Tag Archives: South Africa

Vancouver to Cape Town: Cities coming in from the Cold

So posting may be a little scarce over the next 30 hours. I’m currently in the Joburg airport in the midst of my 35 hour, four flight trip home. (boo…)

However, I’m excited to be heading home and the Cape Town to Vancouver trip is an interesting one to be on since it is evoking some interesting comparisons between two cities that are, in some respects, very similar.

Indeed, yesterday, over lunch (at this wonderful place called Mariana’s) with Mark S. and his Cape Town friends we started comparing the two cities. The Cape Towners talked about how there was so much going on in South Africa, about how the country was changing and evolving, but that Cape Town seemed to be unimpacteed and possibly even opting out of this change.

I asked if Cape Town suffered from a dynamic that, I believe, has afflicted Vancouver for quite some time but that it might be on the verge of overcoming. The dynamic? Conservatism.

I’ve often called Vancouver the most conservative city in Canada. I don’t mean politically, but socially. Vancouver is so beautiful and so nice that a significant portion of the population don’t want anything to change. Change, any change, threatens to alter something about the city that people like – and so things evolve slowly in the city. (This is why the election of Larry Campbell was such a watershed moment. It is also why I’m engaged in Vision Vancouver – it’s rise could hold the promise of a more dynamic future). Fortunately (although many Vancouverites would say unfortunately) Vancouver’s growth path means that change can no longer be forestalled. The city is going to change, the question is simple do we choose to guide it and help foster a dynamic, interesting and sustainable place? Indeed, already this increased economic and social diversity and the growth that comes with it is beginning to break the old Vancouver families grip on the city’s destiny. It is also breeding a greater appetite for new approaches and strategies. the Insite Needle injection site is only the most powerful manifestation of this.

Cape Town has – according to me new friends – had a similar trajectory. It is so beautiful that no one wants anything to change. Consequently you can have a city that (like Vancouver) is quite liberal and bohemian (it is apparently Africa’s gay capital) but that is at the same time, quite conservative – in that very little changes. It has allegedly taken a back seat to the changes sweeping South Africa. The question is, will similar pressures force Cape Town to act? This I don’t know.

So, for me, flying from Cape Town back to Vancouver reminds me of why I’ve moved home. To be closer to family, but also to be part of what I beleive to be an exciting moment in Vancouver’s history – a moment when the city may shed its more convservative impulses and act on the progressive ideals that I believe underlie its culture. It’s an exciting time and I hope Cape Town captures this spirit as well.

Johannesburg: the good, the bad and the ugly

So I’m presently in Johannesburg – here for some negotiation work. It’s been a fascinating trip so far.

First the good: The weather is amazing (about 22 Celsius with a strong sun and no clouds – perfect for being outside, although I may have gotten burn today). Everyone is very friendly. The food in unreal. Last night I had Alligator and Ostrich carpacio – unbelievable. Alligator is like a cross between turkey and bacon, it’s delicious. I’m looking forward to a trip down to Cape Town at the end of the week to visit Mark S.

The bad: It’s been interesting following the news down here. Probably the saddest thing I’ve heard is the Health Minister’s repeated statements that people with HIV need only eat a balanced diet to be ok. I know the story has been covered endlessly but it remains shocking – even criminal – that this type of denial continues. Indeed, I’ve noticed that there is very little signage about HIV/AIDS. That which I have noticed has generally been put into place by private enterprises.

The ugly: Last couple of days have seen a spat of xenophobic riots in the Johannesburg suburb of Alexandra as clashes between black South Africans and refugees/migrants from other African countries – principally Zimbabwe – have escalated. Zimbabweans – and other Africans – are broadly blamed for stealing jobs and, more problematically, contributing to the country’s spiraling crime rate. Each evening it is surreal to feel safely ensconced in my hotel room and know that 20 4 km away roving bands of young men armed with machetes and bricks are looting stores and beating people up. No surprise that the city goes on as if nothing is amiss. Certainly the endless traffic jams that define Johannesburg’s roads don’t show any sign of nervousness.

South Africa is so many things at the same time. Its challenges are fascinating, but numerous and daunting – and yet I get the sense from the brief time I’ve been here – they are not overwhelming. This is very good news, not just for the country, but for the continent.