Cape Town is a beautiful city. Some of its loyal residents would like to believe it is one of the most beautiful cities, if not the most beautiful city, in the world.
It is difficult to argue against this contention. Where else in the world do you find such natural beauty?
A table-like mountain almost in the middle of the city, surrounded by leafy, green suburbs. Breathtaking beaches; and within minutes you have access to stunning farms where, among others, wine is produced in huge quantities.
But the beauty of the city is something not shared by most Capetonians.
As one flies into Cape Town, one first sees the mountains and then the sea, but as one approaches the airport, one sees hundreds, if not thousands of shacks, built almost on top of each other.
I have often looked at fellow passengers when we approach Cape Town on a flight, to try and read their minds. What are they thinking when they see the shacks? Were they warned about it in the tourist brochures?
Will they just shift it to the back of their mind and pretend they did not see it? Or will they be aware of the stark inequality in this beautiful city as they visit one beautiful tourist site after the other?
When we grew up on the Cape Flats, we never knew about the beauty of Cape Town. All we saw was the small council houses and the shacks in between.
We saw the poverty which affected almost every household, where young people struggled to find work, despite having matriculated, and found themselves standing on street corners whiling away the hours and days.
I realised then how easy it was to become a gangster within an environment such as this. When you feel alienated by society, as many of these young people do, then it is not difficult to find acceptance within a family-like structure such as a gang.
Gangs made many young people feel at home. It gave them a sense of belonging even though, in their hearts, they knew they were often engaging in illegal activities.
In an environment like this, it becomes an easy breeding ground for all kinds of social ills, such as drug abuse, violence against women and children, murder, robbery and other crimes.
Here’s my problem. This was the situation almost 50 years ago when I was growing up on the Cape Flats. The situation now is just as bad, if not more intense.
Every time I read another story about a young girl being abused or murdered, with her body dropped on an open field near her family home or buried in a shallow grave, I think about the hundreds of girls who have died in a similar way over the years, with not much of a change in the social conditions which led to this killing.
Yes, we have a little bit of an outcry, but then we continue with our lives and leave the families of the victims to deal with their grief. At some point, they also move on, realising their grief will not bring back their loved ones.
Every time I read about service delivery protests, which often turn violent, I think: why?
Surely, 24 years and some change into our democracy, our local government should have become a bit more in-tune with the needs of our citizens? Didn’t we vote for them? Are they not supposed to carry out our mandate?
Every time I hear about the disruption and non-arrival of public transport, especially the trains, I can’t believe there has never been an urgency to sort out this mess.
The population of Cape Town continues to grow, but our road network and public transport system has not kept up. Those of us who are lucky enough to have cars will rather brave the four-hour peak hour (from 3pm to 7pm) from the city centre than risk our lives on the ineffective public transport system.
All of this speaks of a disregard for human beings, especially the poor people who form the majority in this city.
The people who only see the ugly side of the city and who never get to enjoy the mountain, the sea and the Winelands.
Okay, they might get to enjoy the beaches one day a year but, other than that, their lives do not reflect the beauty of the city.
It is probably unrealistic to think that Cape Town will ever become this utopia where everyone will be able to enjoy its beauty, but we can do better than we are doing. We cannot afford to exclude the majority from enjoying its beauty.
In the apartheid days, when most beaches were reserved for white people, many of us used the slogan “All God’s beaches for all God’s children”. Maybe we should revise that slogan: “All of Cape Town for all of its children”.
(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 30 June 2018)