|Cape Town is 350 years old. It is an isolated city that hugs the
furthest tip of Africa. It is far from Europe and Asia, whose people
established it, far even from Pretoria, whose apartheid government forced
segregation upon it and whose new government would like to see it become more
To this beautiful place tourists come in large and increasing numbers. It is a
celebrated city, with wonderful places and great lifestyle, where many of
Africa's leading institutions, like the University of Cape Town, are located
and where the world's first heart transplant was performed. Yet the legacy of
apartheid is evident in deep poverty and social problems.
What lies ahead? Can history give us any pointers to the future for this famous
city of more than three million people?
|Climate change is a hot topic. Just north of Cape Town the land
is semi-desert, and only the winter months give the mountains of the Cape the
rainfall required for its large and growing population. Could changing weather
patterns turn the Cape into an arid region?
Furthermore, much of the population lives on the 'Cape Flats', a sandy area not
much higher than sea level. There have been times in history when the Cape
Flats and Fish Hoek Valley have been beneath the oceans, and the peninsula
reduced to two islands off the African coast. Could global warming flood the
Cape Flats, displacing perhaps two million people? Will high walls be needed to
protect the city?
With climate change, what will
happen to the extraordinary flora of the Cape, which is the smallest Plant
Kingdom but also the most diverse by area, containing thousands of unique
species. Cape Town lies in an area of outstanding ecological importance. It was
described by early scientists as a 'botanical garden left to grow wild'.
Tremendous efforts have been made by passionate groups and the authorities to
protect fauna and large areas of flora, earning international World Heritage
Status. But will conservation succeed against the threats of population and
economic growth and environmental change. Certainly Cape Town will need
committed scientists, conservationists and engineers, as well as receptive
politicians and bureaucrats, if it is to preserve its ecological diversity.
|Cape Town has always been an international city. For much of its
history it has been primarily influenced by Europe, and still has a
euro-centric 'feel'. Only in recent times has there been a significant African
cultural influence. However, this will grow.
Vast migration from remote rural areas to the city since 1988 has created huge
new settlements on the Cape Flats, many of them unplanned and poorly serviced,
with large areas of rudimentary shacks. The migration has also brought
significant numbers of black people into the workplace and ANC politicians into
positions of power.
The Dutch, British and apartheid governments each had a major impact upon the
city. Today, the ANC government wants to see change. It is uncomfortable with
the 'untransformed' character of Cape Town, arguing that black people are
marginalized in the city. 'Coloureds' meanwhile believe black 'newcomers' are
favoured, especially in work and housing. For their part 'whites' feel the
influx of poor people and rapid growth are creating deep social problems,
including widespread crime. How will these tensions be resolved? No doubt the
city will become more 'African', as South Africa transforms and migrants
continue to arrive from across the continent, how will this change Cape Town's
traditionally Euro-centric culture?
Cape Town has always been a cosmopolitan city and, at least for some, a city of
fun. The city's first houses were guesthouses and it was well known as the
'tavern of the seas'.
Since the early 1990s tourism has again boomed and for
visitors and many residents it is a relaxed, fun loving city, that appreciates
the good things in life - surf, nature, wine, good food, hospitality,
. these are all parts of its leisure loving, laid-back character, but
also a vital aspect of its economy. Tourism is the city's largest employer. But
tourism is highly vulnerable to changes in perception, particularly regarding
Beneath the fun and the beauty of Cape Town there has always been a darker
side. It was here that the ancient KhoeSan were persecuted, and smallpox from
the harbour decimated their population. Here slaves were forced to labour and
die, so far from their Asian homes. In Cape Town Nelson Mandela and so many
other freedom leaders were subjected to cruel imprisonment.
In times of oppression, which have come and passed several times, there has
always been a liberal tradition in the Cape that spoke up, and demonstrated
against the abuse of human rights. But there has also been a silent
conservatism and complicity. In the future will Cape Town be known as a
compassionate city, committed to the dignity of all citizens?
There has always been a gap between rich and poor in Cape Town, but never on
the scale there is now. Apartheid did much damage to communities, and
deliberately under-educated and disregarded
the needs of the majority. The inability of the ANC government to reverse these
trends means that the depth and complexity of social problems in many poorer
areas have become overwhelming to the authorities and many people. The future
of the city depends to a large degree upon whether communities and government
can effectively face the grave challenges of housing, health, crime,
unemployment and drugs.
If these are not addressed, then even for the rich, Cape Town's freedom and
good life could ebb away.
Roddy Bray, May 1st 2008
· Culture ·
Use the Back Key
in your browser to
return to subject