Serving the rich

2015-02-22 15:00

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Camps Bay is one of SA’s most affluent suburbs. Biénne Huisman talks to the commuter workers who serve the rich and asks how far the wealth spreads

Early on weekday mornings, Camps Bay’s pavements bustle with hundreds of workers pouring into the megawealthy suburb that’s spread between Table Mountain and the sea.

At daybreak, domestic workers, cooks, beauticians, waiters and builders get off buses along the suburb’s arterial Victoria Road as the mists lift over the Atlantic Ocean.

They arrive daily to pander to the needs of tourists and rich residents, many of whom can be seen dressed in Lycra, walking their dogs next to the beach in the early morning.

Camps Bay is home to 4?982 people. That’s 1?947 households with an average of fewer than three people (2.56) per property.

In a country where overcrowded living spaces are a standard feature, this is a luxuriously low number.

According to a 2011 suburb census, 80% of Camps Bay’s residents are white. About 97% of the area’s workforce – aged between 15 and 64 – is employed and 18% of households earn between R51?201 and R102?400 per month.

Current property offerings in the platinum suburb include a house called Enigma Mansion with a price tag of R179?million.

In December, Britain’s Prince Harry stayed here at The Bay Hotel and partied at Café Caprice, where Dom Pérignon Blanc de Blanc retails at R3?600 a bottle.

For many of the early-morning commuters, most of them from townships such as Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain on the Cape Flats, this is more than their monthly salary.

The 2011 census shows that 74% of Khayelitsha’s households and 38% of Mitchells Plain’s households have a monthly income of R3?200 or less.

On Thursday morning, at the Sorbet beauty salon on Victoria Road, a woman in gym attire reclined at a booth with her pale hands outstretched.

“Just fix the two broken nails, please. Heaven knows how they broke; I don’t wash dishes,” she tells her nail technician, Rogina Chituu (30).

The salon’s regular clients include radio personality Anele Mdoda. Popular offerings include express gelish manicures in shades with exotic names like A Petal for your Thoughts, at R295.

Chituu enjoys her job and likes working in Camps Bay. It’s beautiful, she tells City Press. She says the salon was so busy in December she didn’t even have time for lunch. Over the festive season, she would buff and polish up to eight sets of nails a day.

Now that the rush is over, she and her five colleagues take turns to slip away for lunch breaks on the beach.

Chituu moved to Cape Town from Harare, Zimbabwe, six years ago.

She, her husband (a film industry engineer) and their toddler son live in a flat in Maitland, 20km away.

It takes Chituu 50 minutes to travel to Camps Bay on the MyCiti bus – at a cost of R8 for a one-way trip. These trips total roughly R320 a month.

Chituu also pays R600 a month to leave her son in a crèche and R200 for his transport fees because she leaves for work early in the morning and only gets home after 7pm.

She would love to open her own nail salon one day, but saving up for this dream is difficult because most of her salary gets allocated to living expenses.

Outside Sorbet, security guard Senzo Mabote (23) is doing his rounds.

He pays R184 a month to travel by train from his home in Khayelitsha to Cape Town’s central station. There he catches the MyCiti bus to Camps Bay for an additional R345 a month.

“You don’t know of another job for me?” he asks.

South Africa’s inequality crisis is compounded in a suburb like Camps Bay, which perhaps illustrates how the megawealthy and their penchant for luxury bankrolls economies, creating livelihoods for the less fortunate in what neoliberalists like to describe as an economic “trickle-down effect”.

Next to Camps Bay’s beach, Elton van der Westhuizen (30) sits on a knee-high bench with the words “Live On” in pink letters.

It’s another recent public art installation along the city’s seaboard.

Van der Westhuizen, from Mitchells Plain, smirks, “Ja man, it’s cool. Live and let live, hey.”

The bench serves as his office. He rents out beach umbrellas at R40 and deckchairs at R60 each and has done so for the past 12 years.

He is one of about 40 people who rents out beach furniture along Camps Bay’s coast. He makes about R350 a day in peak season. In winter, he bakes muffins and does odd jobs to make ends meet.

“My clients are mostly really rich but friendly, especially the foreigners. Locals can be tricky. They don’t want to pay; they want everything for free and they debate with us. Like, they want to continue sitting on our chairs after 6pm, which is when our lift leaves to go back home,” he says.

Next to him Mark du Toit (42), also from Mitchells Plain, plies a similar umbrella-and-chair trade.

Du Toit has five children.

“Ja, I make a good life like this. I’m able to send all my kids to school. I dream of sending them to university or tech one day, you know,” he says.

Neoliberalist theory suggests that social justice and mobility can be achieved through trickle-down economics. So, if rich people have extra cash, it will find its way to the poor through job creation or charity.

In a worldwide debate, critics dismiss this as rubbish, saying that in capitalist systems, affluence mostly accumulates in society’s upper echelons, rarely finding its way into the pockets of the poor.

They argue for measures of government regulation – such as welfare grants, public services and worker unions – to provide a safety net for the poor, as is the case in South Africa.

Back in Camps Bay, these and other concerns seem to take a back seat.

At dusk, residents and well-heeled visitors sip cocktails at pavement cafés as the sun dips over the sea while hundreds of workers rush to catch their buses back home.

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