Monday, November 1, 2010

In Love With The Mother City: My Oedipal Complex

Looking out over the sweeping view of the city that the summit of Lion’s Head affords, I know that my eyes are drinking in every thing that is right with Cape Town. There’s the hipsterish Neighbourgoods Market held at Old Biscuit Mill in up-and-coming Woodstock every Saturday – it’s otherwise known as my idea of heaven. There are the soft, sandy beaches of Camps Bay hugged by the Twelve Apostles. There’s the verdant expanses of the Kirstenbosch Gardens displaying all the glorious flora the Western Cape has to offer. There’s the Company’s Garden to wile away the hours following the ducklings as they waddle across monuments and marigolds. There are countless great eats in breezy, open cafes and chichi froufrou restaurants. And then there’s Table Mountain: the one Godly presence that follows you everywhere in this breathtaking city.

Yes, I guess I’m in love. There are few other cities in the world that have so undoubtedly swept me off my feet. But of course, IHP doesn’t have you just frolick through a city for pure pleasure. They let you know what the problems are and they make you live it.

Despite Cape Town’s seductive beauty, it remains incredibly dangerous. Vestiges of apartheid keep people in desperate poverty and that has led to some of the highest crime rates in the world. Unfortunately, there have been plenty of uncomfortable run-ins to suggest that this is true (nothing awful, don’t worry – but some of us have come super-close to finding ourselves in trouble). One of the most pressing issues today is the stigma that is attached to the townships – areas designated for the blacks and coloreds* of South Africa to live under the apartheid government. In true IHP fashion, they have us living in a township for the second half of our Cape Town stay. I’m currently staying in Langa, the oldest township in Cape Town.

How can you blame the international community for misrepresenting life in the townships when South Africans themselves are so sheltered from the reality? After having only spent a few days here, you realize that ‘township’ is no synonym for ‘slum’. Yes, townships are prone to accruing informal settlements. But I am not staying in a shack. In fact, I live in a stunning three-bedroom one-storey house in which my host mother has fitted a surround-sound home entertainment system and a Jacuzzi tub. In no way is this the expected norm, but quality of life in the township can often rival that of inner-city dwellers. Unfortunately, it is these people who don’t come to the outskirts of town to see what life here is really like.

South Africa remains a very unequal society. But there are some obvious marks of a silver lining. South Africans, regardless of whether they are white, black, colored or Indian, can now all occupy the same public spaces – something that was unimaginable only sixteen years ago. Sitting at a bar on Long Street or at a bench on the V&A Waterfront, the most visited destination in all of Africa, you look past the lost-looking tourists to see a Cape Town that has hope. There might not be as many interracial mixing as one would look for in the ideal environment but it’s moving somewhere. We can only hope that time will heal the wounds… for my sake at least, because any city where you can see zebras on your daily commute into town needs to be the paradise it deserves to be.

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