Capetown: A City of Contrasts

In a nutshell, the Economic Empowerment in South Africa, or EESA, program pairs teams of undergraduate and graduate student from UF, Texas A&M, Colorado, and the University of the Western Cape with entrepreneurs in Capetown’s townships,  or what we would call slums.  Most of the buildings are simply shacks made of tin or parts of old shipping containers.   The entrepreneurs we’re working with come from varied backgrounds, but most of them are struggling in the post-Apartheid era of South Africa, which still suffers from massive inequalities.

After our normal morning classes, we grabbed a quick lunch and headed out on the township tour.  We saw the inner workings of Langa and Kyhelesia townships which was sad and interesting just the same.

After returning, we had very little time before a meeting with Dr. Morris in his office, which turned out to be helpful.  Then we went to the campus bar, The Barn, for a Gatsby sandwich, which is massive sandwich with meat and fries.  I powered down half of one, which was a pretty decent accomplishment, while we worked on our case SWOT and talked out our client meeting agenda. Our time here is really constrained, and we are busy pretty much from 7am until 1 or 2am most days.

On the Friday of our first week in town,  we were whisked back to campus after our last client meeting (a township radio station) and immediately set out for The Business Center, run by a guy with the unfortunate name of Egbert, who seems to have a vision much like that of EESA, albeit with training, resources, facilities, etc to effect a more lasting change.  I got the sense he was looking for a more permanent partnership with EESA, that perhaps wasn’t going to happen.  Totally makes sense, though, to hand all EESA clients off into his program.  His point was that it takes 1-2 years to really make a lasting behavioral change.

So really interesting to see that this center exists and they have a steller location where Khayaletsha, Mitchell’s Plain, the N2 and other roads intersect.

From there, we set off for the Waterfront, the big retail/social development in Capetown.  Most of the kids ran straight for the mall, but I headed down the coast, and walked to the Mouille Point lighthouse to watch the sunset there.  Incredible scenery all the way to and from including an old fort, the Capetown stadium, Table Mountain and the 12 Apostles (hills) dog parks, and awesome real estate.  I will have to dig into the real estate situation here.  I bet there are opportunities.

Went back to the mall, and noticed Wessel and Chad (our EESA drivers) were stuck in the vans, so I offered and got them something to eat while they sat there.  Hope it helped break up the boredom a bit.  Wessel mentioned earlier that the KFC “crunch burger” (interesting branding) was has favorite, so I got them that.  They both seem like really good guys, so EESA is lucky to have them.  So far, they have been on the dot with our pickups.

The dinner at Mitchell’s Tavern was really nice, and I don’t think anyone passed up the opportunity for a free meal.  The filet with rice and spinach I had was top notch.  Beat the hell out of partially cooked pasta in a dirty dorm kitchen.   Got back around 10:30 and after a call home, I crashed about midnight.

June 18

Finally got in an 8 hour sleep night, the first in about two weeks.  Went with Aly to join the gym, which turned out to be a pretty nice facility.  Felt good to get in even a marginal workout.  Still having back soreness, but it’s getting better.

Got breakfast and put in my laundry.  Once again, it wasn’t done before we had to leave.  The appliances here seem to work incredibly slowly.  Not sure if the circuits in the kitchen are overloaded, or it’s just design.  The washer takes an hour.  The toaster and stove elements seem to take 15 minutes to warm up.

We shoved off again for the Waterfront for the trip to Robben Island.  We had a little extra time, which I spent upstairs reading the museum exhibits and watching the video about the reunions help on the island.  Really interesting to see some of the players I read about in “The Long Walk to Freedom”.

The island itself was pretty somber.  So powerful to visit a place about which you’ve read.  I wonder if it meant much to the students who didn’t really know much about the history of the Struggle.  My guess is no, since some of the comments afterward were that it was just “OK”.

Sadly, the racism is still pretty rampant, as there have been two big news stories in the past week about white women popping off with absurd racial rants.   One of them had just gotten robbed, so on top of that, she’s now of video as a complete racist.  I see the social vortex of public opinion and social media works here just as it does back home.  She’ll probably have to into hiding too.

Seeing Mandela’s cell was pretty amazing.  I even laid down on the mat they had in the F section to feel what it was like.  Can’t imagine getting any sleep (especially me).

Everyone was pretty wiped out after the trip and many fell asleep in the van on the way back.  Not a very wild Saturday night.    Once again, my laundry had be folded for me by the house lady (Victoria?) so I left her another 10 Rand the following Monday as a thank you.  Nice lady.

Some of the kids in the group are huge slobs in the kitchen, leaving unwashed pots and dishes in the sink, cutting boards with vegetable refuse on the counters, trash can overflowing onto the floor, crud all over the counters and tables.  Can’t be too too critical as I was probably the same way at that age.  They just aren’t used to cleaning up after themselves.  I feel particularly bad, because I know the other people sharing Theology are pretty appalled.  I saw one guy mopping who I think was a student staying here, and not an employee.  Shameful that we are not representing well.  I suppose being a 46-year-old grad student working with 20-something-year olds, I should have expected this type of thing.  We’ll see what the rest of the trip brings.

 

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