had put it there, and speculation was rife as to who the artists behind it might be – and what their intention was.
A couple of days later, Richard and I set off with Flat Kathy in tow, to get a closer look at the figure and to take some photographs. Flat Kathy, who thought this was a most intriguing mystery (she has been devouring a stash of Nancy Drew Mysteries that a friend had lent me, so I think she now fancies herself as an amateur detective in the making!), even wrote about it on her blog, which you can find here: Oh horror – is that the Grim Reaper on the Black River?
In the last week, the artists behind the Grim Reaper have come forward: Grim reaper boat artists unmasked and A mysterious boat on the Black River. It seems that the installation was put there by a local arts co-operative known as KOP. Frustratingly, I haven’t been able to find out anything about them via the internet, so if you have any idea who they are, please will you drop me a note in the comments?
Fred du Preez of KOP said that it hadn’t been their intention to make a radical statement, but merely to focus attention on the toxic state of the Black River, which they chose because it is “a rubbish heap covered with water”.
He added: “It’s sad that we enter Cape Town and then have such little respect for this potentially beautiful river. Can you imagine a tearoom, play parks, skate park, cycle roads all along the river?”
Ironically, the Black River has been showing signs of rebirth, with birds – including the beautiful flamingoes – returning to the river.
In closing, he remarked: “This piece will evolve to more characters on the boat doing a whole range of things. Watch the river!”
And that’s exactly what Flat Kathy and I plan on doing!
I’m including a map for you, in case you cannot resist checking out the scary Ferryman yourself! The red ‘x’ on the map marks the location of the boat, and the green ‘x’ is a parking spot on the opposite (south) side of the road, just before the off-ramp up to Klipfontein Road, as though you’re driving to the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.