Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Divide

Cape Town is a prospering, luxurious metropolis — and, a poor, violent township.

I went into a mall — a real mall. With designer stores and beautiful architecture. I watched American television on a huge bed. I took a cable car to the top of Table Mountain and my skin turned wet as I walked through a cloud on a blustery day. I went on a safari through Kruger Park and sat inches away from some of the most beautiful and powerful creatures I’ve ever seen. I had a vacation. I had a luxurious vacation. And, that’s what most Americans, Europeans or Germans do when they come to South Africa — especially when they visit Cape Town.

I also spent time visiting the townships. Just a few blocks down from the high-rises, university, spacious theaters and fancy restaurants are hundreds of shacks, made up only of metal scraps leaning in disarray. The ground is dirt and rocks. Black women move through their daily work of scrubbing their clothes and corralling their children. Black men smoke cigarettes and talk to me about how they wish their houses were homes. It is difficult for the men here because it is hard to find work and women are cheaper labor. But, even for women, life is not easy. They are stressed taking on positions of homemaker and provider. Because of disease and violence, families are often fragmented — which makes life within the impoverished townships even more complicated and exhausting.

An American might think Cape Town is a city like New York or Baltimore — all have a bad side of town and a prospering side. But, South Africa is so different. The divide between rich and poor is blatant. There is absolutely no middle class. There is a white man sipping expensive wine in a multi-million dollar beach house in view of a drunken black man beating his wife to try to numb the feeling of having so much less than his neighbor.

While I have witnessed extreme poverty in the townships of South Africa, I do see ideas for change. I visited the Indlovu Project, a plan for sustainable development for a township community, and spoke with a woman who has a true passion and is making progress— she has new buildings, a way to deal with sewage and she has the intelligence to make a difference. This is something that was not as evident to me in Morocco or Ghana.

I see plans, I see organization and a will for prosperity. I see plans for a better township. I see wealthy people starting to mobilize those plans. And, while this process has not been speedy or as efficient as it could have been, I think South Africa has hope for a middle class. For example, tourism is a true moneymaker in Cape Town and townships are starting to realize how they can profit from people who are looking to buy crafts and pieces of African culture. There is a market in Cape Town, there are rich people and I believe that this part of Africa has the tools to reverse the corruption and chaos that has brought so much pain to this area.

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