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World's most beautiful city still haunted by apartheid ghosts

"...as I listened to his tale of frustration and bitterness it was obvious thesocial wounds inflicted by apartheid have still not healed."
  • "...as I listened to his tale of frustration and bitterness it was obvious thesocial wounds inflicted by apartheid have still not healed."

"Look! There it is! Table Mountain! Cape Town! The most beautiful city in the best country in the world." The faint profile of Table Mountain is barely visible against the distant horizon but Odie is elated. After more than two months on the road she is almost home and clearly looking forward to seeing family and friends. But it will be a bittersweet reunion. Like many of her countrymen who love their work and their country Odie is making plans to leave South Africa.

It's 600 kilometres from the Namibian border south to Cape Town – the last leg of our long African safari. The two-day drive takes us across the flat highveld of Northern Cape Province where dusty red earth supports only a smattering of low shrubs and virtually no habitation. Farther south, in the transition country between interior plateau and coastal plain, the road winds through a landscape of harsh, rocky hills and narrow valleys. A few farmsteads with shade trees and small, irrigated fields add a touch of green to the drab countryside. At Springbok, once a copper mining town, we pause briefly for diesel and a snack before dropping down onto the coastal plain of the Western Cape with its great vineyards and orchards. It is already dark when we arrive at Citrusdal Hot Springs for the night – just a 90-minute drive from Cape Town – and for Odie just 150k from home.

The next morning, about an hour after Odie first spotted Table Mountain in the distance, we arrived at Bloubergstrand, a small shopping district on the Atlantic Coast across from Robben Island. Armed with hot meat pies and a cool drink from a waterfront delicatessen we walked down to the seawall and watched the surf roll in from Table Bay and crash against offshore rocks just beyond the sandy beach. Across the Bay, reflecting the morning light from millions of windows, the city of Cape Town sparkles against the massive backdrop of Lion’s Head and Table Mountain. It's a dramatic setting for a city and as we shared our last meal together with Odie I questioned why she had chosen to leave. She is young, well educated, a superb driver and tour leader with an encyclopedic knowledge of African history and culture. She speaks fluent English and Afrikaans, has a network of friends scattered across southern Africa, is passionate about her country, and eager to share it with visitors. So why is she planning to leave?

"I grew up and went to school in Cape Town," she tells me. "My dad was an executive with the National Railway – secure job, good income until a few years ago when he was retrenched." Retrenched is the official euphemism for "fired". Like many other white South African professionals her dad was a casualty of affirmative action in a black majority country. And Odie adds, "It’s just a matter of time before jobs for whites in the tourist industry go the same way." Later that day she dropped us at our hotel and headed off to an uncertain future. Whether or not her fears are founded, they are shared by many of her countrymen. We heard the same concerns over and over again during our stay in Cape Town.

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