Kenan Malik writes: Most first-time visitors to Cape Town are mesmerized by the majesty of Table Mountain, and wowed by the vivacity of the Victorian-era waterfront. As a new visitor myself last month, I was captivated by both. But what has lodged most in my memory is something very different.
Driving from the international airport, I was struck by the sheer wretchedness of Cape Flats: the series of black townships, comprising mostly shacks with corrugated steel roofs, that stretch from the highway almost to the horizon. Few people — tourists or locals — want to talk about the Cape Flats. But there is no better starting point for a discussion of the state of contemporary South Africa.
I was shocked by the degree to which the predominant emotions, 21 years after the end of apartheid, are not of hope and expectation, but of fear and despair.
“It’s not rosy,” a leader of the United Front opposition political movement in the eastern Cape city of East London told me, “but it’s not yet totally bleak.” That was about the most optimistic view I heard. [Continue reading…]