Contrasts and contrasts and contrasts
04.04.2013 - 05.04.2013 77 °F
One of the questions posed to World Cruisers is “Which is your favorite port?” Really! Which is your favorite child? We have loved everyplace we have been and learned from each of them. Especially, we appreciate the gift of being able to circumnavigate in experience as well as geography, giving us a sense of the vastness of the world as well as its connections.
That all being said, I wish I could live long enough to see South Africa grow into the hopes surrounding it. I wish I could be a part of making the dreams of this place come true. This is an astounding nation, a country that is taking a great risk, a little miracle of bridge building in our world, a model for all nations, a place that cooked up the idea of keeping “truth and reconciliation” in tension and continues to work at both of those things.
We were only in South Africa a week, only went to four ports and spent two days in the Cape Winelands. We have seen the contrasts and the aching poverty and read the warnings of possible violence. But yet there is a real possibility of diverse peoples living together in harmony, a chance of shared resources here - mainly because people are talking about it.
Cape Town is the place where racial balance is greatest and where there are signs of socio-economic leveling. One of our guides spoke of the huge successes in this nation and then, sadly, of governmental corruption, of police who don’t protect the people so private security firms have to, of a culture of dependency developing for people receiving government aid, of the black population receiving benefits somehow being only a small minority of those with need.
Visitors to a country can’t possibly discern what’s really going on there, but here’s what we saw in our time in Cape Town:
a fabulously beautiful city. Sailing into this harbor with Table Rock behind the city is one of the great travel experiences of all time. Cape Town is sparkling, growing, bustling; people are friendly. The Victoria and Albert Waterfront is a great mix of shopping and entertainment and housing and hotels, surrounded by harbor restaurants - all have a holiday feel and all are well integrated racially, if not socio-economically.
St. George’s Anglican cathedral where Archbishop Desmond Tutu led a demonstration of 300,000 of South Africa’s “rainbow people” in 1989. Beneath the pulpit sits a stone construction of the empty tomb; on the south wall a large window depicting Christ in triumph over Evil and Darkness.
The views!!! from Table Rock and the cable car going to it. Wow! Wow! And there beneath the city sits Robben Island, always visible, a reminder that this is the place where political prisoners were incarcerated - Nelson Mandela for 18 years, the current president (Zuma) among so many others.
Housing. We drove mile after mile of roads where fences with barbed wire surround each suburban house, and we saw acres after acres of shanties patched together from pieces of corrugated metal. The shanty dwellers are uneducated people from the country who have come to the city to get jobs. There are none. And yet South Africa exports an abundance of natural resources for processing and then imports the finished goods. Seems like they could train folks in manufacturing skills .... Or put resources into the country villages... Or... This is not an insoluble problem.
Next to these informal settlements are acres of low income housing built by the government in the last 15 years, tidy little houses crammed together, nowhere enough of them but a sign of hope. Interestingly, in our brief drive-by, the women of the shanty towns were collecting garbage and putting it in bags for pick-up buy the highway. The garbage in the area around government housing was often piled up by the houses. Also interesting - in many places the small plots of land around the government supplied housing are filled with “informal” shanties.
In huge contrast to the settlements was our trip to Stellenbosch. First stop: Franschhoek, a charmingly and beautiful town north of Cape Town. In the church a quintet was rehearsing Schubert’s Trout for an evening concert; on the streets were upscale shops and restaurants; in the background were gorgeous mountains and an elegant flower garden around the Huguenot memorial. Next to the Allée Bleue Estate, for an elegant picnic lunch and wine tasting under umbrellas on the lawn. And then on to our hotel, Majeka House, where we had our own villa with living room, dining room, and study with its second floor windows facing the mountains, and a bedroom with dressing room and sitting room, veranda and private pool. The contrasts with the settlements couldn’t be greater. That evening we went to the Dieu Donné Wine Estate for a World cruise gala dinner. As dusk descended, we had drinks on a terrace overlooking the mountains. An African band played; men walked around with owls and peregrine falcons; women walked around in costumes on stilts; teenagers danced stomps. The table flowers at dinner were huge protea; dancing followed dinner --- and the contrasts were great.
We want to come back.