In Cape Town, you cannot walk on the streets alone at night, especially if you are white or look wealthy. Murder and rape rates are among the highest in the world. HIV/AIDS prevalence is near 20 percent. Huge disparities still exist between whites, blacks and coloreds, considered an ethnicity in some African countries. Clubs and bars are largely self-segregated. Blacks go to one place, whites to another and coloreds to a third. What was once a nation divided by race is now one divided by income. Nevertheless, most of the wealth is still concentrated in white hands, so race and wealth are largely synonymous.
In fact, almost every difference and almost every conversation has some type of racial implication. I’m in a homestay, which I didn’t particularly choose (but that’s a long story). There’s a 12-year-old son named Andrew, who plays a lot of competitive chess, and a mother, Margot, who works as an executive assistant. They have two pugs and live in the middle class neighborhood of Mowbray. On Tuesday, I met Margot’s ex-husband, the son’s father. My conversation, all five sentences or so of it, was enlightening.
Margot: This is Andrew’s father.
Me: It’s nice to meet you.
Homestay Father: Did you vote for Obama Nobama?
Homestay Father: Obama Nobama, the black man?
Me: Yes, I did.
Homestay Father: He’s going to ruin your country. It happened to us.
(Author’s note: This probably does not reflect the views of most South Africans).
Townships are located on the Cape flats, a most desperate location. It is a barren sandy wasteland about one hour away from Cape Town. People live in the most depraved conditions. Some curiosities:
Every 500 feet there is a Vodacom phone store or hair salon business in a shipping container. Very sketchy.
Townships truly give meaning to South Africa being both first and third world.
There is absolute chaos in the streets. Pedestrians generally don’t have the right of way. Red lights are often ignored. When crossing a street or highway, for instance (crossing highways does happen), South Africans totally disregard walking signals and will stand in between lanes or in the middle of the road as traffic whizzes by. Minibus taxis, which fly up and down the main roads, have a wingman whose job it is to yell and whistle out the window. These minibuses will frequently stop in the middle of the road to unload and load people, blocking traffic.
The beaches are beautiful. I went to Muizenburg, a beach renowned for its waves. It was the first time I’ve ever surfed and I was totally shown up by my homestay brother. Later that day I went to Camps Bay Beach, the most majestic beach that I believe could ever exist. The peaks of Table Mountain in the background were stunning when the clouds formed a tablecloth that draped over the mountain’s edge.
Finally, I went to the first game ever played in Cape Town’s grossly over-budget Green Point Stadium built for the World Cup The stadium is monumental to say the least. But probably not as monumental as Table Mountain, which is where I’m headed next.
Otis is a member of
the class of 2011