Death and Fear [and Hardly any Loathing] in Cape Town

SouthafricanflagCape Town was fab, thanks.  I’ve been back a few days but been lazy about this blog malarky.  Time away has put some perspective in to my life, like having a life.   Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on the last two weeks and am going to bore you with these reflections. 

I’ve been going to Cape Town for six years now and its changed an awful lot in that time.  What was once a rather sleepy sprawling town is now a big bustling city, with genuine economic development and positive social [‘equitable’] change.  Cranes adorn the skyline around the ‘bowl’ and beyond and black and coloured [sic] South Africans can be increasingly seen driving smart cars and in positions of authority in the commercial sector.  If you avoided the Cape Flats [township] on the way to the City from the airport Cape Town would actually appear to be a ‘Westernised’, developed place.  But you’ll know this, or your parents will, because seemingly trillions of Brits head out there every year to ‘do’ the Garden Route or grab some winter sun.   

Anyhows, over this time the [extended] family I have there, which has always been liberal and pro-change, have been concerned about ‘security’.  The frequent carjackings, shootings and muggings mean that ADT and other security companies have become the prominent iconography of the city: "armed response" is prerequisite for any [and still predominantly white] suburban front door.  But fear [and who knows if security companies are actually involved in perpetrating this sense of fear – very JG Ballard and which takes on some irony for me as the only trouble I have ever encountered in SA came from being held at gunpoint by a security team] has found a new vehicle: AIDS.  It’s invisible and has the potential to destroy the fledgling success that South Africa has found and it is real concern for those living there in a way that crime wasn’t because you paid to have someone deal with it. 

A recent study by SA Stats found that the mortality rate in SA had risen by 57% from 1997 – 2002, with younger people in the 30-34 age range and women seeing the most significant increase.  One in nine South African’s is now HIV positive or with AIDS and this could well be an underestimate as many deaths are recorded as tuberculosis, influenza or pneumonia, partly because that is actually what kills them and partly because the stigma of AIDs is still massive despite high profile cases such as that of Mandela’s son.   If the figures were repeated in the UK it would be over six million people affected. 

This phenomena seems weird to me because AIDS in the UK has kind of drifted out of the popular consciousness with other STIs now being targeted by government agencies and in adverts.  The message seems to be that it’s not gone but it’s not a big problem. But Africa, especially, faces total emasculation from it with an increasing number of cases being from children born to women with AIDS.  The whole debate over bad government and international structures round GATT and Aid being detrimental to development may become irrelevant because there won’t be anyone left there in 25 years, except for foreign nationals preaching abstinence like the missionaries of old.

It also seems weird to me because the reaction in the West seems to be one of beleagured indifference.  There’s been too much horror there to give any real moral equivalence to anything else in Africa: it seems so hopeless and and complex.  The Asian Tsunami by comparison created a huge public reaction, perhaps because it seen as a simple, blameless occurence.  I said, I’d bore you didn’t I.  Rant over, and something like normal service resumed. 

See also:
SOAS Living Apart photographic gallery of Apartheid years [via ThingsMagazine] which is an interesting, grainy, pictoral history of apartheid in SA.