Cape Town, on the west coast of South Africa has often been described as the most beautiful city in the world. After my two times visiting there I may have to agree. It’s at least the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to. Cape Town has this amazing combination of gorgeous beaches backed by the sheer face of Table Mountain, so that no matter where you are in the city, you have this really cool view. Mix in amazing restaurants, vibey bars, wine country, and a feeling that everyone is on vacation, and you have, well, San Francisco on steroids.
But amidst all this beauty lies a dark (no pun intended) secret. You see, Cape Town is also the whitest city in the country, and when you’re walking around some parts, like the waterfront, you can go a fairly long time without seeing Blacks, Indians, or Coloreds. Once a bastion of Afrikaner nationalism, statues of apartheid era “patriots” still dot the cobble stoned streets, and you still hear Afrikaans spoken nearly everywhere.
The biggest stain on Cape Town’s history was the systematic destruction of what was known as District Six. In the early 20th century, immigrants from all over the world landed in Cape Town in search of greener pastures. Literally, these new Capetonians walked off the docks and created a vibrant community in the heart of the city. For almost 50 years at the start of the century, District Six housed Blacks, Malays, Indians, Jews, Coloreds and Whites who lived together in harmony. Given it’s proximity to the city’s center, however, the Apartheid government decided that it wanted to develop white military housing here, and over the next 16 years, basically moved everyone out to the townships miles outside of the center.
Presently Cape Town remains fragmented. Whites live in the city bordered by Table Mountain, the beach, and the harbor, while Coloreds and Blacks live in the townships of Khayelitsha, Langa, and Guguletu. Interestingly, District Six, despite its ideal position, is an undeveloped grassy field with a small technical college on one end. Some people say it’s cursed, that to build there now would bring bad luck. Others are simply wary of the land claims that are still outstanding on the land. In any case, Cape Town, for all its beauty, makes you realize that despite the strides made in the last 10 years South Africa has a long way to go before every place is like the District Six of the past.