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The Cape Town (success) story: is it just a white government thing?

(Picture source: )

Our beloved Cape Town, South Africa, has been selected as the number one tourist destination for this year. SA Good News That’s incredible! It’s an amazing city, don’t get me wrong, but it’s in South Africa: a place often feared by foreigners for it’s high rate of violent crime and viewed in a fairly rural light by those not quite as knowledgeable about the dark continent as one would hope. Oh, and the lions and tigers rumoured to roam our streets…  

But as a South African, (who knows that we have a shockingly high rate of violent crime,) I find this selection remarkable. We live in an amazing country – there’s nowhere else I would ever choose to call home – but to compare Cape Town, or any South African city for that matter, to Paris, London, Rome, Istanbul…?

I guess, you’ve got to see it to believe it. So we went, not because of this selection, and what I saw left me pretty sure that those folks at the New York Time’s actually know a thing or two about tourist destinations… 

Firstly, the last few days have been beautifully warm. When Europeans come to Africa, it is often to seek out the sun. Our friends from the UK who visit here, always insist on leaving as tanned as possible. So the last few days with temperatures reaching upwards of thirty degrees centigrade really ticks all those boxes.

We stayed in an apartment at the Waterfront Marina. This is also the neighbourhood in which Oprah Winfrey, Madonna and Leo DiCaprio have reportedly chosen to own a piece of Africa, but we got it on a web special and it really worked well for us – a family of five. You could walk out of the elevator and be in the beautiful Waterfront in less than ten minutes. Before breaking a sweat, you could be at any one of the amazing restaurants in the area, or shopping in beautiful stores, or simply lapping up some delicious beverage at a little bar or coffee shop. The aquarium, tugboat rides and sunset cruises are also within walking distance. The incredible Cape Grace and One&Only hotels are also within walking distance. In terms of proximity, we simply couldn’t have wished for more.

We hopped on and off the bus tour, had fish and tjips (chips) at Mariner’s Wharf in Hout Bay, saw seals at Seal Island, visited the incredible aquarium, penguins swimming wild and jelly fish around the marina. Most of the people we came across were friendly and helpful. We were obviously tourists, doing touristy things but the fact that we were tourists truly gave us the opportunity to test the NY Time’s award. Boy, oh boy, it was like being in another country.

And the more we speak to people about Cape Town, the more we found that only people from outside of Cape Town say things like that. It’s like being in another country.

You see, to them, its not. It’s South Africa through and through. It’s our country – only the way that it can be elsewhere too. Johannesburgers certainly have the monopoly on the economical strength in SA, Durbanites maybe on the waves, but Cape Townians seem to have the monopoly on the future. Why would I say that? Well, because I am an optimist. I believe that the day will come when a scandal of Nkandla-sque proportions will see our president immediately impeached. In fact, after being accused of rape and the arms’ deal, he would never have been made president in the first place.

I believe that it will become the norm to see policemen on motorbikes, or horse-back, or in patrol cars, wherever you go and know that they are there to protect you. It’s safe to be a girl alone on a run, or to wear your three-carat engagement ring out at night. That taking a jog in any almost area wouldn’t mean taking your life in your own hands.

I believe that potholes in main roads and broken traffic lights and garbage left uncollected for days are all part of a problem that will be solved. People who live in urban areas and yet have no running water, electricity or sewage, are all part of our not-too-distant history.

Why am I so sure of this? Well, because I saw Cape Town and it is GOOD. There are working bus lanes, with busses running on time and efficiently. There is electricity in the townships and running water available to wash your hands after you have used working toilets. The unemployment rate is lower than in the rest of the country, the crime rate too. Even driving through so-called ‘poor’ areas, we saw amazing sights, such as clean parks and well maintained roads. So this is what government money properly spent looks like, I said.  

Sure, I'm certain it has it’s problems and yes I know I was a tourist – so I got the best of it through my rosy tinted Raybans, but still. And on a lazy Sunday afternoon, we ‘gots ta thinkin’ about why the town, even as a tourist, has such a different feeling.

So I re-read the article about Cape Town and realised that it was deemed a place to ‘a place to meditate on freedom, and the creative life that followed’ and although I know they were referring to the political freedom in South Africa, I choose to meditate on the feeling of freedom you felt walking the streets.Read the NYT original article here

People wore what they liked. I’ve always felt in certain parts of Joburg, there aught to be a dress code. In Pietermaritzburg, where I live, I feel often that the fashionable shops send their unsellables here to die. But in Cape Town, there were sophisticated foreigners, in high-end labels and hippies and ‘bergies’ in as casual-as-it-comes, sitting in the same restaurant and walking the same paths.

Then there was something that went deeper than the clothing; people loved who they liked. There’s a lot to be said for a city that allows mixed race, homosexual and heterosexual couples to wander the streets unnoticed. Freedom to love is something that speaks straight to my soul. From it flows a freedom to express yourself within the security of knowing you’re loved. And so, art flows from it, creativity in business, advertising, food and wine. It’s no surprise that most of the best restaurants in South Africa are around Cape Town and all of our best wines come from this region.

A close friend told me that the gay scene in Cape Town has also become a lot quieter, where once there was an abundance of gay clubs, now there are simply clubs. Sure, there are still a few well known spots and areas better frequented by the gay community, but generally, it’s passé to segregate people who love to dance and have a good time. 

I’m sure that foreigners visit Cape Town and want to see Robben Island, touch Mandela’s cell walls and maybe later, drive past Desmond Tutu’s residence. Perhaps the township tour or the beautiful beaches are all part of the appeal too. When the article naming Cape Town as a place to put on your bucket list was released, I am also pretty sure the writer didn’t expect it to make South Africans flood there as a result.

As a patriotic South African, I would encourage my fellow Saffas to make a trip there, maybe even before the elections come around on May 7th. You see, when I say Cape Town is the future, I see so much of what I hoped for our country when I first voted (ironically, for Nelson Mandela’s ANC,) in the first ‘free and fair’ national election. To quote the big man himself, “To us on Robben Island, Table Mountain was a beacon of hope. It represented the mainland to which we knew we would one day return.”

I don’t believe that Jacob Zuma and his cronies are our future. I taught children many years ago who are though – and they are bright and rational and promising. They have morals and integrity. These are my beacons of hope. I see us, sadly, now as prisoners in our own Robben Island, of the government’s making. The prison warders are politicians who squander our money on their own indulgences and criminals who deprive us of our freedom of movement as much as the Apartheid pass laws deprived people of colour of theirs. Broken promises and mismanaged funds are the prison bars and failure to deliver even essential services, such as sewage and refuse removal, textbooks to children, form the harsh walls of our cells. And so, to look out from our metaphorical jail, I look to Table Mountain and the Mother City as a beacon of hope.

It must also do something amazingly positive to the community psyche when even the poorest have more friends who are employed and their own locales are cleaner and less crime-riddled. When the improvements seem to start from the ground up - it effects one and all in the positive. If a different ruling party can accomplish that in the city it governs in few short years, I know that the future of South Africa as a nation is beautiful. Imagine if the R256 million spent on Nkandla and the billions spent on e-Tolls had been placed into hospitals or education or road improvements. If your imagination doesn’t stretch that far, take a trip to the Cape and see what government can do with the taxes we pay.  

Unlike Mandela’s sentiments that the mainland was a place to which they would return, I believe the Cape Town of today is the South Africa of tomorrow, the likes of which we have never seen before.


  1. Beautifully written, and it does leave us with hope and a future for this wonderful country.


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