Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cape Town Week 16

Ross Peterson & Colin Mahoney

On the morning of April 28th the time had finally come for us to leave Windhoek after living and learning there for three months.  Saying goodbye to Namibia was bittersweet, but we were all excited to get to Cape Town for the last part of our journey in southern Africa.  Before we even landed it was clear that Cape Town was going to be a different experience than Windhoek.  After spending so much time in one of the least densely populated countries in the world, seeing so many sprawls during our approach to Cape Town International Airport was an almost foreign experience. Once in Cape Town, however, we heard from several speakers and visited number of museums, and the visible differences between South Africa and Namibia became eclipsed by the shared history and struggles of the two countries.
  One day we visited the former slave lodge in downtown Cape Town and went on a tour guided by a woman who spoke about issues of historical identity.  Because Cape Town was once a centre of trade and commerce it was also a boiling pot of several different cultures. Indigenous tribes were met by Dutch traders.  These traders brought with them slaves from the South Pacific and other parts of the world .As a result of this cultural mixing, Cape Town has a vibrant multi-ethnic community.  Afrikaans, the language became so closely linked to apartheid and sparked revolt in Soweto in the 1970s, is really a mix of several different world languages.  With the apartheid system, however, much of this cultural history was ignored and South Africans were limited to pre-determined cultural identities.  Our guide sought brings more attention back to cultural history and start anew dialogue about identity.
Identity was also the subject of our tour of Manenberg.  In the 1970s, coloured families were forced out of the part of Cape Town known as District Six to make room for new white development.  Many low income families were placed in the new neighbourhood of Manenberg.  Since its creation, the neighbourhood has been hit hard with crime and gang violence, although our tour guides seemed optimistic that things were improving.
Many people we heard from over the course of our trip did not share the same sense of optimism.  Several of our tour guides asked people on the street what their view of post-apartheid South Africa was. Each person answered in essentially the same way, saying that although there is a democracy in place and apartheid has ended, nothing has really changed.  It is impossible for us as American students in Cape Town for only a week to really judge on this issue, but walking through the various parts of the city there was still a sense of immense separation.  To put things in perspective, however, the official end of apartheid was just over twenty years ago and Mandela 'selection was only eighteen years ago.

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