At 29, Tepelo, who is studying to be an armed security guard can move from one part of the city another without a Dom pass (under apartheid all black people over the age of 16 were required to carry passes or be arrested). He is free to marry outside his race -if he wants to – own land and property in the city and use the spaces that were once reserved exclusively for whites: restaurants, parks, beaches and other tourist sites. But Tepelo doesn’t.
He moves almost exclusively between two spaces: a 4 x4 ramshackle galvanise room he calls home in the oldest township in Cape Town, Langa; and the slopes of High Strand, Green Point, where he patrols the ocean view 2-story apartment building of affluent whites.
Tepelo has never climbed Table Mountain, the flat-topped mountain that is Cape Town’s headline act in its developed tourist market, visited leafy green Stellenbosch, one of South Africa’s premier wine valleys, which is just 25 minutes away from his township. In fact, Tepelo has never entered the restaurants or supermarkets that dot the end of the hilly slope from where he sits, watches, and patrols. Yet, Tepelo, who is from the Eastern Cape, adores Cape Town.
“I came here (Tepelo grew up in a township a 48-hour train journey from Cape Town) for a better opportunity, everything I own I have worked for. I believe in hard work and I’m doing what I can to create a better opportunity for myself and my family.”
He is optimistic that despite his disadvantaged beginning, his future shines as bright as South Africa’s blue sky on a perfect summer day. But, for the most part, Tepelo admits that often he feels like a stranger in his land. His body claims a single space among the 4 million that reside in the city, and yet in Cape Town, Tepelo does not quite belong.
This is not just Tepelo’s bane. Since the end of apartheid, Cape Town, South Africa’s second-largest city, has been slow to transform itself racially.
My taxi driver, Richard (his English name) , a Ugandan with a degree in Mathematics said in terms of the pace of change, Cape Town is largely behind the rest of South Africa, including Johannesburg, which has a larger and more significant black middle class than Cape Town.
“Apartheid ended in 1994 and Cape Town has a lot of work to do to promote true equality,” said Richard as he slowly navigated his taxi through the township where Tepelo lives and where I will meet Tony Elvin, head of Khaya Le Langa, a hub for social enterprise and development in Langa.
Tony came to South Africa 12 years ago as part of restauranter Jaime Oliver’s advance team. At the time, Oliver, a UK born chef was thinking of setting up a restaurant in South Africa. When the deal fell through and Oliver set his sights on NYC, Tony with his upper English class upbringing stayed behind, first in an all-white affluent neighbourhood and then in Langa where he says he felt a Mandela-esque type of calling.
“You have to listen to what’s been going on to understand the trauma that still exists in the black community and anyone who tries to tell you that the healing is complete really has no knowledge of race relations in Cape Town.”
Tony, understands the history of the pain as well as the opportunity and is working to use the township’s history, culture and way of life to create a sustainable tourist product. He has already an Air BnB hub in one of the poorest areas of Cape Town. In Langa, he has also developed a training programme for youths, an entrepreneurial development model and there are plans for a restaurant and the creation of a jazz hub that taps into to the musical legacy of the township where some of South Africa’s famous musicians once resided.
Tony is adamant that what he is doing the is the opposite of slum tourism or voyeurism.
“It is about valuing and respecting an area. Once you do that, the community can buy into it because they see that there’s a vested interest in working together and making it cleaner, greener and opportunities will grow.”
Tony’s plans involve a specific part of Langa which he has called Langa Quarter One and he is ambitious.
“ I want to create a high-end benchmark in a township that can attract business to business operations; corporations can come and partner with us, on our terms.”
In Langa Quarter One, these terms are being set by Tony but the question remains is Cape Town ready for change?
According to the Financial Times of London, “ in terms of location, history, Western Cape is the only one of nine provinces where black Africans are not the majority – mixed-race people are known as “coloureds” – and it was the only region of the country to experience slavery.”
When you are in Cape Town the impression is that Christian, Muslim, Jewish and traditional African beliefs coexist peacefully in a proud multicultural city that is Cape Town but as I dug beneath the surface doing the interviews and meeting so many of the City’s wonderful people it was clear, such a harmony is still, at best, fragile.
Although coloureds were treated badly under apartheid, they were regarded to be superior to black, a sentiment that still exists today. White Capetonians live a relatively isolated existence in leafy, affluent suburbs that is breathtaking to drive through. The majority of the black population, meanwhile, still live in ramshackle townships, despite the government’s attempt to provide better housing.
It is one of these newer houses that Tepelo awaits. He knows his chances are slim. He is working for a salary a bit lower than the qualifying rate and a bribe to an official to move his name up a list is out of the question, at this point. And so he hustles, studies, goes to church, sends money to his mother and his seven-year-old son each month and navigates a binary world that is coloured in black and white.
In a few months, he will sit an exam that he is expected to pass (his grades are exceptional) and while on a 2-week break will head to Johannesburg and send out his resume.
“I came to this city for a better life but Johannesburg may be better for me now at this point in my life.” Rainbow Nation, it seems, may be on CapeTown’s other side.
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