Monday, November 24, 2008

Africa Day Two - Kirstenbosch

Can you imagine leaving a place where two million people live in painfully undeveloped conditions and 15 minutes later you see this?
Welcome to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.  A truly beautiful place.  South Africa is truly a place of contrasts.  Beaches and mountains. Wealth and poverty.

If I was into trees and nature, I would have loved my Kirstenbosch experience more.  Instead, I found this gorilla statue carved out of a tree to be the garden's most interesting feature.
To be fair, I was feeling sicker and sicker as the day went along.  That cold I caught in Germany is taking advantage of the lack of rest and water.  Time to drink as much water as I can find, I think.

Africa Day Two - Khayelitsha

Day Two in Africa was a surprise.  We had no idea where we were going or what we were doing, just that we'd be taken around Cape Town.  We start the day early and climb into a van/bus thingy and off we go.  No clue where we're headed.  It turns out, to my surprise and pleasure, we're beginning the day with Khayelitsha.  Read the Wikipedia entry on Khayelitsha if want a better education than I can give, but essential in the 1950's the Apartheid government passed a law that forced everyone they classified as Black to move the hell out of the cities.  All of the jobs were in the cities and the regime allowed Blacks to live on the outskirts of cities, and Khayelitsha was born. 
People use terms like "shanty-town" and "township," but what it really is, in my opinion, is mass homelessness.  Since the overthrow of Apartheid a lot has been done to improve living standards, but when you live in a temporary structure that barely keeps out the elements and you use a bucket for a toilet, that's homeless.
The first picture shows the difference between the improved housing and the temporary housing..
I was amazed to see that there are rows and rows of shipping containers used for business.  I suppose it's the only way to have a secure building that you can lock at night.  Whether a hair salon or an international corporation such as Vodaphone, they use shipping containers.
We visited Khayelitsha's first day care center.  Finally some people, though obviously very few, can go to work and know that their children are safe.  The center has a large garden where they are growing fresh food as well.  It was one of two uplifting moments inside Khayelitsha.
I'll not belabor this with picture after picture of Khayelitsha living conditions.  I never did get that shot where you can see shacks for miles, but I saw it.  I believe it's important to understand that these things came about unnaturally for all who live there.  They were forced, by the laws of their country, to abandon their homes.  I can only hope that conditions improve and people are able to change their lives.  It will happen, slowly.
There.  Four pictures of Khayelitsha.  Could have been 20.  You would not believe where we went next.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Africa Day One

When you fly from Los Angeles to London (to Bonn to London) to Cape Town, South Africa, and you've never been to Africa or South Africa before, you don't know what to expect.  For now, Cape Town solves this issue on your drive out of the airport.

Because as you exit the airport, here is the first thing that you see.
This is one of those pictures that doesn't do justice.  I can only hope that you get an idea of what exists there.  This space would be the empty space next to railroad tracks, space that in most countries is considered too noisy and unsafe for anything but empty land.  Instead, people are living in the space directly next to the railroad tracks in "homes" which are small boxes made of wood framing and corrugated metal.  And this is what you see, for now.
I said "For Now" because South Africa is hosting the 2010 World Cup and they are going to clear all impermanent housing out of the view from the highway.  People from the world over will be flying into Cape Town, and they do not want these visitors to see abject poverty.  And when you say "clear" what you mean is that, well, the people will be forced to leave and then a bulldozer will knock down the shacks and improve the view from the highway.
It isn't that the current government does not care about its people.  The current government is building housing for people as fast as they are able.  But they are not able to build it all that quickly, and the number of people who need housing is staggering.  This is the aftermath of Apartheid.  And Apartheid is something that I had to research on this trip, because looking at this country I realized that my casual knowledge of Apartheid was insufficient. 
I took these pictures from a moving car because I was under the impression that I might not see this again.  I knew I would be staying in the literal lap of luxry on this trip.  Fifteen minutes after seeing how those people live, I checked into a hotel room and this was the view.
This is the view from our room at the Cape Grace Hotel. Those condos overlook a marina.

Obviously, we're going to learn more about Apartheid on this holiday.  But for now I just need to point out that under Apartheid it was illegal for a person who was designated "black" or "colored" to live in those condos.  Illegal.  Didn't matter how much money you had, if the government didn't consider your skin "white" then it was illegal for you to live within the city limits.  But at this point I hadn't read much about 
In other words, the reason that people live in "townships" or "shanty towns" isn't what you might think.