Over Christmas break I did some traveling. First to Portugal, and then to Cape Town in South Africa. Oh the perks of living the turtle life! For further clarification, read definition below.
Turtle Life. Definition: living like a turtle, carrying your house on your back wherever you go.
We used to live in Angola, and so I’ve been to Cape Town a few times before. I was younger then, and even though I noticed things, I left as blissfully ignorant as I had arrived. But this time was different.
The trip itself was wonderful. We saw the whole city from a helicopter, visited huge malls and beautiful attractions. We snapped the typical pictures on top of Table Mountain, holding our arms out to look like we were floating on clouds. We went to the Cape of Good Hope feeling all giddy with excitement because heck, the Portuguese sailed past it for the first time ever! Woo! Go Portugal! We even snapped an uber touristy picture of us holding the Portuguese flag behind the Cape of Good Hope sign.
D’awwwww we’re so cute.
We visited several high end restaurants, some of them in Camps Bay and others in more remote areas, made up of large properties filled with vineyards where you could spend an afternoon wine tasting and eating delicious food. And then it struck me: why was it that we saw no white waiters anywhere? I could count on one hand the amount of white servers we had. No more than three. And we ate out every single day, lunch and dinner.
I figured it may just be me, so I reserved judgement until I had seen a little more of what the city had to offer. Then on the day after new year’s eve, the 1st of January, every restaurant and business in Camps Bay (the neighborhood where we were staying) suddenly closed. The beaches were busier than ever, you could barely see the sand. But yet all the businesses were closed… Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to be open on one of the busiest days of the year?
Later that day we finally got some clarification. Eunice, a lady hired by the landlord to come and clean our house every day, told us that the reason the businesses closed was because all the people from the “locations” came out to the beach on January 1st. I was intrigued as to what she meant by “locations”, so I asked. Apparently, the more rural areas around Cape Town where there townships are located are called “locations”.
And then it dawned on me. I probably could have counted the amount of white people on the beach that day with one hand. Any other day it was the other way around. But that day specifically, it seemed the tables had been turned, and so all the businesses were closed.
This was only one of the many things I noticed. The social disparity in South Africa is not only seen…it is also felt. Things that hadn’t bothered me before started to make me uneasy. It was uncomfortable to see very few black people in positions of power. It was uncomfortable to walk into places where there were only white people.
Back when apartheid was in full swing in South Africa, the government decided to categorize South Africans using four categories: black, colored, Indian/ Asian and white. These distinctions were based on looks alone, and so people were labelled as being one of the four categories, making that their sole defining quality. These categories naturally divided people. I mean, how could they not?
According to an annual survey by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), “43.5% of South Africans rarely or never speak to someone of another race. Little more than a quarter (27.4%) interact with a person of another race always or often on ordinary weekdays, while 25.9% do so sometimes.”
What… I mean, what?! The numbers are crazy. Almost half the population rarely or never speaks to someone of another race… Yet the country seems to function. How is it that South Africa is one of the most developed (if not the most developed) African countries, but still faces such primitive racial problems?
I am not by any means saying that this is the case with everyone. Younger generations are slowly changing the standard… But the differences are so obvious that it makes it almost impossible to not wander about how South Africa has thrived, considering the kind of social unbalance that it has faced for years.
I love Cape Town. I love the beaches, and the people, and the city itself. I love the summery attitude, the great food and the even better wine. But I also hate it. I hate it because it has made me realize I am only a spectator, and that the problems South Africa faces are way out of my reach. There is nothing I can do but feel uncomfortable, and try to somehow mend years and years of racial disparity. Obviously I’ll never solve it, but a girl can dream, right?