Cape Town: A coastal city of contrasts

‘What a life,’ marvelled the ice cream seller as a picture-perfect German family of five turned down his sweet treats.

Sprawled out on colourful towels over the platinum-blonde sand of Cape Town’s glamorous Camps Bay Beach, the cheerful clan appeared not to have a care in the world.

Meanwhile, the salesman was in his fifth hour of trudging along the palm-fringed beach, carrying an ice box in each hand, under the blazing sun.

His comment, muttered as he walked away from the family and heard only by me, summed up my thoughts on Cape Town.

Throughout my stay in the undeniably beautiful city, I noticed striking contrasts between rich and poor.


A man feeds a seal raw fish from his mouth to earn tips from tourists

The Mercedes drivers pulling up at traffic lights as a bedraggled man approached to sell wooden giraffe carvings and oil paintings.


The hip, bearded, young crowds dining on tapas and sushi on Bree Street, while the homeless watched their every mouthful.

The mother with babe in arms who followed me down Long Street pleading for food after I’d just guiltily consumed a whole pizza to myself.

There are different standards of living across all cities. But in Cape Town race still appears a crucial factor when it comes to determining whether you live in a modern house – protected by high walls, electric fences, and an ‘armed response’ team – or whether you are on the outside, trying to eke out a living.

It is mainly black and mixed-race people that find themselves living in ramshackle townships on the outside of town, compared to the whites in cliff-side penthouses with panoramas over the glistening Atlantic ocean.

The South African government is fully aware of the disparity between rich and poor and the racial inequality that remains post-apartheid.

It has declared poverty, inequality, and unemployment a triple threat to the country and its 50.3 million people.


‘Freedom cannot be manacled,’ says a wall on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years

Alarmingly in 2015, South Africa’s unemployment figures rose to the highest in the world at 25.50 per cent, followed by Greece at 24.62 per cent.


The legacy of apartheid is often cited as one of the reasons for the elevated rate of unemployment and thus poverty.
South Africa shut the door on institutionalised racial segregation and welcomed democracy 23 years ago but many people have little choice but to still live in the places they were forcibly removed to.

There are still many places around the city that highlight the cruelty of apartheid.

One such place is Ocean View, south-west of Cape Town’s city centre.

It is a settlement made up of bland, identical looking apartment blocks that appear dumped in the middle of a valley surrounded by barren mountains and grey rocks.

The township was established in 1968 for “coloured” people who had been forcibly removed from so-called “white areas” such as Simon’s Town, Noordhoek and Red Hill.

The irony is many of these people were fishermen.

They were removed from their seaside homes and livelihoods and dumped in Ocean View – a place where there isn’t a glimpse of water in sight.

Acclaimed artist the late Peter Clarke was one South African who was forced to move there under the Group Areas Act.

During his first solo exhibition in 1957, the former dock worker said: “Before my exhibition, I was just another coloured man.

“Our people took it for granted that only whites could do such things. Now they are becoming aware of the fact that we can do these things too; that we are human beings.”

Another part of town that highlights the cruelty of apartheid is District Six, where former black South African residents are still fighting to reclaim the land after it was declared a white area in 1966.

More than 60,000 people were forcibly removed to the Cape Flats and their houses in the perfectly located District Six were bulldozed down.

Fifty years on, only 135 homes have been built in the area which remains vulnerable and unprotected from development by people who never owned the land to start with.

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