Capetown, South Africa is a stark contrast in realities depending on whether you are Colored, Black African or White. These terms in the U.S. today would probably cause a stir in almost any neighborhood, but in Capetown it is the accepted way to refer to someone. Coloreds, the majority population in Capetown– 50%–are descendants of those from Malaysia, India, Indonesia and other Asian countries who were enslaved to work the docks loading and unloading the Dutch Trading Company’s ships. They are considered Coloreds instead of Asians because through the years they intermarried with Whites and/or Blacks. Black Africans are 30% of Capetown’s population and are the original people of the area, while Whites are primarily of Dutch, Portuguese or British ancestry and 20% of the population. I could tell that some of my colleagues on the trip were initially uneasy saying the terms Colored and Black African. It is interesting that here there is a very open dialogue about apartheid, racism and the injustices that the systems have created, while in America, we tiptoe around the obvious.
While I am not a stranger to information about South African’s shanty towns and bantustans…it is quite another thing to see it with your own eyes. It is also an emotional experience to learn why they exist–at least in Capetown–through the forced removal of Black Africans and Coloreds in the 1960s from what is now a booming Central City and tourist area to outlying areas of rocky land. Entire and numerous communities of Black and Coloreds were uprooted and made to move from an area called District 6, without any infrastructure, support or basic services…water or sanitation. Many homes in these areas still do not have running water or bathrooms. I just saw on the news Saturday night, the announcement of a new public bathroom system for a settlement area. The psychological and emotional stress of that move is evident in how Capetoians talk about the loss of cultural stability as families from various religious, cultural and racial backgrounds were forced to the same areas.
In my pictures, you will see the various settlements as well as new housing that the ANC government started building after the fall of apartheid. The need is so great that currently, there is a 10-12 year waiting list for new housing. Like in the U.S., major highways are used to divide neighborhoods by class and race.
An NGO in Capetown that is heavily involved with housing construction in several of the settlements is Development Action Group. They have successfully positively impacted the lives of over 19,000 people since 2011 through new housing, teaching construction trades, helping youth learn business skills and facilitating the accreditation of several new construction businesses started by people from the settlements.