Before I cover the pleasant and fun side of my trip to Cape Town, South Africa I want to discuss a conversation I had with a homeless man who I spoke with while on a walk there.Â Â Aside from the Atlanta Braves baseball cap I was wearing I think I managed to fit right in with the local pedestrian crowd in Cape Town.Â Unlike the Caucasian visitors who were constantly bothered by locals attempting to peddle goods, while walking blindly & trying to read a map with their cameras strapped across their chest, I was able to go about my business with little notice.Â In fact I had a few problems with “native” Caucasians who on first glance were not pleased with my presence in their storefronts… until they heard my non native accent and realized that I was not a local(therefore assuming I had tourist dollars to spend in their establishments).Â I am going to have to post another blog about the racism and hate that I experienced while in South Africa, because its a topic that will take away from the one at hand.Â All that I will say about it at this time is that we as African Americans should be thankful for the fights our grandparents fought for us.Â Segregation ended in South Africa in the year 1994, and although it is no longer legal, there are many remnants of it and a clear tension between the native Africans and the people of European descent.
Back to the homeless gentleman who noticed my hat and approached me to inquire of where I was originally from.Â His first guess was Canada, that leads me to believe that many black people from Canada travel to S. Africa.Â His next guess was New York, and I then told him I was from Atlanta.Â Surprisingly every local I met immediately associated Atlanta with “the place where all the good music comes from” but again that’s not the point here.
As we walked toward my hotel the gentleman thanked me for coming to S. Africa.Â I asked him why he would thank me for visiting his country, and he said that “it shows that people like you, in America have not forgotten about us”.Â He went further to say that there are some Africans who have disdain for African Americans because we do nothing to help improve the situation in Africa despite our much greater financial resources, and further that we do not even come to visit.Â He said that visiting does two things.Â First it brings tourism money (a major economic engine in S. Africa is handmade goods made and sold by locals, to the tourists) the second thing visiting Africa does is that is shows African Americans the reality of what life is like and it shows that we are thinking of them.
My response to the gentleman was that we have not forgotten about our people in Africa, but there are two major reasons why more African Americans don’t visit Africa.Â First it is an expensive trip, and although our resources are generally far greater than theirs, most African Americans still can’t afford to spend $1000+ US dollars on a round trip plane ticket.Â (I must add that even the poorest Americans have it quite a bit better than manyÂ South Africans of African descent, so I understand why they may feel that we have so much, and we do so little.)Â Secondly its not that we have forgotten about our people in Africa literally, but we have no idea of what is really going on in Africa.Â Just as their image of America is derived from the media, so is our image of Africa.Â We don’t see any images of Africa that do not include either corrupt government, mass starvation, or tribal wars.Â None of those images are attractive to vacationers.Â With the exception of what little promotions we get about Egypt there is no promotion of African tourism in the US.Â Until I started doing research for my trip I had no idea of the vibrant night life, the world class beaches, and the celebrity hot spots that exist in cities like Cape Town or Casablanca.Â I think that African Americans would flock to certain cities in Africa, if we had a clue of what really goes on in some of these places.
To illustrate the extremes of just this one city in Africa see the images below.Â I took these photosÂ along the same stretch of highway just outside of Cape Town, Â the first set of photos is of the Khayelitsha settlement, which is the largest “informal settlement” in South Africa…( an informal settlement is a town which consists of only shacks made of debris with no running water)Â the second set of imagesÂ is of one of several beachfront communities which line the very same road as the Khayelitsha settlement.
I am sure you can see the difference a few miles can make.Â This scenario is no different than in many places in the world, including many cities right here in the US.Â But my point here is that I would bet money that most people in the US first think of the shanty towns or dusty village images when the word Africa is uttered.Â Only those in the know, or those of us who have been to Africa have any idea of the glamorous side of the Continent. Â The lower set of images is one of the several trendy parts of town, where many A-list celebrities, singers, and actors have homes.Â For some reason celebrities have managed to keep their antics in Africa out of the mass media… or perhaps the mass media is ignoring what goes on in Africa, unless its a message of “gloom and doom ” or the occasional charity event or child adoption.Â Â There is no media representation of anything positive that exists in Africa aside from the Pyramids, which sadly people have created a false sense that Egypt is almost not a part of Africa to make it appear as if all the accomplishments of the advanced civilizations of North Africa’s past were not accomplished by Africans.Â But again that’s another topic all together.
Even though I made a great effort to stick to one topic, I could not help but to change course because there is so much I have to say about Africa, and so many issues are closely related.Â I have waited so long to write about it because so many of my thoughts and feelings were so detailed and complex that I struggled to condense them into bite sized blog ready snippets.Â I have more work to do in clarifying my thoughts, but I can promise that if given the opportunity I will have much more to say about my experiences in South Africa
Africa is definitely a place to experience, Cape Town is an excellent place for “first timers”, as if has all the amenities Americans and Europeans are used to, but it gives you a touch of what Africa is like.Â Anyone who has been to Cape Town will remind you quickly, that it does not represent the rest of Africa very well, as it is heavily influenced by Europeans.Â To get a “real” African experience you have to go back, and see other parts of the continent.Â Having said that… I will return to Cape TownÂ provided I continue to have the means to do so.Â And yes, I will see other parts of Africa as well… eventually…
Sooo…. What comes to mind when you think of Africa? And why?
July 15, 2009-Update:Â Follow the link to thisÂ article atÂ cnn.comÂ for a closely related topic.
All images and text are the copyright of Glenn Gibson, 2009