March 18, 2008

Cape Town

When I first decided to move to South Africa, the only thing I knew was that I wanted to live in Cape Town. The original plan was to “rock up” in CT (as they say here) and sort out the details of what I would do once I landed. For years I’ve heard about the beauty of Table Mountain and the serenity of Africa’s southern most beaches, and after my first visit to Cape Town, I must say everything everyone said is true.

But as fate would have it, the CEO of loveLife asked me if I would come to Johannesburg instead. He asked me to give him six weeks in Jo’burg to help develop the mobile strategy, and then if I still wanted to move to Cape Town, I could easily execute the strategy from there. Turns out I’m a big fan of fate.

For starters, I don’t think I’d ever get any work done in Cape Town. I could easily spend hours on end just staring up at the mountain or down on the gorgeous beach (and I’m certain I’m not the only one). Secondly, Cape Town – although incredibly cosmopolitan – is a beach town. And like any beach town, life just moves a little slower. On vacation, I think that pace is fantastic. For day-to-day life, not so much.

But perhaps the main reason I couldn’t live in Cape Town is the very obvious racial segregation. When my friend Mitch and I went to visit last week, we stayed in Camps Bay, which admittedly is one of the nicer parts of town, tucked directly in between the mountain and the beach with spectacular views of each. It is also apparently occupied by pretty much Whites only. On our first night out, we headed to a restaurant down the street and were both fairly shocked that there wasn’t a single Black patron, only staff. I know in many parts of the world this isn’t terribly uncommon, but White people only make up 9% of South Africa.

Then, the next night we went out to Long Street, essentially the Bourbon Street of Cape Town with literally a long stretch of bars, clubs and merry people hanging out in the streets. We began at the top of the street and realized pretty quickly that there were White bars and Black bars on Long Street. There was even one point in the night when we looked around and realized that all the White people were on one side of the street and the Black folks on the other. Mitch and I just stopped and looked at each other in awe.

Self-segregation probably doesn’t seem too terribly shocking a mere 14 years after the end of apartheid. But Johannesburg does not suffer from the same issue. Part of this is that proportionally there are a larger percentage of Whites in Cape Town than in any other part of SA at 23%. Another part is that Cape Town is largely a tourist town with a fair share of the property owned by foreigners. But the biggest issue is that unlike Johannesburg, Cape Town has no Black middle class to speak of. And even in the most gorgeous setting, the poverty is pretty in your face – literally with children waiting outside of restaurants begging for change.

In the end, I’m tremendously grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to visit Cape Town. Standing on top of Table Mountain is a spiritual experience, and I would recommend it to anyone. Driving alongside the mountain looking over at the Atlantic’s water crashing on the rocks is consistently breathtaking. And at any given moment while in CT you can turn around and be in complete awe of nature.

I will continue to visit Cape Town and visit often. But ironically enough I don't think I could live there.

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