Cape Town, the most beautiful city in the world. The mother city. Endowed with both natural and cultural beauties and intricacies. From Table Mountain to the white sandy beaches, tourists from all over the world come to take part in celebrating the wonders of the Western Cape.
Memory: Hiking up the gruelling Lion’s Head to get the best view of the city at sunset. While the climb out made me regret my decision to spend my friend’s last night in Cape Town, once we summited all my tiredness and regret faded. On one end we saw Table Mountain cascading around the city in its mountainous glory. The other end revealed the Atlantic Ocean flirting with the beach. At one moment coming close to kiss the sand and then fleeting back to the depths of the ocean. It was pure magic. Even though I noticed few people of color on the mountain I thought nothing of it. Within my first two days spent at the beach, I realized how racially segregated it really was.
The most exclusive and white parts of Cape Town were surrounded by the beach and Table Mountain. The nearest township was 40 kilometers away. It was clear that the beauties of Cape Town were not meant for everyone to consume, at least at all times. How did this fact impact me, or even my South African who accompanied me? We were definitely uncomfortable. We definitely thought about the lasting effects of apartheid. We definitely considered whether we belonged on those white sandy beaches, or should we go somewhere else. We wondered in Cape Town was there a safe haven, a somewhere else? It definitely seemed unfair. Two points came out of our discussion of where were the black people around Cape Town’s most popular points, did the first non-apartheid regime go far enough in assuring that South Africa was really a rainbow nation? Frantz Fanon points out that the “national bourgeoisie, the regime which replaces the colonial regime is underdeveloped” and unprepared to rule a country. Further Fanon argues that it is this unpreparedness matched with the diversity of the “masses” that makes it hard to build a “nation.” I compared this with many of the black South Africans I encountered idea that Mandela did not go far enough, that the white South Africans never apologized for apartheid, yet here was this rainbow nation existing in imaginary racial harmony. This is not to say that there have not been strides in South Africa, but many wonder if those strides enough, when about 90 % of the country is black or “colored”, yet the majority of the country’s wealth is concentrated in the white (10%) of the population. Even though I am not South African, I found myself questioning the rainbow nation as well. I remembered how in these natural spaces I would make sure to project my American accent, to let people I was not one of “those” black people. I was not going to be the “one” who brought with me crime and destitution to their pretty little beach, I was “American.” How awkward it felt at first it felt to project one identity, but how effective it worked. Once it was clear I was American, the implicit hostility, or as some would call it the microcosm racism that I faced simmered down. I wondered what my black South African friend felt, and I felt guilty for dragging him to places where he would feel like he did not belong. I remembered when we were in the bookstore at the cash register waiting to pay for my new book, how this white woman ignored my existence busy with work, but as soon as I put the book directly in my bag (we had been rung by someone else and I thought instead of wasting plastic I would use my own tote) she aggressively stated were you helped? I was insulted. I thought now you acknowledge my existence when you think I am about to steal from your store. I told her yes I had, and she quickly apologized, and said she was just checking and embarrassingly looked away when I held her gaze. It was little things like that, which reminded me that no matter how American I was, I was still a person of color.
It was the beauty of nature that set me right. I forgot any race or any gender or any class or sexuality. I was free. It took my breath away I realized how insignificant and yet so significant I was. I was inspired. Instead of looking at nature in Cape Town as exclusive, I thought it just needed a dose of inclusivity. On the last day of holiday I was excited to see so many people of color at Camps Bay, enjoying their last day before work or school. It starts as something so small, I thought. As long as we keep coming, refusing to feel insignificant, our existence will be forced to be recognized. No one can say you are invisible if you keep blocking their lovely view from their rooftop of their 20 million dollar apartment with the image of your black skin dancing salsa in the waves. I admit it was difficult seeing some of these natural sites on public transportation, but not impossible. We managed to see everything on the Cape Town top to do lists without ever having to hire a car. So what is nature in South Africa? It is money…it is privilege…it is history…but it is everyone’s who is willing to take it.