First Impressions on Cape Town, South Africa By Tamu McPherson
Bittersweet. I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa for the first time ever to attend the 50th birthday celebration of one of my dearest friends. Rossie, a brilliant attorney at one of the top law firms in the world, is a connoisseur of the finest everything. You name it, he enjoys travel, wine, music and photography, but the thing that sits at the top of his list of passions, is a quasi-religious respect for stimulating conversation.
When I asked him why he chose Cape Town to celebrate this important milestone, he responded that he had considered other places like Arizona or California, but that he knew that the city had all the perfect ingredients to inspire those closest to his heart.
Known for its breathtaking beauty, and in a larger sense, South Africa as the birth place of Nelson Mandela, one of this century’s most beloved and respected political activists and human rights champions, he wanted to celebrate his 50th surrounded by beauty and immersed in meaningful conversation and reflection. And after the unfortunate election of Donald Trump and the normalization of the hateful principles he encouraged, I think that Rossie wanted to give some context to the struggle ahead of us in the U.S. and around the world.
So what did I think of Cape Town? Well, one of our mutual friends Saidah has been living in SA for the past year. While she adores Cape Town and the life that she is building there with her husband and three-year-old daughter, she spoke to me in detail and warned me about the lingering post-Apartheid inequality that permeated the country when she visited me in the Hamptons this summer. Enacted in 1948, Apartheid was officially ended in 1994, 22 years ago.
Forewarned, I was still mega-excited to travel there with PJ. When we arrived, I was rendered in awe by the sheer gorgeousness that mother nature bestowed on the seaside city. Ancient, incredibly tall trees, impressively lined the road from the airport to Hout Bay where Saidah lives. Rambling mountain ranges are always in sight and a sea so beautiful, no Instagram filter is ever needed. The city itself is modern and very international. It’s rich in design with gorgeous homes in every direction, its streets are overflowing with amazing restaurants and nightlife, and its sidewalks are full of great shops (stocked with local crafts as well as international brands). If I have to be frank, Milan kind of pales in comparison. Then, there are the stunning winelands, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, an hour’s drive from Cape Town where lush fields extend majestically out to the feet of the mountains.
Sounds like paradise right? Yes, but I always felt a little weight in my heart caused by the nagging reality that an extremely small number of blacks or coloured people (as they are referred to in South Africa) indulge in the trappings of the Capetownian plush life. The majority of blacks and coloured people still live in townships that are poorly serviced and are for the most part in horrible conditions. This fact always prevented me from fully falling in love with my surroundings. Outside of the moments that I shared with my friends, my impressions of the more material objects of the city were always tainted with a certain sadness.
When I spoke to Saidah about the bittersweet feelings that I was experiencing, she explained that she and her husband’s mission in Cape Town was to help as many black and coloured people as they could. Whether it was hiring them for their respective work teams or joining organizations that offered direct outreach and methods of empowerment, they are committed to encourage cultural and socioeconomic change in the post-Apartheid society. Saidah’s objectives helped me to reconcile my feelings, and I was also able to fully understand Rossie’s intentions for myself and the rest of his guests. As global citizens, we have a responsibility to fight racism, sexism, xenophobia or any other intolerance that challenges the principles of humanity. Through meaningful conversations, ideas are born and shared over many borders, and strategies are realized and distributed over extended networks.
Should you travel to Cape Town? Hell, yes. Just do me a little favor when you get there. Say a prayer that some day very soon, the inequality that persists will end, and that all the citizens that walk on the city’s beautiful shores will be able to enjoy their own personal slice of paradise.
All images by me.
From the top:
1. A view of the 12 Apostles mountain range
2. Hout Bay beach
3. Franschhoek Country House & Villas
4. The Garden at the Solms-Delta Wine Estate
5-7. The Grounds at the Babylonstoren Wine Estate
8-10. Gorgeous, colorful buildings in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood