view from atop Table Mountain
Cape Town, South Africa; Nov 8, 2004
--Nov 22, 2004
South Africa is celebrating the 10-year anniversary
of the end of apartheid. Instead of confining the celebration
to a specific event, it is simply a general long-term recognition
of progress. We have seen a fair number of advertisements referencing
it and it is mentioned frequently at various public events (as
well as being the subject of a considerable number of TV shows).
We also have had the occasion to chat with several South Africans
6 resident working on a quilt of
other residents' comments about apartheid
(amazingly, she actually sews each comment
into the quilt by hand)
While Grace was programming the website, Susan
took the opportunity to read Nelson Mandela’s The Long
Walk to Freedom, and we visited the District 6 Museum (District
6 is an area of Cape Town from which a large number of blacks,
including many that owned land, were forcibly relocated during
apartheid to the Cape Town Flats, a very poor area outside of
Cape Town proper with almost no infrastructure).
Obviously, South Africa as a whole and Cape
Town in particular have changed an incredible amount since the
end of apartheid. In general, the South Africans are proud of
their progress. But to claim that the shadow of apartheid has
been left completely behind would be a serious misstatement. For
example, the difference in economic status, skilled employment,
education, and opportunity is significant among the various ethnic
One thing left
over from the apartheid era is extreme security. It used
to be necessary, but to new arrivals like us, it seems a
bit over the top. Here are some examples:
Door locks gone crazy. Our
apartment door has 6 locks! When we first arrived, we were
somewhat alarmed by this, but our landlords, Denis and Stephan
(whom we like very much), assured us that the locks are
overkill and that the neighborhood is safe (and after living
here a short while, we would certainly agree).
Dogs. There are a lot of loud
dogs around, supposedly mostly for security.
Armed police. There are a
lot of them. On foot, on horses, in cars. At public events,
they even drive up in armored vehicles.
The banks have a sealed entrance
chamber. When you want to go into a bank, you first enter
a tiny little chamber. Then you press a button. After the
door to the street closes completely, somebody inside the
bank presses another button that allows you to enter the
bank. It feels very safe indeed.
To the casual observer, routine public life
seems to be fairly lacking in hostility related to the past injustice
of apartheid. Don’t get us wrong, plenty of pent-up anger
is still present (we witnessed this on the news, TV talk shows,
and books, for example), but in general, the people that were
repressed (and often witnessed the death of family members and
friends) go about their daily life without a visibly huge chip
on their shoulder. Perhaps this is born of Mandela’s amazing
attitude of forgiveness and his positive influence over so many
people, but for whatever reason, it is an almost unbelievable
credit to the blacks (and other non-whites) of South Africa.
On that note, it is worth mentioning that terms
of racial distinction are used freely and without derogatory nuance.
While they used to mean life or death, they are now simply descriptive
(at least for the most part). During apartheid, the terms used
were Europeans, Natives, Asiatics, and Coloreds (see
Today, people tend to use the terms Blacks, Whites, and Coloreds
(including a wide variety of ethnicities, among them Asians and
those of mixed descent, so we, for example, are both Coloreds).
Interestingly, we also heard the term “Bad Whites” used
to refer to the people that created and/or propagated the state
South Africa implemented something similar
to Affirmative Action within the workforce some time ago, but
it has recently been revoked because people are convinced that
it isn’t really working. Instead, it has been decided that
it’s more important (and in the long-term, more effective)
to provide increased education opportunities to folks born into
less-privileged situations. So, for the time being, the difference
in occupations among various ethnicities is still great.
The neighborhoods are also still somewhat segregated,
arguably by economic status rather than by race, but the effect
is somewhat similar. The city proper is not so different from
any city anywhere. But outside the city there are several areas
called “the flats,” which is almost entirely populated
by poor blacks (this is true in Johannesburg as well). The houses
are made of thin, rusting metal, the infrastructure is almost
non-existent (dirt roads, sometimes no electricity or water, etc.),
there is an extremely high crime rate (a TV show we watched claimed
Jo-burg Flats has the highest number of murders per capita of
anywhere in the world), and the hope for economic advancement
is very low. Although apartheid has officially ended, the current
generation that was denied education and opportunity (and possibly
many generations to come) are still very much suffering the fallout.
Nonetheless, given the starting point 10 years
ago, the change is nothing short of remarkable. In summary, we
are as impressed with how far South Africa has come in 10 years
as we were appalled by apartheid. The horror of the country’s
past still looms clearly in the social conscience (and continues
to cause very tangible effects), but from what we’ve seen
they are determined to move past it into a state of genuine equality.
Regarding security, I found that the banks
(at least some of them) in Paris also have this sealed entrance
chamber. So it's not just a South African thing. Thoroughly enjoying
reading your site - why no new updates since Jan 30? Hope you
guys are OK and still enjoying fantastic travels!!
--Aaron (New York, NY, USA); Jul 4, 2005
Thanks for checking out the site and
sending a comment! We're going to Paris soon so we'll check out
their "sealed entrance chambers" too. :) We're glad
you're enjoying the site.
Regarding the updates... the last journal
entry you're looking at (in Japan) is dated Jan 30, but we actually
updated the site a couple weeks ago (in June, from Brazil). Yes,
we're a bit slow getting everything posted. It usually takes us
a few months to compile all the journal entries and pix and video.
And as we travel, we simply fall farther and farther behind, but
that's okay since we're obviously trying to spend a lot more time
experiencing than documenting.