Cape Town’s social economy is directly related to its geography, which differs from most other cosmopolitan areas in South Africa. The beachfronts and the exclusivity of these districts drive up property prices, making the ceiling incredibly high for those trying to break into the middle class. While South Africa’s emerging black middle class is reflected in Johannesburg in places like Braamfontein, Soweto and the Maboneng district, Cape Town’s high ceiling has inhibited this emerging black middle class from breaking into the social spheres that most of the white middle-upper class enjoy.
The result is the segregation that most people from outside Cape Town notice as soon as they enter the city. Not only is this segregation evident in the dominance of middle-upper class white faces in the metropolitan areas, but also in the dominance of middle-upper class white culture Cape Townians seem to love so much.
Cape Town, being a rich and international city in a third world country, reflects very little of the characteristics that define South Africa or it’s cosmopolitan centres. The city’s culture does not reflect the multiplicity, the influence of indigenous South African cultures and the diversity that are evident in Johannesburg, Durban or even Pretoria. Because of the high ceiling in Cape Town, the social sphere and the culture is profoundly segregated and distinctly un-South African, like an Ibiza in a third-world country.
The culture of Cape Town, for these reasons, does not draw on distinctly South African tropes that characterize Braamfontein or the Maboneng district in Johannesburg. Rather, the culture draws on the wealth, internationality and exclusively white middle-upper class society that manages to thrive in the hostile property market.
Simply put, and considering it’s disconnection from the South African people and cultures that struggle to thrive there, Cape Town has the kind of culture that could be cultivated over 15 years by throwing money into a hole.
By this, I don’t mean that the culture is not complex, and I don’t mean it isn’t interesting. I’m suggesting that it is characterised by its wealth more than it’s citizens across all classes, and that it is disconnected from the multiplicity and broader society that make up South Africa. For these reasons, I feel the profound appreciation that people have for Cape Town, normally by those with nice houses in nice districts next to nice beaches, should be interrogated in a broader South African context.
I appreciate that living in Cape Town is a choice that relates to your own quality of life, and that it may be safer, prettier and more fulfilling for you as an individual to live there than in more integrated and diverse regions of this country. I am not going to generalize or assert anything about those that love living in Cape Town or those who unfailingly spend their holidays there. But I will suggest they ask themselves, as South Africans, a few important questions.
- If you enjoy spending your time in a place where a white middle-upper class dominates the social sphere, as opposed to almost any other city in SA where the other 89% of the population is gaining increasing access to these spheres, what do you value in your social group?
- If the culture is suspiciously absent of any influence by the multiplicity of cultures and languages that exist in this country, what do you look for in a country as diverse as this one?
- In a city that appears to have so little to do with this country, it’s characteristics being those of a first-world, international and European country rather than a profoundly unique and diverse African country, what is it about South Africa that you enjoy?
- Do you love Cape Town because you love South Africa for what it is, or because of what South Africa can, with enough exclusivity, produce for you?