Income disparity is a fact of life. I am not a Marxist and I reject the notion that it is purely luck or at the expense of others that great fortunes can be made. But I do recognize both a historical and practical problem of a society in which disparity is so great the lower classes have no realistic hope of ever overcoming the status quo.
Apartheid may be officially over in South Africa, but it is not really over.
I live in Los Angeles and there is a certain beauty to parts of my county…you cannot beat driving down Pacific Coast Highway and observing the beautiful combination of nature and palatial homes of Malibu.
Table Mountain in Cape Town reminded me a lot of Malibu. The homes were beautiful…some of them downright stunning, as was the lush greenery and the spectacular view of blue skies and blue water. It was breathtaking really. Now this is somewhere I could see myself living, I mentioned to my wife.
Neither of us were familiar with the area and made a reservation at a home we thought was in town but turned out to be in a suburb about nearly an hour away in Somerset West.
After a wonderful lunch and walk around Cape Quay followed by the drive up Table Mountain, we began the journey to our guest house for the night –
As we screamed down Highway 2 toward Somerset West, all of a sudden a boy ran across the road right in front of us. Not sure if it was a dare or a game or just the only way to get across, but my wife (who was driving) nearly hit him and had to slam on the breaks. I was reviewing pictures on the camera at the time, not even looking out the window, and was startled by what I saw.
Not more than a few miles from majestic Table Mountain are the slums of Cape Town. A shantytown stretched for one mile on both sides of the highway, visible for everyone to see. Don’t think I have not seen poverty before in my journeys to 125 countries around the world: I’ve seen poverty in many parts of the world.
And yet there was something different about this poverty. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition between the two Cape Towns…so close together…something I never would have expected. I thought Cape Town was a rich city…I had no idea there were such shoddy areas. There were people out and about in the slums…all of them were black.
As we neared Somerset West, the landscape changed yet again.
We stopped in a Shoprite to pick up groceries for dinner. As usual, there were black men roaming around the park lot, who served as “guards” and were also available to help guide you in and out of your parking spots or carry your groceries for a few Rand. Like the interaction between the French woman and the waiter in Mbabane, Swaziland, a white woman totally ignored the black man offering to help her carry her groceries to her car. She would not even look at him.
We got to our guest house and noticed that we were staying in a rather upscale neighborhood. The house had a gated entry and we noted security cameras festooned in the trees. As we pulled in and stepped out of the car, two barking dogs ran over to greet us and had to be restrained by the owner (one bit me the next day, though I think he was just a little friendly. I hate dogs…but I digress).
The Evening Run
It was now dusk and we wanted to go running. With balmy conditions and a beautiful sunset, it was a perfect time for a jog. Our hosts – a lovely German couple who got fed up with the corporate world in Hamburg and moved to Cape Town – recommended a route for us and said not to worry about safety because “it was still early.”
We ran for nearly an hour and made an observation as we jogged up and down residential streets in this cozy middle-class white suburb: every home had a high gate and every home had a dog. Every home. The barks were deafening and I could not help feeling just a bit sad that people felt the need for such security measures.
We would visit Robben Island the next day and observe the historical remnants of state-sanctioned apartheid, but the harmonious future of racial unity envisioned by Nelson Mandela is not a reality – not in Johannesburg, not in Pretoria, and especially not in Cape Town.
One month in Southern Africa is hardly enough time to understand the nuances of race and politics in a post-colonial atmosphere, but Cape Town made me sad – for though such income disparity is also a hallmark of my own hometown, I nevertheless have never seen such a divide so close together and such a blatant culture of fear and mistrust between two peoples separated only by the degree of melanin in their skin.
Read More of My Month in Africa Trip Report
Introduction: A Month in Africa
Review: Houston to Lagos in United Airlines 787 Business
Transit in Lagos: Bribing My Way Out
Review: Oasis Lounge Lagos (LOS)
Review: Gabfol Lounge Lagos (LOS)
Lagos to Johannesburg in South African Airways Economy Class
Setting Up Shop in Pretoria
How to Obtain a South African Police Report
A Safari in Kruger National Park
Review: Nkambeni Safari Camp
Driving Through Swaziland
Review: Mountain Inn Mbabane, Swaziland
Review: Johannesburg to Livingstone, Zambia in British Airways Comair Economy Class
Our Humble Abode in Zambia
Victoria Falls from the Zambian Side
From Hate to Great: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
The Old House Guest Lodge – Kasane, Botswana
A Visit to Impalila Island, Namibia
Kasane, Botswana to Johannesburg on South African Airways (Airlink)
Review: Hyatt Regency Johannesburg (Suite)
Road Trip from Johannesburg to Lesotho
Review: South African Airways Domestic Voyager Lounge – JNB