Cape Town, South Africa: Apartheid’s lingering wounds

If you’re looking for the usual travel dope about Cape Town, you’re not going to get it here. Sure, I can recommend places to stay (I’m in a great one right now) and things to do.

I did choose Cape Town because of its famous icon, Table  Mountain, which hovers over the city and makes a great backdrop to the coastline. This is almost the southernmost part of the Atlantic Ocean — the same ocean I grew up with at the Jersey Shore. I also wanted to get a better ear for South African accents because I’d always embarrassed myself by assuming they were either British or Australian.

But I really came to South Africa to see how it was doing nearly 20 years after its cruel apartheid government was shown the door.  If it was talked about when Cape Town recently hosted the World Cup, I missed it. Probably not. Bad publicity about a chunk of history best swept under the rug.

In case you’ve heard the term but the meaning is fuzzy, apartheid means separate. It comes from the Dutch, who, along with the British, make up most of the whites in South Africa. Separate meant just that: for decades, non-whites were forced to relocate to less desirable areas and had to endure countless restrictions.Those who had anything to say about it — including the most-famous critic of them all, Nelson Mandela — were locked away.  Or killed.

So when Mandela was freed from prison and became president and stressed reconciliation and equality, that was really something. He’s out of office, but his party is still in power. How’s it doing?  I couldn’t have picked a better time to find out, because  there’s an election coming up, and  people are talking.

Outwardly, everything’s fine. Peaceful is the operative word. In fact, blacks and whites told me they’re not interested in elections. They get along just fine, they say; it’s the politicians who like to stir the pot.

But privately, the whites I met acknowledged the shame of apartheid: how they were taught that blacks and coloreds were the Devil, and would always be subservient; how they couldn’t even attempt to date a black, or they’d be arrested. But now, they say, the shoe seems to be on the other foot. There are stories of white farmers being killed by blacks; of horrific home invasions and robberies carried out not so much for possessions, but for revenge.

An upstart in the party of Mandela isn’t afraid to lay his philosophy on the line. His platform is basically whitey took from us, and we want it back.

One black dismissed him as a joke who’s been getting lots of press just because he’s so over the top.

But that same person also scoffed at what he perceives is a righteous attitude among some whites who believe they’re “closer to God” than other races.

Seventeen years later, other differences linger, and likely always will. For instance, a young Afrikaner mother (Afrikaners are descendants of the Dutch settlers) explained to me that the Dutch explorers came to what is now in the 1600s.

But during a tour of the prison where Mandela did his time, the guide said the Dutch invaded the area.

Next: Cape Town in pictures, including an eye-opening visit to Langa, the city’s oldest black township.

This entry was posted in Africa, Capetown, South Africa, How to travel around the world with just a carry-on. Bookmark the permalink.

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