Just a few impressions from the first weeks here: Cape Town is beautiful, from distance and in detail (see photos). But being in the situation of a traveller again, I’ve been even more impressed once anew by how friendly and helpful people are. At so many occasions somebody helped me out, gave me a lift, accompanied me when showing me the way, gave me shelter and just met me with friendly openness. Humanity, you are nice! Whatever ugly stories one might hear of you!
It’s been definitely the same with the student societies and other organisations that I met. Great people! Contradicting theory, civil society seems to be strong and very well organised in South Africa, while one hears and reads every day of the country’s difficulties to build a functioning democracy. But more on this in later posts.
Of course, there is also the very present and not so nice issue of the high crime rate. Never before I saw so many “armed response” signs on high white walls crowned with barbed wire and other ugly “don’t touch me” material. It didn’t take long to understand that much of this is due to a well cultivated paranoia of the well-off classes. Most of the violent crime responsible for the high official rates apparently takes place in the poor townships – affecting poor people. And I heard allegations from multiple sides that firms in the flurishing private security business apparently inform organised criminals about the households that refuse to pay for their services.
Still it’s a huge pity for this otherwise so nice city that it doesn’t feel good to walk around alone at night. I good mugged myself in one occasion: In front of a backpackers in Cape Town’s bar hub Long Street a young guy approached me asking to put money in the hat he was holding. Before I could respond he came close and briefly lifted the hat to show me the knife he held below it. I was surprised how shocked I was of the sight, even physically. But at the same time I thought it would be really stupid of him to attack me right here on the street. I looked around, of course he had chosen a moment when there was nobody near to us. He said “there’s no police around. They’re corrupt anyway” (funny that he mentioned that to me). If he’s talking to me, he can’t be very sure of himself, I thought. But then I looked in his blurry absent eyes, very likely he was on drugs, and the reasonable voice in me convinced me to give him the 50 Rands note I had in my wallet and off he was.
Surely it wasn’t a nice situation and it felt humiliating that he could just get away with it. On the other hand, he risked jail for 50 Rands (ca. 5 Euro). There’s something going wrong, and that’s surely not just in his head.