Cape town is schizo. Really. The contrasts have to be seen to be believed...
Anyway; we got to Cape Town direct from Maun. I manage to freak out in a relatively large Air Botswana plane and had to take a sleeping pill to fight the panic. I suspect it's because I spotted the insulating foil and cracks in the passenger cabin.
Weird, I know, but considering they had to ground the sister flight to Gabarone because a bird flew through the windscreen, it just felt a whole lot dodgier than the tiny planes we were in. Plus it was 4 hrs with NO entertainment. Can die.
Anyway, when we hit Cape Town, Gene was almost delirious with joy at the thought of having an Internet connection, even better - it was FOC Wi-fi. You should have seen the look of pure bliss on his face.
Me on the other hand refused to touch the computer... was missing the un-connectivity of the bush.
Of course, we *had* to do all the touristy things: Go to Cape point (there were massive power cuts so the funicular broke down and we decided we were not going to trudge all the way up a hill just to see a lighthouse), Table mountain (fab views but expensive at R120 a ticket up the cable car 120 Rand is about, say a bit more than S$40; the aquarium, hang out at the Waterfront. We also hit Robben Island where Mr Mandela was imprisoned... very touristy but have stories to tell about this, and of course, Boulders, where the penguins are... and of course, the Townships.
The townships were created when the then Apartheid government forcibly removed residents from what was then called "District Six" in the late '50s. The pretext then was that it was a white-only area. They pulled down ALL the homes - we're talking about 250,000 pple here - leaving only those structures that housed white people then. Ironically, the land was NEVER redeveloped, and till today is still an empty, underutilised plot near the city centre.
A relic from a white-only era.
The evicted residents were given... tents. No water, no electricity.
But soon enough, the situation became so dire, with black plague spreading etc, that the government began constructing homes (think of small one room houses with no partitions, but at least built out of brick) and "hostels" (think of small dingy walk-up apartments with one kitchen to share, one living room, and three "bedrooms")
Today, these would be the basis for the four types of housing in the Townships:
One, they call the Beverly Hills. Through 11 years of co-existence, some blacks have progressed tremendously, becoming the new middle class. they are doctors, lawyers, accountants, and their homes are pretty nice. All spruced up and with Audi TTs out in front. Oh, the other big difference? These houses, unlike their fancy white neighbours in town and the swish neighbourhoods on the coast, have open balconies, patios. Not a barbed wire fence nor electrical fence in sight.
The second type is the original govt housing: still a tad shabby because of their age, but not half bad living. They have attached toilet facilities out back.
Then, come the hostels. Pple rent beds, not rooms inside these. R20 a month (S$6 thereabouts) will buy you a bed in one of the bedrooms. In each bedroom - which are tiny hovels - three beds are squished in. All their worldly possessions are either above, on or below the bed, Pots, blankets, some food. Large families share ONE bed. But there is a common kitchen. Ahem.. kitchen here is loosely used. It is just one dark, sooty room where the families place their gas burners. That's it. Nothing else.
But; even R20 is tough for many to afford. So they build their own "temporary" housing that become pretty permanent out of zinc and whatever wood they can scrounge.
The government, realising that the problem ain't gonna go away anytime soon, has attempted to provide common toilet facilities and some electricity to these shacks - so that there is some level of sanitation and well, they don't build fires because they can spread like crazy through the tinderboxes they call shacks... Over the weekend before we arrived, some 500 homes were destroyed by one fire.
It all sounds pretty harsh and you would think that it would be the most maudlin and depressive place on earth.
Not so. First, you are struck by how many are trying hard to come up with some kind of business, either making necklaces, art, craft, something to make decent money.
Then, the next biggest thing to strike you is the absolute camaderie, and dare I say this, optimism and yes, joy (!) that pervades the community. Everyone says hi to everyone else. People help each other out - no worries if your neighbour needs that cup of sugar and you're down to your last cup too.
Apparently, the townships are run much like villages with a council of elders which preside over daily life there. There is no crime perpertrated among the community (the chaps just go to town and mug/break into these houses with barbed wires and electrical fences)... why? Well, if anyone does something, he will be horsewhipped by the elders all the way as they march him to the police station.
If someone goes up in life - eh, there are quite a few big mercs, brand new audis, and some lambos and ferraris running around in the townships - its okay with the community because the policy is that you try and help someone else too. No jealousy, apparently,
We also managed to go visit Vicky's B&B. When she first started it, everyone thought she was crazy. Like, who'd believe that foreigners want to stay in a township? In a SHACK in the Khayelitsha township no less.
But this indomitable woman proved it was possible, against all odds. Today, there are 6 other B&Bs that she can refer guests to if she is overbooked.
She says with wicked humour: "Look, now you can say you have been to Khayelitsha and survived?"
It's an amazing place. With amazing people who welcome you with open hearts (though I suspect only if you come around with a guide they know) but the disparity and the contrast is hard to accept.
Not that we made the surreality any better: in the am we were in the townships and in the pm, we were catching sundowners at the swish Old Nelson hotel. Also called Pink Nellie by the locals, because the entire building - very swish inside - is bright pink!
And that night, we were dining in a super swish place called Savoy Cabbage. Cape Town by the way in renowned for its happening dining scene and celeb chefs. But we were getting rather homesick for local asian food.
That said, we managed to try Kudu and Warthog steaks while in Capetown. Gene says "Yummmy".
Okay: Another surreality bite: There are pple who will "take care" of your car for you while you park... just had the chap 2 or 5 Rand at the end, kinda thing. If you don't, apparently, they can scratch your car and do strange nasty things. BUT, everyone of them will initiate conversation, and they are REALLY nice people; very welcoming. One could even speak a smattering of mandarin because he worked for a towkay in a shipping concern before!
Then; gene bought this huge oil painting for about R300... or about S$100... painted by this cahp who has a degree in Macroeconomics. He's Congolese, but fled the violence and craziness up there. In South Africa, his degree isn't recognised, so... he paints.
But we were hassled by street kids (apparently, not from SA, but immigrants from elsewhere) one afternoon, and we quickly popped into a shop to escape. And there we found extremely good cape malay food (the cape was once dutch, and the dutch also controlled the dutch east indies or Indonesia as it was known then and many came over as slave labour)
Then, if you drive down through the seaside towns of the cape, its all very swish and something out of say, the Great Oceans Road in Melbourne. Small quaint towns, pretty houses and victorian architecture. At boulders, there were more tourists then Penguins for instance; and Camp's Bay was simply too packed because there was an international beach volleyball tourney going on and we couldn't find a spot to stop for sundowners.
As you will tell from following photos - it was quite a schizo 5 days in Cape Town. Still coming to grips with this really dynamic melange. Everytime you think you got it figured out, it shows you yet another side... Amazing.