First Impressions: Cape Town

May 15, 2013 • Reporting Trips, South Africa 2013 • Views: 950


This is the third Globalist trip for the two of us and it’s going very smoothly so far! We’ve gone on two interviews at vineyards (we might be writing about South African wine!), hiked to the top of Table Mountain, explored Stellenbosch and the University of Capetown campus, and met members of the Capetown Globalist.

While we’ve enjoyed our wine (the Pinotage at Bergkelder and the Shiraz at Soms Delta, in particular) and the “chilled out” atmosphere of hip-to-the-bone Long Street, we can’t help but to notice the giant gap between the beauty and coolness of what Capetown wants us to see, and the 40% unemployment rate/straight inequality that we know pervades the conversation about South Africa. For example, today, we took an hour long train ride to Stellenbosch, a beautiful vineyard city that also happens to be the second oldest European settlement in South Africa. The city itself, which looks quite a bit like Palo Alto, is home to several wineries and a large university and has become a major international tourist attraction. As we walked around the town we saw chic German and French tourists sitting in the wine bars and gelaterias that lined the streets, tourists who, as our waitress explained, often come to Stellenbosch looking for the “real Africa.”

One stop away from Stellnbosch, however, was a shantytown region of very evident poverty. As we’ve seen in Cape Town in general, the socioeconomic divides often lineup with racial ones, so while the tourists were largely white, the waitstaff, cooks, and those people getting on and off the earlier stops were largely non-white. In fact, our intention to ride the train to Stellenbosch was greeted by several University of Cape Town students with shock and words of warning. We splurged on first class tickets (34R or about $4 round trip), but couldn’t help but notice that in spite of the large numbers of white, international tourists, most of whom use Cape Town as their base, we were the only white and Asian passengers.

Neither of us expected to find a South Africa free from racial divides and the remnants of a long, painful history of apartheid that only ended during our lifetime, yet we feel somewhat surprised–even unnerved–by what seems to us to be such a strong, inescapable legacy of that era. Though tempted to unpack the cultural and anthropological implications of using South Africa to create a tourist friendly, “real Africa,” we’ve decided to hold off on final judgments, at least for now. We head to Robbens Island, the famous prison where Nelson Mandela remained for nearly 20 years, later today. As our trusty LPs explain, the tour guides are predominantly non-white former political prisoners…so we will, no doubt, have something to say about that. We’ll keep you posted.

Emily Ullman ‘14 is in Timothy Dwight College and Margaret Zhang ’14 is in Berkeley College. Con­tact them at and

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