Cape Town was picturesque, in parts. It’s a very colourful city, from one street to another you can find yourself in a different world. On one side you have V&A Waterfront, super clean, posh and expensive. On the other side you still have townships, where people live in houses that resemble shacks. And in the center you have everything in between.
And of course, the Table Mountain. You cannot miss it. I personally took the cable car to get to the top and wandered there for a while, but you can also take the steep hike to go there. The view is breath-taking and unforgettable. Next time I was in Cape Town I managed to hike up the Lion’s Head hill – that gives you an impressive view on the Table Mountain itself.
Not far from the city is the Cape of Good Hope. Against the popular misconception (until recently mine as well) it is not the most southern point of Africa. Bartolomeu Dias – the first European there, called it actually the Cape of Storms. I’ll give you one crucial advice for your visit at the Cape: don’t bring any food with you, and even if you do, don’t try to eat it outside. The baboons will take it off you within a blink of an eye – don’t try to fight them, big mistake on my part, they are strong and vicious. Other than that, it’s a beautiful ride and a beautiful place for a small wander.
During my second stay in Cape Town I also managed to visit the infamous Robben Island. I was shocked to discover that many of the former prisoners still live on the island. As free people, but on the island no less. I had chills down my spine listening to our guide – a former prisoner himself, telling us about his life there. I remember, when I was a teenager and having visited Auschwitz myself, hearing about apartheid as something happening in the world at that moment in time, I couldn’t believe it. It made no sense that in the modern, post WWII world segregation like that was taking place. I was always convinced that after the atrocities of the WWII only madmen would allow institutionalized suffering. How naïve was I really. Nearly every place I visited in the world has a recent story of human monsters.
Few more details on the Island in this post.
It brings me also to the point where I tell you how South Africa made me feel. Let me start with some initial observations from Durban. The city left me with mixed emotions. Already on the way there my friend was very adamant on choosing the right spot for our pit stops. One time we drove for over an hour with full bladders until she decided where to stop. I didn’t know why. In the town itself, in the car, we had to lock the car doors and we wouldn’t stop anywhere until we reached our destination. On the dirty streets you only see black people. And then you drive into the gated communities with beautiful villas and lush gardens. Nobody walking on those streets, everyone has a car. Oh wait, there are people walking, only black ones, that work in those villas. And they have to walk because the bus routes don’t go through these areas. Did I mention that my friend was white and we were staying at her parent’s place in one of those fancy villas? The luxury was visible. The house was massive, with a thatched roof and huge living room space – for me as a practical person, it was a huge waste of space, which purpose turned out to be entertaining people – there was a cocktail party the day after we arrived. I couldn’t even tell you the size of the land which the house was built on as it had this amazing jungle as a garden.
And then of course I met the help. I don’t think I have to mention their skin colour. I know couple of them actually lived in a small building next to the house, the cook and the gardener if memory serves me right. Anyone else working there had to make that walk from the bus or get a car.
One girl at the party – yes, all guests were white – was telling a story, which till this day I don’t fully understand. I was in a state of a cultural shock. I got used to living in London where everything mixes, even if not on purpose. Here you could see segregation on every step but apartheid was supposedly over. I wasn’t able to comprehend the story she was telling, because in my confusion I didn’t know if she was being racist, if she was trying to joke about being a racist, if she was maybe trying to defend being a racist or she actually wasn’t a racist. I couldn’t tell because South Africa is full of nuances that are incomprehensible to an outsider. I grew up in a warped version of socialism, in a mainly white country in central Europe, where nobody really cared where someone else was from. There was a bit of social friction between people from bigger cities and people from the countryside, like everywhere else. And yes, I do remember the first time I saw a black person with my own eyes – not on TV, but it never had any racist context. There was something exotic about it, like it is when you experience something for the first time, it was the same when I saw Japanese people for the first time, although I was older then and refrained myself from childish staring. My point is, we didn’t care about the skin colour in the context of equal rights or someone’s humanity (this has sadly changed in my opinion in Poland right now, as a nation we are very racist these days). I didn’t grow up in a society that has special names for people depending on how much of a given ethnicity they have running through their veins. I know there are dangerous streets in my town, but it’s not all the streets.
So, the segregation in current day South Africa is technically not politically imposed. It’s self-imposed. By white people on themselves. They live in gated communities, behind barred windows, they don’t walk on the streets. All out of fear. Unfortunately, I cannot say that this fear is unfounded. The power might have changed hands without a bloody revolution but there has been blood on the streets. A lot of people still live in appalling conditions, a lot of them must still face some form of racism (surprisingly both black and white), there is enough corruption for few countries going around, huge HIV problem, high gun crime rates etc, etc. My London neighbour was from South Africa, her husband was shot dead in their driveway. For the sake of being robbed of his wallet I suppose.
People who have colonised Africa, have made it unstable and vulnerable, they have mistreated its inhabitants. They have antagonized tribes against each other; Rwanda being a sad example of that. South Africa is on amends, I hope people will be able to rise above their differences. It is the country where archaeologists found the oldest hominid remains in the world. Which could mean we all come from South Africa. I just wish more people could realize what that means.