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Two worlds in one city

Table Mtn.jpgTable Mountain: The southern view. Photo by Dan Connell


By Ahalia Persaud

Cape Town--I can taste blood from dehydration and feel sweat seeping through my clothing and dripping down my forehead from the 3 p.m. beating sun as I stride across the rigid, rust-colored steps shedding tears of frustration from not knowing if I can make it up Table Mountain, advertised as offering an epic view of the region.

When I finally get to the top of the 3,559-foot mountain, I can see the beautiful beaches and gardens that media outlets rave about on the south and western sides of the Cape. But my satisfaction only lasts a short while, as I look in other directions and see the endless rows of tiny houses and tin shacks of tens of thousands of South Africans who have never had the opportunity to see what I see now.

Most people who come up here do so in a rotating cable car that CNN recently declared one of Africa's top aerial tourist attractions. Our group, which just arrived in Cape Town, will take the cable car down. An adult roundtrip ticket costs R215 [$21]; a ticket for a child age 4-17 costs R105.

After a two-hour flight from Johannesburg, we were picked up from the airport to go to our hotel, the Lady Hamilton, to drop off our bags before driving to the base of the mountain. During that drive, we could already see the great contrast between the beach resorts to the southwest and the informal shack settlements to the northeast.

Before we left Johannesburg, we were warned by a South African medical student, Claire Collins, who lived in Cape Town for seven years, that we would see the continuing effects of apartheid here in the city's stark racial geography. "You don't feel like you're on the African continent when you're in Cape Town," said Collins.

The closer you got to the mountain, the whiter it was and the more trees there were, she said. So if you were in an area with trees near the mountain, you were in a white neighborhood. She was correct indeed.

In Gugulethu, a historically black township of one- and two-bedroom brick houses and wood and tin shacks north of the city center, only three white people live there today. In the sections called "informal settlements," the shacks are so crowded that garbage trucks can't get into them and there is barely enough room to walk between them. There are no trees or grass in this part of town. Walking through it we try to avoid the muddy ditch ctreated by run-off from the community water tap and chemical toilet.

Donald Qubeka, the owner and builder of Liziwe's Bed and Breakfast and a native of Gugulethu, said he never went to Table Mountain until he met Ernst Jonker, a Dutch visitor. He recalled the time when Jonker asked him if he's ever been there. He shook his head and simply responded, "No."

Qubeka described South Africa as "a beautiful country" but said neither he nor most of his neighbors get to see and tour it. They're too busy trying to provide for their families. People like Qubeka are working 12 hours a day and don't have proper transportation to get to school 20 minutes away, much less go to Table Mountain on the other side of the city.

Table Mountain is officially one of the new Seven Wonders of Nature; however, many people who live in the Western Cape will never be able to get to the top even though the mountain looms as a backdrop to their daily lives, reminding them that South Africa still has a long way to go.


Posted by South Africa Group on May 24, 2014 5:15 AM
Category: South Africa 2014


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