Thursday, September 21, 2006

South Africa

Rather belated, but we spent 10 days in South Africa (Cape Town) and its about time I blogged about it.

Its a fascinating place. Cape Town itself has often been described as thinking of itself as a European city and certainly on one level it is less overtly African than other major African cities - the population is historically more diverse, for a start.

What immediately struck me was that in essense, apartheid still exists, in a practical sense if not in actuality as a political system. For example, restaurants appeared to be frequented only by white people. And recognising the still vast economic differences is at least one explanation. The sheer size of some of the townships, and the fact that much of them, particularly the largest, still consist of 'informal' housing - essentially shacks constructed from corrugated iron, board, and so on - emphasises this difference. Just a mile or two up the road are mansions costing millions. I know there are these diferences in London, but they seem all the more extreme, all the more stark.

What any government can do is limited, I suppose - or at least, it may take time, a long time, and when we visited a township with our excellent guide Duncan, local people did seem to have a sense of optimism. There is certainly a genuine sense of community on the townships, and I couldn't help but think that the design of the new 'pathway' housing will not facilitate this and appears to be more on the lines of the low level blocks of flats being torn down all over Britain.

Racism is still all too apparent, as is the assumption that because we are white, we would agree with them. Two particular occassions - at a crocodile farm where the owner launched into a racist rant, even using the word 'kaffir' (did you know that the only problem with apartheid was giving it a name - it would have been fine if they had just done it!), and in a supermarket of all places. Thats not going to disappear overnight either.

The city itself is remarkably beautiful, no doubt about that. We did the expected Table Mountain visit, and the views really are amazing. We also went to Robben island which was interesting but perhaps somewhat disorganised. The Robben Island Museum are building a new craft to take people to the island but have cancelled their existing contract before the new boat is available and replaced them, temporarily, with the old apartheid era boats which used to take the prisoners over to the island. Of historical provenance, yes, but not a comfoprtable ride to put it mildly, and they are still trying to run the old schedules on boats which are far slower. Daft.

Other things we did - travelled down to Constantia and halfway to Cape Point, where we saw penguins oin Boulders beach, and over to Hermanus for some whale watching - yes, they were more than in abundance. We went on a day safari which included rhinos, zebras, wildebeestes and so on...

Its certainly a foodie city. Great food everywhere we tried, and the exchange rate makes it a very cheap holiday once you have got there.

And the hotel must get a mention. The Cape Heritage Hotel in the city centre is a gem.

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