Cape Town: A City caught with an identity crisis

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PROTESTERS prevent a crane from entering Bo-Kaap and making its way to a development.

I casually remarked to my sister “this is where the real Cape Town starts” as we drove past the historic and world-renowned Groote Schuur Hospital. It was only a few days later that the context of this simple remark started to hit home. This Mother City is really one that ticks all the blocks of a divided City; call it a tale of 2 Cities, a place inhabited by the haves and have nots, one that continues to be beset by Apartheid Spatial Planning and Development, a haven and playground for those who can afford it’s exorbitant residential prices, but a desolate space for those who are still poverty stricken and of which the majority is of a darker hue. 

One finds it even harder to comprehend such descriptions and status quo continues to exist, a quarter of a century into the country’s democratic dispensation, but exist, it does. It exists in its facilities, sports, education, living spaces, economy, society etc, and where a private security company can be appointed to conduct the work of the authorities by those who believe it their God given right to lay claim to this place, they construe as ‘theirs’ to the exclusion of the ‘other’.

While those beyond the ‘Grootte Schuur Divide’ soak up the best of what this indescribably beautiful City has to offer at tourist destinations like the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain and upmarket apartments with majestic views in Three Anchor Bay, Camps Bay, Landudno as well as its Western Coast hinterland, the “other” half to the South of this world acclaimed City, lives out a daily hand to mouth existence, eking out a living with limited resources. Beset by crime and social ills, the latter group inhabits the barren windswept places, called townships, on the outskirts of the City, known as the Cape Flats, and which are the stomping grounds of rampant organized gangs who push their drug peddling to unseen before heights. 

Drive along any township in these sprawling Coloured and Black areas, so densely populated and overcrowded and you will see many young people in the prime of their lives pushing the popular Municipal wheelie bins along major roads. They operate like scavengers, possessed by a vigor under a scorching Sun, their brains already partially scrambled and in some cases scorched by the drug crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth or ‘Tik’). On other occasions, if they have gone beyond the threshold which the human brain can bear and see them walking along township streets talking to themselves, sometimes bare chested, just clinging on to a pair of pants so dirty which even fleas and lice are loathe to attack. This surreal picture could really be something straight out of a Hollywood themed, Zombie movie. Their skeletal frames, with eyes so deep in its sockets, already stalked by the Grim Reaper, inhabit our traffic intersections with requests for money.

The battle between gangs over territory to push their drugs are so severe in these townships that gang shootings and the elimination of the competition takes place in broad daylight and on a regular basis and even schoolchildren are not spared their turf wars, as they get caught in the ceasefire. So many young lives have been lost, others maimed or injured. These are not the only incidents which township communities have to deal with, but is compounded by robberies, rapes, home invasions and all other categories of criminality. This portrayal seems like a dark picture being sketched and a world apart from the leafy suburbs and coastal towns of the rest of this magnificent City. One would be hard pressed to equate the picture of doom and gloom with the many splendid attractions and touristy aura of this City. It sounds like a set out of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movie, but this is a City with a dark side.

This City was not one built on rock and roll as the rock group Starship’s song would describe, but rather one built on the bones, blood, sweat and tears of those who still stand outside it’s gates. This is a place with a dark past of slavery, colonialism and Apartheid and which still bears it’s scars and how prophetic and apt that the idea of Grootte Schuur (Great Scar) be remarked as the line of this divide. What continues to exist in this place is a grievous indictment on those who currently sits at the levers of power in this City. 

They play politics and use the majority population as cannon fodder during elections and only tend to rise from their slumber every 4 or 5 years to continue making empty promises, while continuing to ensure the disparities remain and become more embedded. That those who are already enjoying and reveling in the largesse and legacy which they acquired on the back of this City’s discriminatory past continue to gobble up everything on offer. They selfishly call on the politicians to allow for the last pockets of valuable land owned by the disadvantaged to be put at their disposal through measures such as unaffordable rates hikes and gentrification zonings. That those who were at the forefront of the Struggle for justice and equality becomes blind and deaf to the cries for help from those embattled communities, they themselves came from not so long ago. Are they so blind and do not wish to see?

How long will it be before this “Invisible line of Divide” will be breached and the islands of immense wealth swamped in this most beautiful of the world’s cities, by the ever increasing waves of humanity from the nearby sea of poverty, barely 20 kilometres from the epicenter of the Mother City? Heaven forbid that it should happen, but with the clock at 5 to 12 the options are diminishing at breakneck speed, for this “Mother” is still not caring for all her children. 


Sedick Crombie is a Media and Publicity Secretary for SARU SACOS Rugby Legends.