cape town blues

23Jul06

Cape Town could be an amazing city. Two large mountains – Table and the Lion burst out from the the city and rise above it beautiful and undeveloped. The city itself is rife with great little neighborhoods which ring what should be a thriving metro area. But it’s anything but. Instead the city is dead. people are afraid to be out except in small little retail pockets and even then pretty much just during the day time.

crime is rampant, and a large majority of it is violent. and because there is very little happening in the city, crime is more prevalent there – at least in the parts that quickly empty at night. although (knock on wood) i have not witnessed it yet. approximately 25,000 are murdered in SA per year. many many more are carjacked, mugged or threatened in their own homes, but emerge alive and often unscathed.

as you leave cape town proper for neighboring towns and suburbs the economic dissonance intensifies. there are rich suburbs with huge million dollars homes and giant shopping malls with high end stores. and there are the townships – the cramped developments where all non-whites were forced to live and many still live now. langa and gugulethu are both visible from the airport. and you can see the permanent housing as well as the acres of shanty towns as you fly in.

years of unjust economics have taken their toll. there is nothing for many people to lose. under apartheid non-whites weren’t just held back socially, but economically. any non-white who had some modicum of income, or economic stability was likely stripped of it, forced to move the townships or flee the country if they had the means. some better off families have recovered. many more haven’t.

with nothing left to lose, violent crime carries no threat. the poor people who are committing the crimes have nothing to worry about. what can you threaten to take away from a man who has nothing. and the rich people who live with the threat of this have equally little to lose. when your life is at risk every day, how can you honestly continue to worry about it. the locals don’t spend much time thinking about it, and when they do they all seem pretty paralyzed. they don’t seem to feel there’s anything that can be done except hope that a generation or two of good public education and continued economic development can turn things around.

but both blacks and whites point out that education and economics is not the only concern. aids is a massive problem here. people, primarily blacks, are being infected at a staggering rate here. The government refused to acknowledge it was a problem until it was out of control, and even now isn’t helping. the vice president of the country was just caught in a sex scandal with a 14 year old girl and when it came out that he didn’t use a condom either (not surprising, i mean it was rape) despite the fact that other of his conquests and wives have turned up HIV+, he said he would be fine since he took a shower after. this is about the level of health advice coming out of the government.

for those infected with aids, the government does have a program to offer generic anti-retrovirals. but in order to qualify, you t cell count has to be obscenely low (under 200) and you have to be perfectly healthy by some miracle. so basically it is impossible to qualify. and if you manage to qualify, your treatment often can’t start until a month later. so many who manage to qualify die from complications before their treatment begins. tuberculosis is rampant amongst the hiv infected and is one of the largest causes for a rising death toll.

i’ve been told that if aids and the diseases allowed to spread by its contraction continue at this current pace, that projections show the black population decreasing to match the white’s numbers within about 20 years. it’s absurd.

i visited a township and talked to residents. i’ve talked to well off whites. and everyone seems equally angry about the current situation and equally at a loss as to what they can do. it is not clear what can turn this country around and everyone is so frustrated that they’re paralyzed. there are no protests about aids, about crime. there is coverage about it in the papers, but even so, rugby rates up with high profile murders on the front, and world news is buried inside.

on a personal level, i have to say that despite all this country’s problems that it is absolutely beautiful and the people have all been equally friendly no matter what their color or class status. this is one of the easiest countries to meet nice people in that i have ever been to.

i cannot fathom how this country will be able to host the world cup in 4 years. high crime and 100s of millions of tourists seems like a bad combo. and even if the government manages to combat the crime rate, there’s nothing else. there’s barely any hotels. except for trains that take workers out to the townships and tourists around the country, there is no public transport at all. certainly no metropolitan transportation either. and that’s not even counting the fact that local governments are still squabbling about stadiums.

good luck south africa. if you were a safe place to live, if broadband didn’t cost $170 / month and have low speeds and a lower usage cap, if there were subways or busses i might consider living here. you have a beautiful, diverse land and great people.

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