My dad said that every time he mentions to someone that I am spending the summer in South Africa, they immediately believe that I am sleeping on the ground in a mud hut, fighting off lions and walking three miles to get water. While at times I do yearn for such a rural, exotic experience, this has not been the case.
With a thriving metropolis, diverse and abundant food, clothing, and tech stores, and picturesque scenery, Cape Town hardly feels third world. However, South Africa is a developing country, even if the Cape Town city bowl is ahead of the curve. Travelling five minutes outside of the city bowl, the sky scrapers fade into a tin shack vista that extends farther than the eye can see. This is a township. Here, homes are crafted from scrap metal, families of eight live in one tiny room, one line of electricity services thousands, clean water is scarce, and garbage is abundant.
The difference between the whites of the city bowl and suburbs, and the blacks of the township is the difference between first and third world, witnessed in a five minute drive. The income disparity is alarming. When people tell me that South Africa should be considered a first world country, I think back to these townships, and know that they have a long way to go. I do not believe that I could ever live in a township. Township life creates racial animosity, because these people know that they could have more. It leads to gangsterism, abuse, and a curbing of academic potential due to resources—many township schools do not even have bathrooms or libraries. A short drive away, wealthy children sit in air conditioning, learning from the latest edition books.
I strongly believe in the work that organizations such as SAEP are doing in these townships to improve the livelihood of the people. After spending some time with the children, I know that they have potential; they merely need to resources to excel.
This disparity is not only seen by moving from township to city. Elements of development are prevalent in urban centers. Most applicable to my everyday life is the public transportation of Cape Town. I commute to work every day via the “Golden Arrow” bus service. Most cities have well run bus systems. When I lived in Valencia, I took the bus to work, and there was a digital message board on top of every bus stop listing the busses that would stop and how many minutes until their arrival. Maybe I was disenchanted by the perfect European transportation, but these Golden Arrow busses are like dinosaurs. Big, loud, dirty busses come as they please, at whatever time they please. Since their main function is bringing township people into and out of the city for work, it is not a user friendly or enjoyable service. This also means that there are really no city busses, save a few lines that run infrequently. This has resulted in spending hundreds of dollars on taxi cabs, because again, walking anywhere is dangerous, walking at night is a 90% chance of mugging.
People get around the city in mini taxis. These dirty large vans are probably broken, and will probably stop for gas on the way. All down the road you hear yells and honks, with these mini taxis coming up to you while you are walking, trying to get you into the cab. I may never be able to get the voices, shouting “Cape Town, Cape Town, Cape Town” out of my head. The first time I took one, I honestly believed that I was going to be abducted, and once I got passed that, I thought we were surely going to kill a pedestrian. But, with a little faith in humanity, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone begun taking the mini taxis home for work. As I see it, I would rather not wait the half an hour for the bus when I could sit in a swerving mini bus with my fifteen new, closest, smelly friends, music blaring.
Alternatively, if the Golden Arrow or the informal mini taxis are not for you, the only other option is the train. These trains are old, graffiti ridden and dirty. In fact, crossing the road to the train station, I encountered an enormous rat. For those of you who do not know, I actually have a phobia of mice and rats. This resulted in me shoving my friend Nathaniel into oncoming traffic to avoid the creature. Anyways, the train comes at frequent intervals, and as long as you ride at a busy time, it is an alright form of transportation. However, many muggings do occur when there are few riders, and it can be extremely dangerous. If you are on first class, you miss the real train experience, although it is absolutely not advised to ride third class. Not fully knowing the system, I have purchased a first class ticket and wound up on third class a few times, and it is a real experience. Preachers with microphones and bibles will enlighten a full cramped car of passengers for an entire 40 minute voyage, vendors will enter attempting to sell snacks, and beggars will come through the cars, shaking cans for money.
That being said, I find it interesting that one of the economic centers of South Africa, and of the global south, does not even have reliable public transportation. This reiterates the divisions in South African society, as affluent white people would probably never ride the public transport. After this diatribe, I hope that you have a better understanding of my everyday life here in the city, and of South Africa as a country. I have a lot of hope for South Africa, and I think that Cape Town is a magic place. But, they have a long ways to go.