I’ve spent the past week in Cape Town and Stellenbosch. I have picked up the habit of going to the bigger cities when I’m tired of being in Grahamstown. I always think that’s an irony considering people in the big cities go to smaller towns for some respite from traffic, the blinding lights and massive billboards.
In Stellenbosch I was hiding and working on a farmhouse just outside town. I was surrounded by mountains and acres of land with vineyards. It was surreal considering that my view in Grahamstown is usually of the surrounding block of flats or when I stand at the Monument the entire town, with all its inequalities made visible in the very architecture of the housing. The inequalities were well hidden from me while staying in Stellenbosch. I don’t remember seeing any shacks or dilapidated RDP houses. When I did venture into town I ended up on the tourist side with endless coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques. If i didn’t know any better I would have convinced myself I’m in another world. A very white world as well. Fortunately my hosts were far more colourful than the world outside our yard. A cosmopolitan group of young people from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Norway and South Africa offered me much comfort with copious amounts of tea and comfort food.
After Stellenbosh, I headed for Cape Town...I never know what to make of this city. Coming to Cape Town has always been an encounter with the crude reality in South Africa. I chose a first class carriage which was quiet, with less people. I didn’t have to see the blind woman who always sings on the train asking for money while being led by another woman equally haggard-looking. I didn’t have to be accosted by the man selling odds and ends in economy class. I was able to watch Cape Town unfold as I drew nearer to the city centre. Passing through the stations I realised that like many places in South Africa, the Group Areas Act still exists in Cape Town and people always seem quite happy with that as they still live in areas according to their race demarcated by the apartheid government decades ago.
On Freedom Day I escaped a protest about the appalling toilet infrastructure in some of Cape Town’s areas (and there was finally a victory from the courts as well) and spent most of the day in Kalk Bay enjoying pancakes and waffles with new friends. We played a game that left us in stitches with laughter enjoying our freedom of association with friends from diverse backgrounds.
Staying with a friend in town meant that I woke up to the view of Table Mountain everyday. Seeing the mountain at such close range and not a picture made me think I could grab it or even climb it. Every morning I contemplated my day by looking out the window with the Slave Lodge, Houses of Parliament, The Company’s Gardens and the St George’s Cathedral as my view. Watching people from a bird’s eye view, I contemplated my perspective on life and of course, ended up thinking too much. Fortunately when I did this often, a friend was always around to ask me “where are you Atha?”. Being in Cape Town, I always prefer hiding in my mind. I don’t have too many memories in this city but I have enough to remind me that living in two worlds of privilege and disadvantage is easy if one chooses to make peace with the inequalities.
This time around, I did not end up on taxis trying to find my way to Khayelitsha. I did not have to encounter rude taxi drivers or deal with to much cacophony at taxi ranks. I was neatly tucked away in a friend’s car or the Jammies to UCT. Or I walked in clean streets like Long, Wale, Adderley, the Sea Point Promenade instead of sandy pathways filled with debris. I could appreciate a walk in the Newlands forest in the late afternoon.
While chatting to my aunt who enjoys living in Pretoria, she protested that my infatuation with Cape Town is false, “This is not the real South Africa”. I don’t mind dabbling with infatuation from time to time because I know the real South Africa all too well and I’m happy to embrace any respite from all the images that remind me that South Africa has a long way to go; the road to Freedom, Equality and Dignity for the majority of the South Africans has begun, but seems to get longer every time I turn on the radio, read the newspaper because of yet another scandal of morally bankrupt leaders squandering resources that should be meant in giving people better opportunities in this country.