Driving through picturesque Cape Town and its environs in the Western Cape, I was truly awed. If you have ever driven down the Pacific Coast Highway, especially from San Francisco to Carmel, you will have good idea of how incredibly beautiful the scenery is here.
Rugged mountains heaving upward to the sky from humble beginnings where Atlantic waves crash violently on jagged shores. Pablo Neruda’s ocean green clashing with azure skies and the lime green of Fynbos, Afrikaans for Fine Bush, the native vegetation of succulents and shrubs.
Snaking highways take you through paradise at Chapman’s Peak, Hout Bay, Camp’s Bay — idyllic fishing towns where fish and chips shops serve up freshly caught Hake. And vineyards that offer tastings of the best Pinotage, Merlot and Chardonnay.
The houses dot the hillsides, graceful and full of splendour. You think: Yes, I could live here. Spend every day in this lush, luxe setting.
But you need a non-white person with you to tell you the real story of the Western Cape.
Even now, 16 years after South Africa established democracy and passed the strongest constitution in the world, perhaps, that bars any sort of discrimination, the vestiges of apartheid are not lost on a person of color.
Yes, you can go to South Africa and go on safaris and see its National Geographic beauty, but you cannot ever forget what was here. And if you look closely, behind the hills, far away from the tourist signs, you will still see apartheid.
At Hout Bay, you can see the flats built for coloreds when you get high up on the hill. There it is. In all its ugliness.
Or what about Ocean View?
“Look there,” said my guide Gillian Schroeder, a coloured woman who grew up in the Cape Flats (pictured with me at Chapman’s Peak). “How ironic. There’s no view.”
Just rows and rows of horrific housing built inland to house coloreds evicted from Simon’s Town, a place where tourists now venture to look at African penguins and shop for antiques.
And what about the blacks? You can’t even see their townships from the main roads and highways. They are tucked away like the poor in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.
Only here, I cannot forget that they were forced from their homes and put in segregated communities when apartheid was enforced in 1948. The Group Areas Act mandated separate communities and non-whites were plucked from the homes and throw into horrid shanties without any surrounding trees, without electricity, without anything save gray dust and misery.
My drive to the Cape of Good Hope (pictured above) was marred by conversation with Gillian of the past and present. Even though everyone is equal now in South Africa, there still is apartheid. Blacks still live in the townships. They still do the manual labor. the most menial tasks. Coloreds live in the flats. The richest neighborhoods, the nicest places are still all white.
In the United States, laws were changed but racism has taken many years to subside. It still manifests itself now, more than 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
In South Africa, it was different. There was brutal white rule and then a black majority democracy. But centuries of oppression don’t just go away, especially when the ruling class is still here. In my native India, the colonizers left. Here, they stayed.
How do you live side by side after all that hatred, all those tears, all that cruelty. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission can help, but it cannot erase the emotions swirling in millions of hearts.
I have to say that it is truly amazing to me how blacks, coloureds, Indians and whites live side by side now. Those who were oppressed have amazingly forgiven.
But as my friend, Stephen Moagi of Capetown said, it is hard to forget.
His name tag at work reads: Stephens. Like a last name. None of his white employers have bothered to correct it. Small, but telling, I thought.
Eunice, a black waitress at Bertha’s restaurant on the ocean in Simon’s Town (pictured, top, left), gives her name as Thabiso. That’s her name in Xhosa. That’s what she prefers. Except no one ever bothered to ask.
You don’t have to look hard to notice. Just take your eyes off the guide books and tours. And you will know the real South Africa.