For our last day in Cape Town, we wanted to try to finish up with something a little unique to South Africa. We wanted to try to get a glimpse of what a shack-town looks like. I definitely don't have the facts on this yet, but apparently there's a tradition among migratory workers to stake out open land and turn it into an impromptu village. This mixed with the policies of Apartheid, where blacks weren't allowed to live in cities, helped create some densely packed areas of extreme poverty.
Anyway, we were told that under no circumstances were we to visit a shack town without extensive supervision. Heck, we weren't even allowed to drive to one to meet a guide. So, we did the next best thing and hopped on the City Sight Seeing bus, which has an arrangement with Imizamo Yethu Township, to offer tours.
The township tour was an odd mix of emotions. On one hand, you're surrounded by extreme poverty and people who are trying to make a better life for themselves and their children (there's a movement, for example, to build houses to replace the shacks and setup a local school). On the other hand, people were quite friendly, the mood was upbeat and generally there was pride for the little settlement.
Our guide talked about the township in terms of a struggle to right the social inbalance in the region (less than a kilometer from Imizamo Yetho are homes of the super rich in Cape Town, who have better facilities for their horses than these people have for their children). Our taxi driver talked about how the government has attempted to replace the shack towns with real houses, but there are those that like living rent free and so they keep popping up. And then there was the book in the bookstore that glorfied shack-towns as a sort of down-home simpler living (oh look, the children have no real toys so they invent games and are wonderfully friendly) that we should be just a little envious of. In other words, it's a complicated social issue that has no easy answers.
After our Township tour, we had an excellent lunch at Haut Bay. I finally had fish and chips, while Shira had sushi - man deep fried fish is a winner.
From Haut Bay we made our way back to the city center and spent the rest of the day soaking in the last few sites that we could from walking around.
I started this blog post as we were about to board our plane, and it's now been about 8 hours of flying. We've almost covered the length of Africa, though according to the flight map, we have just a little bit more to go.
So, what can I say about Cape Town? In general, it is a wonderful place. As I commented to Shira a number of times: this place is awesome, they measure distances in kilometers and prices in Rand. That means that everything is closer than it seems, and you can divide all the prices by 8 (I can't remember the last time I was at a major city where I could do that!). Cape Town has interesting musueums and history, amazing natural sights to see (Table Mountain, Cape Point, fynbos in the wild) and wonderfully friendly people. We ate quite well here, never having a problem finding vegetarian options to pick from.
For the most part, we felt secure in the city. In a brilliant move to help address the massive unemployment of the country, there's a job known as Parking Marshal that pretty much anyone can take on. Essentially, a person watches over a number of parking spaces on the street. When you park in one of these spaces, they'll "watch over your car" and you tip them when you leave. This flips the mindset of these potentially unemployed from possibly harming you or your car, to protecting both. In fact, the security-as-job-for-the-unemployed really worked quite well, as it means that there were frequently friendly faces around. We did run into some aggressive pan handlers, which made for a tense encounter or two, but that was as rough as things got.
Cape Town really is a must see city. It definitely belongs on your must-visit list.