It’s always the taxi drivers, isn’t it. Maybe I should be concerned, and I am not concerned.
The taxi driver in question is darting past Khayelitsha township on our way from the airport towards the Cape Town waterfront. We have started on a good note – I ask him if I can sit at the front with him, he tells me that he’s glad I asked, wishes more people would sit up front; nobody seems to want to, he says; they probably do, I say, and surely they must, I don’t know where to rest my eyes, everything is so beautiful I wish there were no such thing as windows.
I have already forgotten his name, but I remember he knows how to say hello in the most polite Spanish, Norwegian and Hungarian. He seems as hungry for first-hand news from Europe as I am for South African ones. He drives me past the football stadium where the Spanish national football team trained during the 2010 World Cup. He is from Port Elizabeth. He wants to know what Johannesburg is really like. He takes a look at my El Al crossbody bag and asks me whether I think the two-state solution is really dead. He thinks I will like Cape Town.
As it turns out, I really do. I like jogging across Green Point every morning. I like the picnics at Clifton Beach with Belgian and French expats just met. I like the skewered crocodile that tastes like leathery chicken and the live bands on Long Street and the rainbow-flagged galleries in De Waterkant. I take a commuter train to hang out with the penguins at Simon’s Town. I start a collection of weird pâté cans -impala, crocodile, zebra, kudu, springbok, wildebeest. People take me to a braai or two and try to teach me Afrikaans. I ride those little kombi minibuses. I surmount patience I never knew I had at the Mozambican consulate. I reunite with friends I made a lifetime ago and half a world away.
It’s a real eye-opener into the reality of what’s ubiquitously referred to as the New South Africa, perhaps even more so than Johannesburg, much as I would have expected it to be the other way around. It is here, after all, that I meet blacks driving convertibles and a white guy who used to be homeless, and the city seems far more integrated than I would have expected after the very obvious racial dividers between, say, downtown Joburg and the Northern suburbs. It’s almost as friendly as Joburg. It’s very shallow. It knows it’s gorgeous. It’s still dangerous as hell, but you just can’t bring yourself to believe it under the glowing yellow sun that makes everything vibrate, and I completely forget about the higher-than-Johannesburg crime rate until one lazy afternoon in Bo-Kaap I turn a street corner to see an American old lady getting her necklace stolen.
So much of Cape Town is filthy poor, poor to an extent that my limited European brain cannot conceive. It’s beachfront houses and slums, swimming pools and tin roofs, Constantia and Khayelitsha, chatty bums wearing Zara and street muggings at gunpoint. It’s just so easy to get caught on the view from the top of Table Mountain and forget just how much of the best and worst of humanity are nodding neighbours that live across the street from each other, and maybe it goes a long way to explain this bizarre South African obsession with shopping malls. Every evening, I sit by the Waterfront and look at the sunset and think of how I don’t know anything.
When I get to Heaven, if I ever do get to Heaven, I hope it turns out to be Cape Town.