Cape Town – Yes, No, Maybe?

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“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.” — Peter Hoeg

It is my final night in Cape Town.  I have moved out of my apartment and I am staying in 40 on the Burg which is less than a minute away from the historical Green Market Square.  When I reported to reception to check in the man behind the desk was very standoffish asking what I was doing there.  He could not see my luggage which I had damped on the floor and probably assumed I was there for another reason.  It happens a lot when I travel alone, especially in Africa. I was harassed by another one when I returned from the chemist.  I told him I was staying there and he demanded to know which room I was staying in. I of course ignored him and just walked into the lift the doors to which had just opened.

A stall holder on his phone as he waits for customers

There is a refugee settlement in Green Market Square(a small one of about 100 people).  They have all their belongings with them, they wash (clothes and dishes, I wonder where they wash their bodies), cook and eat there. This evening there are a lot more cars and men than there were when I checked in this morning.  They have settled outside the church and have banners and placards directed at the UNHCR asking to be treated humanely.  Over the last few months there have been reports of migrants from other African countries being attacked, and their shops and businesses being destroyed by South Africans who are angry that they are taking jobs that are rightfully theirs. Walking around Cape Town, it is easy to see why South Africans are angry. I have walked past numerous people talking to themselves and laughing at their own jokes. From their scruffy appearance it is easy to see that that they are not talking on the phone and are rather not with it. This morning there was a man doing a sort of Uttanasana in the middle of the pavement with his cigarette and lighter on the floor in front of him. He was like that for ages, everyone just walking around him. His light blue trousers were a little too short for him and his black jumper has seen better days.

Cape Town
Refugee setlement Green Market Square in the centre of Cape Town

There is so much wealth in the city and no doubt the country but most of it is concentrated in the hands of very few people and mainly white South Africans.  Whilst driving around the various parts of the city and its outskirts, I saw some really huge houses and affluent neighbourhoods from where the majority of black South African are excluded.  The disparity in wealth between black and white is so obvious you would have to be totally blind to miss it. All the homeless and destitute people that I have come across have been black. It is little wonder therefore that they are angry. 

Cape Town
Street art depicting South Africa’s heros

However they have chosen the wrong targets for their anger, the refugees just like them are trying to make something of their lives.  Unfortunately they now assume that all black people are refugees.  In shops, lifts, on the bus and even on the streets I found the people to be really unfriendly and unhelpful.  The guy in the lift in the apartment that I was staying in just grunted when I try to converse with him.  A number of people walked away when I asked for directions on the street.  The only conversations that I have had the whole four days has been with migrants mainly from Zimbabwe. With the majority of the population relegated to the bottom of the social hierarchy, it is little wonder that crime is so rampant in the city. Though I have been told that compared to Johannesburg, Cape Town is safe.

Cape Town Sign Posts
The various signposts I came across did not point to anywhere in Africa

I am conflicted about Cape Town.  On the one hand it is beautiful with lots of things to see and do, but it has so many issues that I find difficult to ignore. It is an unfriendly city, especially if you are black. I don’t feel at all like I am in Africa here. In all of the African countries that I have been to, people have been curious, welcoming and very friendly, some too friendly.  Here I have felt unwelcome.  So, in conclusion, if you are the type of person that can go somewhere and divorce yourself from the social and political issues then it’s definitely worth visiting.  You will not be disappointed.  If on the other hand you want to interact with local people, are easily affected by injustice, poverty and the impact of inequality on communities you may not enjoy it as much.  I am not sure I will come back.