October 6, 2010

Cape Town Contrasts

As the title of the posting suggests, South Africa was, in a word, contrasts. Recent World Bank reports provide an empirical backdrop to what you can't help but witness as you travel around this part of S. Africa. On the surface, and when you pull into port, South Africa looks like a thriving, highly developed country where you are greeted by a fancy harbor with an extensive mall full of everything from the latest iPads to $1000 Gucci bags. It makes the average American feel right at home. But when you get outside, past the security guards and the predominantly white suburbs, you find another story.

But first, back to those recent World Bank reports. South Africa has a new global distinction. It's not their successful hosting of the World Cup. It's the fact that they now rival Brazil as the country with the largest rich-poor gap (capped off by an unemployment rate of around 40%). While the columns of World Bank data may tell an impersonal and empirical story, our experiences around Cape Town brought the story literally down to earth -- and straight to the heart.

Unlike many other places, a few photos can't really capture what I experienced, but here's a short video that's a poignant "cliff note" version (and it also includes their version of an Ecological Handprint). I spent a day in the Khayelitsha township with Di Womersley and her staff, who are featured in the video. Like the World Bank data, the story of Khayelitsha is a story of extremes. At one end I witnessed the incredible poverty and despair faced by millions of people who live within a few miles of the Cape Town Harbor Disneymall, and at the other extreme was the bright vision and inspired daily practice of those involved with the Shaster Foundation's Indlovu Center "eco-village" project. It's often said that where there's a crisis, there is also an opportunity. For the people of Khayelitsha and the other townships of South Africa, let's hope that concept becomes less a cliché and more a reality -- so that one day, communities that lack basic sanitation, clean water, medical care, and decent jobs can rarely be found on a World Bank spreadsheet.

As another example of contrasts, compared to the panos below, here is one of Khayelitsha Township

Posted by rohwedde at October 6, 2010 1:11 PM