Cape Town and initial thought about South Africa

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Hi There,

Mamatsi and I travelled to Cape Town on 22 April, she stayed here until yesterday when she returned to Soweto, with me remaining here on my own. Away from Soweto I’ve realised how affected I am in South Africa, I remember how I felt in Bethlehem, I’m processing my initial experiences here at a similar time.

What confuses me here are the functional and more problematic Public services. Since 1994 the most significant change in South Africa have been establishing a National Health Service which has provided universal healthcare. However poor service delivery in rural areas caused by the high level of unfilled posts and lack of employment there which has resulted in increasing migration to the main cities. Public housing has expanded, with the construction of Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) houses across the country while demand exceeds supply. The majority of urban migrants live initially in shantytown corrugated iron shacks which provide them with temporary housing until they find more secure accommodation. Benefit services have been established for pensioners and families with children, however their levels don’t provide payments which meet the cost of living.

Basic education has been provided, with an increasing proportion of children and young people from previously disadvantaged communities continuing in School until they have written Matric (Aged 17-18 years), however less than 50% of these pupils go into further education. In addition over the last 4 years Limpopo Province hasn’t provided text books in Secondary Schools, depriving a whole pupil generation of vital learning materials which has affected their progression into further education and employment. The majority of black, coloured and Indian citizens remain in the areas where they lived before 1994 where there has been little change in their situation. Township schools provide poor education and unemployment there exceeds 40%. I think that the South Africa post-apartheid system still hasn’t tackled income disparities and ownership issues which pre-date 1994. I’m concerned that poor management systems, lack of accountability and endemic corruption in the ANC reduces tax receipts which affect spending levels on Public services.

Mamatsi and I visited the District Six and Bo-Kaap Museums which show forced movement by the coloured community from the city centre to the Cape flats I thought carefully about a quote from a South African novelist, Ezekiel Mphahlele (who taught me Sotho at Wits University) who referred to the apartheid removal policy as ‘dislocation’ because of it’s effect on the community who were moved. From the description the effects of this change in location are clearly linked with the breakdown in community cohesion which resulted in serious crime problems on the Cape flats where most of them moved and increased poverty which still remain. I’m concerned that only a tiny number of previous District Six residents have been able to return there after 20 years freedom. I thought too of my parents and grandparents having to leave Germany as refugees and whether relocation also describes their experience.

I feel like being here with Mamatsi has changed the way I experience Cape Town and made me focus away from holiday experiences. She’s enjoyed being in a comfortable hotel, having a holiday, exploring Cape Town’s history during the apartheid years, going to Opera, with Congolese singers performing Verdi’s Macbeth. However she’s out of her comfort zone here because it’s so different from where she lives. I found when we visited Robben Island the focus has changed over time, most of the visitors had little knowledge or respect for the history and were there for the experience. There was little sense of the effect of imprisonment and I felt the ex-prisoner guide was tired of repeating his story. I thought visitors were disrespectful, I was upset how they posed for photos, having pictures taken pretending they were behind bars in the cells, with some of them even lying on the beds. I told an acquaintance afterwards it felt like a mixture of experience and Disney! There was a South African group who continually pressed the guide to tell them why he’d been imprisoned there, my perception was that they thought he’d been convicted by a Court for terrorist acts and justice had been done.

The last weekend included Freedom day which this year celebrated 20 years majority rule, what surprised me here in Cape Town how little publicity had been given to events here. I found out in the local paper that a bronze statue of Nelson Mandela was being unveiled outside Parliament on Monday, close to where our Hotel, however there was no information exactly where the ceremony was taking place or the time which presented a challenge! We headed downtown after breakfast and found where the event was taking place. I thought security staff clearly had no experience of large visitor groups in the Parliamentary precinct, I found it strange that we sat in a separate tented area to the politicians and celebrity guests. I was also the only white person in our area and was unsure about the reason.

With the ceremony itself I was impressed with the quality of speeches, unified by Mandela’s universal meaning. The President Jacob Zuma made an excellent speech, reflecting on changes in 20 years and launching the next year as the start of further changes, in particular with economic freedom. I was inspired with this idea but felt like a new leader or a different Party would take this policy forward because the President and ANC Party are tainted by corruption. The statue is impressive and its location outside the main entrance to Parliament is a fitting way of remembering Nelson Mandela’s role in changing South Africa. Afterwards a meal was provided for guests in Parliament as is traditional for any celebration here. Cynics may think that these guests were ‘bussed in’ by the ANC and one reason for them being there was a free meal. Some of them wrapped up food to take home, keeping it for later which upset me when I remembered hunger I’d seen when I lived in South Africa. I thought that hunger hasn’t been eradicated here, a negative feature of the ‘New’ South Africa.

In my reading about South Africa ‘The Fall of the ANC What Next?’ describes a ‘locational apartheid’ which is based on where people live. Very few members of the previously disadvantaged communities have moved to suburban areas in cities because of property prices. In the City bowl I’ve looked at Estate Agency offices where the lowest price homes I saw were around R8.5 Million, roughly £500 Thousand, prices which exclude the majority of South Africans. What makes Cape Town different for me and links it with the Third world experience is squatter settlements close to these affluent areas, different to Johannesburg where Townships are more separate from the suburban city. I find myself conflicted between the beauty of the area in the City bowl, dominated by a frontal view of Table Mountain. In my free time here I’ve walked on slopes up to the mountain and climbed Signal Hill last Thursday evening, watching the sun going down. I found myself bewitched by the sun’s reflection on the mountain changing from gold to red then grey to black as the light disappeared. My contrasting feelings remind me how difficult I find it my identity conflict, from having lived here until I was 28 years old and at present when I choose to stay in Soweto because I’m uncomfortable with my own community.

I’ll think more about these divergent feelings later. I’m sorry I’m still finding it hard to download photos on posts about which I’ll seek advice. Tomorrow’s May Day and I hope to find a Rally here I can attend.

Regards,

Steve.

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