LINH DINH • UNZ REVIEW • AUGUST 26, 2021
Cape Town, 2021
In Cape Town for three weeks, I’ve come to love my neighborhood, known as ‘Gardens’, as well as adjacent Tamboerskloof and City Bowl. Nearby Bo-Kaap is also very pleasant, of course.
Those who know Kaapstad might interject, “Yo, these are all whitey neighborhoods! You wouldn’t be riffing such free jizz had you relocated to Mitchells Plain.”
Since I’m not there, I wouldn’t know, but you’re most likely right. Unless one’s particularly suicidal, it’s not prudent to move into a black township in South Africa, Chicago or Philadelphia. I ain’t stupid.
The worst Cape Town gang is ‘The Americans’, by the way. Though not as murderous as a US platoon jihading for Jews, these Americans are lethal enough. With Uncle Sam the champ at glamorizing violence, these Capetonians can’t resist the cool brand.
In Gardens, I’ve established a routine.
Most mornings, I eat breakfast at home, since I have a kitchen, but if I feel like treating myself, I head to Arnold’s, just a five-minute downhill stroll away.
Leaving my door, I’m always astounded by the magnificent Table Mountain. (pictured). Jutting straight up, it’s a 3,500-foot-high granite and sandstone wall.
On the way to Arnold’s, I pass Thai, Vietnamese, Portuguese/Mozambican, Italian, Arabic, Indian and Turkish restaurants, as well as a well-stocked Checkers Supermarket, and Soy Joy Oriental Food, with its fish, soy, teriyaki, hoisin, oyster and satay sauces, etc., plus bok choy, homemade kimchi and various Korean instant noodles.
For $6.65 at Arnold’s, I get coffee, two eggs, two thick slices of bacon, two hash browns, three pork chipolatas, two hunks of fried tomato, six chunks of eland steak and six chunks of ostrich steak. (Compare this feast with the $5.56 McDonald’s Big Breakfast with Hot Cakes, with its miserable single patty of jivey sausage.)
To enter Arnold’s, you must sign in and leave your phone number (or email) after having your temperature taken.
I asked the young man, “What’s a bad temperature, man?”
“Twenty-seven. If you’re at 27 or higher, you can’t go in.”
“Has anyone shown up like that?”
“Maybe it doesn’t exist!” We laughed. Always sprightly, he would even dance a few steps behind the cash register.
Like at most Cape Town restaurants, Arnold’s waitstaff is entirely black. Since it opens at 6AM, the morning crew has to get up at 4. Vans, called taxis here, bring them in from distant townships. In the dark and chill, OPEN in red neon shines above Arnold’s roof.
Nearly all of Arnold’s customers are white.
One morning, I met an Englishman. Escaping the always dismal UK winter, he arrived in December for a three-month holiday. Enjoying the cheery and sophisticated Cape Town so much, he decided to linger.
When he applied for a visa extension in March, they took his passport and said he’d receive an answer in eight to ten weeks, but he hadn’t heard from them as of late August. Since he had a temporary ID, he’s legal here, but without his passport, he couldn’t leave.
To get a visa extension in South Korea, all I had to do was schedule an appointment at the immigration office, then showed up days later to receive my approval within half an hour.
To receive Covid-related welfare, South Africans must stay in line for two days, meaning they must sleep outside a government office, then wait four months to get their first payment.
That’s the post-Apartheid South African bureaucracy for you. Corrupta et incompetens should be its motto, etched in stone.
Here, only 8% of murders end with convictions, and just 7% of rapes. South African sidewalks, then, are swarming with uncaught murderers and rapists.
Accused of rape, Jacob Zuma was acquitted. Knowing she was HIV positive, Zuma still didn’t wear a condom, he said, but he did take a shower afterwards, to wash away the AIDS. If it’s not meat on meat, it’s meaningless, I suppose. Before becoming president of South Africa, Zuma was president of the African National Congress. The massive rioting in Durban recently was started by Zuma’s supporters.
(You can gauge a population’s mental retardation by its superstitions. In one, morons actually believe a 47-story skyscraper can collapse in seconds, into its own footprint, without anything hitting it!)
Any city is best explored on foot, so one day, I decided to trek down to Woodstock and Salt River.
I was mindful, however, of a gentle warning I had received from an Unz reader, “As an old dog who’s grown up around Cape Town, and having seen what this captured country’s become, I go nowhere on foot anymore […] Cape Town has not been spared change for the worse. I can’t help thinking that you may be taking your life into your own hands in deciding to go walk-about though. I pray to God that I’m wrong.”
With each block, the eateries and shops became shabbier and funkier. One advertised “SURGERY.” Barbers had crudely lettered signs. Folks lined up for a gatsby, snoek and chips or fried chicken. It felt somewhat like a Philly ghetto, but livelier and less menacing.
Seeing me taking photos, a thin colored kid of about 13 wanted to hold my camera, but I wouldn’t let him. When I complained that my Canon 50D was a piece of shit that should be replaced, the kid said there was a pawn shop down the street that would buy it.
“Are uncle from China?”
“Vietnam. It’s close to China.”
When the kid asked to be photographed, I positioned my camera to have Subhan Superette and Devil’s Peak in the background. Perched on his propped-up skateboard, the kid looked pretty good in his white knit cap and red hoodie.
“Uncle, I’ll pay you 20 rands [$1.33] for that photo.”
“Just give me your email and I’ll send it to you,” but the kid didn’t even have one, so that was that.
