Wednesday, 21 November 2012

So, what are your views on Cape Town?

Next week I will be asking delegates to comment on this month's MEI Conferences held in Cape Town, but I would also like to know what delegates thought of Cape Town, particularly those visiting South Africa for the first time.

South Africa is an immensely complicated country, which undoubtedly has its problems, exacerbated by bad press from the western media. Prior to the conferences a few delegates had emailed to ask if it was safe to come out to Cape Town, particularly if accompanied by family.

Barbara and I have been lucky enough to have visited Cape Town over six decades and have seen immense changes. When we first visited in 1969, en route to Zambia, South Africa was in its deepest years of apartheid, and Cape Town was grim and uninviting.

This week we have been relaxing at Camp's Bay, Cape Town's most beautiful beach, with its dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles. Strolling along this beach is an uplifting experience, watching people of all colours frolicking in the (freezing) water.

Not so on our first time here in 1982, when I spent a short period lecturing at UCT. Apartheid still held its icy grip and the beach was segregated, the whites having, naturally, the more beautiful northern end. Amanda and Jon had befriended a young Asian boy in Cape Town, and we had to try to explain that he could not come to the beach with us because ofthe colour of his skin. "But we are going to the beach to get brown" responded Amanda - the absurdity of apartheid reflected in the logic of a child.

We have visited Cape Town every year for the past 15 years, with friends and conference delegates, and not once have I spoken to anyone who has visited South Africa for the first time who has not been blown away by the beauty of the country and the warmth and friendliness of its people. It is not for nothing that South Africa has the highest ratio of repeat visitors of all long-haul destinations.

But is Cape Town a safe city to visit? Maybe it's because I know it so well, but I feel less threatened here than I do in many major western cities. So long as common sense prevails, you need have no real worries. I would not suggest walking around the city alone at night. Nor travelling alone into the fast dwindling townships, although I would recommend an organised visit to the townships. We avoided this for years, thinking it would be intrusive, but it is not. The people really want to show how they live, and the sense of community is such that we came away feeling that we would rather live there than in one of the UK's inner cities, where rabid gangs roam freely and old people are afraid to leave their homes.

So if you have never been to South Africa, put it on your list of places to see before you die! Mandela's legacy is truly remarkable - but can Jacob Zuma follow in his mighty footsteps?


  1. Hi, Last week was my second trip to Cape Town for MEI conference. Wonderful place and wonderful people. Yes there are problems but hopefully they can be worked out. I certainly feel more safe in Cape Town than in Chicago. To tell of one experience, my wife and I decided to walk from the Vineyard Hotel to Stellonbosch gardens. Along the way we got lost but met a reasonable fellow who offered to give us a ride. One has to use one's judgement wherever you are! We hopped in the car, had a great conversation, he delivered us to the gardens, shook our hands and wished us well. The geneticists say we have DNA that originated in Africa. So if you have the chance, visit your home!

    Chris Pickles

  2. Thanks for this Chris. Your experience is typical of may we have had over the years. You and Lisa must be great walkers if you were off to Stellenbosch, I assume you mean the wonderful Kirstenbosch Gardens?

    1. Yes, thanks, sorry Kirstenbosch.



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