I recently read this article which, much to my surprise, revealed that the city in which I currently live in South Africa is one of the world’s most violent cities in the world. Before you proceed to affirm “well, yes of course, we all know that crime permeates Johannesburg”, let me correct you on this. It’s not Johannesburg that made it to the ranking of 20th most violent city in the world in 2014 but its rival sibling (or mother?), Cape Town.
The stats indicated that with 51 murders per 100,000 people, Cape Town, with its 3.7 million residents was the 20th most violent in the world. Today, it ranks 14th in the world!
What shock and what surprise it was to me too! But then , all things considered, how often did I hear of a friend who got robbed, mugged, held at gun point, had her child nearly hijacked and much more.
While I enjoy writing about positive and uplifting things on this blog, I owe it to my readers to also give an honest account of life in Cape Town. Beyond the things you experience as a tourist, there’s the reality of living here year after year. You see things… you hear things… While not everything is true and some events can often be the inflated result of media or an exaggerated version to instill fear, it is good to know certain things, especially if you are about to pack up your life and settle in another city. I will attempt to do this in the current post. That said, I do love Cape Town tremendously for its natural beauty, its people, its culture and whatever it brought me all these years.
The uncomfortable things we hear
Three weeks ago, a shaken friend related in details how three men broke into her house where she slept with her son, with machetes and demanded she hand over anything of monetary value. It is a miracle they were unharmed in the process, but her son is still traumatized from that nocturnal incident and has trouble sleeping at night.
What about all the stories we do not hear? What about the stories that get published in the press that we quickly brush under the carpet because our eyes tend to be drawn more to headlines about yet another award that this city wins or the latest and hottest event or art fair. At least, that’s what I find myself doing. And to be honest, from where I stand, the crazy stories of crime and violence sound foreign to me. After all, from where I stand, I see a different version of Cape Town.
It’s as if a few of us have our vision filtered by My Cape Town. Let me explain.
‘My Cape Town’ refers to one individual’s particular experience with and in this city. It could be living conditions, location and environment. What you do, see and what you eat and participate in will be tinted by those factors.
What it’s like for me to live in the Mother City
My Cape Town is living on the Atlantic Seaboard where I live a privilege lifestyle in the sense that if I walk a couple of steps, I can stretch my legs onto a sun-lounger by the pool of a luxury boutique hotel and have waiters cater to my every need, and a few more and I’m on one of the most beautiful beaches in Cape Town.
A few more blocks and I get the finest meats, produce and some of the most exquisite wine, oils, spices and cheese varieties this world can offer. The food I buy is mostly organic, free-range and preservative free because it is readily available. Most grocery stores in the area offer high quality products as a normal standard. The cars that I often see driving past are luxury brands and pedestrians are mostly models or affluent residents of the area, sporting high quality designer wear or trendy attire. It is usual to walk around to go places and I am mostly on foot, if not using the very reliable public transport. It is therefore normal for me to say I do enjoy the fresh air and atmosphere of my hood. Being blissfully unaware of all the crimes that happen… so tragic and such is the reality of my life here in this city that has captured my heart.
My Cape Town is therefore a place where I feel safe, secure and happy to indulge in all kinds of activities that bring me pleasure and relaxation in tranquil surroundings. Whether it’s overlooking the ocean, while waves crash onto the sea shore or in a beautifully designed restaurant eating Norwegian salmon on a bed of red quinoa, watching kids play with their dogs, while a group of joggers smile back at me, couples take selfies to capture the spectacular sunsets and tourists eat gelato or sip bubbly along the terraces of world-class hotels, this to me, is often my experience of Cape Town. (This alone can make you forget that you’ve been robbed more than three times and mugged in that same neighbourhood).
Without these lenses, a mere 35 minutes’ drive from where I live, is another person’s definition of My Cape Town. For him, since he moved to Cape Town, he is obliged to drive his car to go to work because the one time he took the public transport, he was threatened by a child (yes!!!) with a machete and even if he was dressed as plain as could be, the fact that he is fair-skinned makes him easily to spot from a mile away. Even his wife, who is a local resident advises him to be on his guard at all times. He does not jog around his house and certainly does not enjoy sunset from his balcony, but more on the postcard stuck on his fridge door. He salivates on hearing the accounts of my latest find – this new eatery, that hot little café, the best dinner I had this week… while walking the aisles of his grocery store where charcuterie equates neon pink slices of polony (even as I type this, my computer doesn’t recognize this word, wanting to auto-correct it to ‘colony’). On his commute to work, he drives past the shacks of poverty-stricken townships and feels the tug at his heart at the distressing sight of beggars on the street (often street kids who look like they’ve been through hell and back and who have no shoes on their scorched, blistered feet).
The question is therefore important: “Which Cape Town do you live in? What’s your version of this city?”