For lunch at an Indian-owned joint, I had half a Mozambican chicken, smothered in that hot and tangy peri sauce and coupled with spicy fries, then it was time for a beer or two. Bypassing a dim pub with just one customer at the far end, I entered one, Boum Boum Africa, with three people sitting at the short bar. One, a woman, turned out to be the bartender.
On the wall was a small photo of Mandela in a cheerful pose, with “MADIBA” above him. A sign forbade pot, pills and heroin. After ordering a large bottle of Castle for $1.66, I parked my sorrowful ass on a stool. I was home.
The two guys at the bar would sing along to the bouncy music. It was in a strange language. “Hey, what language is that?” I asked after a while.
“Lingala. From the Congos.”
“So you’re from the Congos?”
“Yeah. We’re all from the Congos.”
People would straggle in, often just to chat, without ordering a drink. At the back, there was a barren restaurant.
The guy I chattered with was named Trisure. Forty-three-years-old, he had a hair salon (which he pronounced as “saloon”), with 22 employees.
“Wow, you are a big boss!”
“No, not really.”
“Twenty-two employees, man. That’s a lot.”
Later, he said, “We should go into business.”
“No man, I’m not a businessman. I’m a writer.”
“Yeah, I walk around. I talk to people like you, then I write about it.”
“You publish books?”
“We should go into business together.”
“No, no, man. I’m no businessman. I do not know how to make money.”
Suddenly, he proposed, “Hey, you need an African wife!”
“An African wife?”
“No, no,” I laughed, “but if I change my mind, I’ll look for you!”
“Yes, you need an African woman, like this,” and he started to move his groin back and forth vigorously, with quite a serious face. Only I laughed. Had he copulated the air any harder, he would have fallen backward from his stool.
Enough of this silliness, I thought, but he wouldn’t drop it. Over the next half an hour, he would offer me black pussy at least ten more times. He also cadged me into buying a round for him and two buddies. Although I would have done it anyway, I didn’t appreciate his crude hustling. Clearly, Trisure was no boss with 22 employees.
“You’re my best friend,” Trisure blurted. Going to the bathroom, he even said, “I just need to go pee. I’ll be right back.”
Trisure was afraid his prey would run away. Finally, I did, but only after refusing to lend this brokeass pimp some money. Trisure also wanted to take me, right then, to see a friend. Obviously, nothing good could come of that. That’s how suckers get killed.
In downtown one day, three guys, with two wearing security guard uniforms, tried very hard to get me to insert a credit card into an ATM, “to get your photography license,” except there’s no such thing, and I don’t even have a credit card.
While there are crimes in all societies, the amount and nature in each are revealing. In Cape Town, a 27-year-old woman is on trial for allowing her 2-year-old daughter to be raped and tortured, with the baby’s genitals burnt and her body bitten.
Already jailed for two years, she cried in court and said she was willing to pay up to 10,000 rands [$666] to be released.
Also in Cape Town, a 25-year-old man has just been charged with the rape and murder of a 93-year-old woman he and his mother lived with.
In Belgrade, Serbia, I heard children’s sweet voices outside my bedroom window nearly daily. In Tirana, Albania, I saw kids playing everywhere, often unattended. In Cape Town’s better neighborhoods, children are rarely seen outside well-fenced schools.
I met a young Boer from upcountry who had had four phones snatched from him in eight years, all on Long Street. Although just one phone lost every two years isn’t too bad, just an upgrading opportunity, more or less, he can skip this wealth redistribution altogether by avoiding Long Street, except there are so many cool and stimulating bars there.
In Athlone, I met a colored woman who had her phone stolen that morning, at gunpoint. The black mugger was not from her colored township, she pointed out. What was most remarkable was her composure in relaying all this.
Now, Cape Town is a very spread-out city, with most neighborhoods having a suburban or small town feel. With distance or natural barriers, you can be safely cocooned inside Camps Bay, Century City, Sea Point or even Observatory, etc. In the last, white, colored and black hipsters swarm trendy taverns each evening.
In exurban Muizenberg, Fish Hoek or Simon’s Town, you can surf or sun daily, or sit back in a chic restaurant and munch on calamari, Korean chicken wings, pulled beef sarmie, sushi or a soothing chicken and mushroom pie, just like your English great-great-grandma used to make. In Noordhoek, you can ride your $10,000 horse on a long, white-sanded beach.
Staying in Gardens, I’m removed from the worst of South Africa, obviously, just as you’re safe from the realities of Baltimore, Camden, Gary or East Saint Louis, etc.
Like the USA, South Africa has pockets of civility, sophistication and joie de vivre not far from the most hellish on earth, and in each nation, barbarity has been gaining, it’s obvious. I’ve talked to South Africans who are convinced theirs can be checked, however, or even reversed. If that’s true, Americans may overtake them on the highway to hell.
Jews had a large role in tearing down Apartheid. At Cape Town’s Jewish Museum, there’s an exhibition, “Ground Breakers: A History of Progressive Judaism in South Africa.” Flanking the museum are the Tikvah Synagogue and Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre. Post-Apartheid, most South African Jews have remained, so clearly, they’re not too nervous about their future or money here.
(Oh, how I suffer by not being close to Goldies or Kleinsky’s Delicatessen! How can any man go so long without his pastrami on rye, schmeared bagel or latkes?! Yahweh, you are unfair!)
With Cape Town’s spectacular scenery, first-rate food and many fewer Covid-related restrictions, I’m glad to be here, and not, say, in Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland or Seattle, etc.
In these uncertain times, one must be grateful for any oasis, no matter how temporal or tiny.