CPT VS JHB: MOUNTAIN VERSUS MINE DUMPS

2012-12-07 10:13

As I prepare to leave the Mother City after spending the last 12 months here, I find myself not concerned about the logistics of organising a moving truck, bubble wrapping all my possessions and waving good bye to them in the hope of seeing them on the other side. No. My mind is completely engrossed in the philosophical age old debate of whether the Mother City or the City of Gold is the better place for one to plant their roots.

Political parties have been arguing for a while now that the city they govern is the best run in South Africa and with Mangauang and Elections 2014 looming expect this rhetoric to continue. The Cape Town vs. Johannesburg war won’t end anytime soon, people have different priorities and preferences some people have the luxury of choice and others are privileged enough to be based in both Cities.

My love for Johannesburg reminds me of an old Swahili adage which says” If you haven’t travelled,you will always consider your mother to be the best cook”. Indeed I have considered Johannesburg to be the best city, but in order to test my “mothers” cooking against others I had left the manic free-fall that is life in Joburg, to live in Cape Town.

Beyond doubt, Cape Town is indeed a beautiful and friendly city worth living in, its located on the shores of Table Bay, with a warm and welcoming people. There are fewer potholes in Cape Town than in Johannesburg and the city of Cape Town truly works for its inhabitants. Unquestionably there is better service delivery in Cape Town when pitted against Johannesburg but this is down to the fact that the Democratic Alliance (DA) has to ensure that things continue to run smoothly, because they have a lot more to lose in the event that service delivery reaches anything near the endemic failure that other provinces have been forced to live with under African National Congress (ANC) rule.

Cape Town is a beaming city, fresh faced and full of life. Everyday truly does feel like another opportunity, in essence Cape Town has an innocence that Johannesburg lost or quite possibly never had. In Cape Town I boarded a commuter train for the first time, in surroundings that eerily harked back to my experiences in England catching the train at Clapham Junction for the morning commute to Waterloo such was the cleanliness and efficiency of the service.

But for all its glory Cape Town hides a rather dark secret, it reminds me of the archetypal perfect family that hides its flaws and faults expertly from visitors (i.e. foreigners). The Cape Town of the City Bowl, Atlantic Seaboard and Southern Suburbs is in no way how the majority of the city’s inhabitants experience daily life.  It’s a city which one feels that those with wealth and power have turned to to keep themselves to themselves and excluding all others.

Like aristocratic England in the past, those on the upper echelons live in a beautiful bubble of entertainment, creativity and beauty; while those on the outside are as firmly excluded from that dream as they ever were. The legacies of our past are stark in Cape Town, with a city segregated along defined socio-economic and racial boundaries. It’s not uncommon to hear a Kayelitsha resident say they are “heading to Cape Town” when referencing a journey into the city centre in a way that makes one think they do not consider themselves residents of Cape Town proper.

Johannesburg is a hustle and bustle kind of place. Everyone always has a plan. Someone is always bending the rules. From the outside it even probably appears slightly aggressive and anarchic. It’s a place where black and white, rich and poor learn to fend for themselves and leap or fall according to their wits and ability.  It’s perpetual, unguided, seething motion. It’s what I have always imagined the premier African city to be.

Johannesburg, for all its mixing and pushing and trying, has become a city where the distance between the filthy, criminally rich and the most dirt poor dispossessed has become something of a spectrum. There are people from all races and classes becoming increasingly distributed across that economic gulf. Yes, Apartheid did its part to ensure that the richest are still largely white and the poorest are still largely black, the dynamic of the city has shuffled that divide well over the years.

This is not to say that Johannesburg is without problems, the only difference is that the problems it faces such as – pandemic violent crime, service delivery and the lack of a viable public transport, barring the kamikaze minibus taxis – are all rather solvable if the ruling party got its act together. There is so much that both cities can learn from each other and instead of the politicians harping on about which city is run best perhaps the focus should be on bettering people’s lives regardless of location because the long-term prospects of upward economic and social mobility for people born in Kagiso or Alexandra don’t appear to be significantly better than for their counterparts in Langa or Gugulethu.

So the age old debate about which city is better can only be afforded by those who have the mobility and choice to move, what about the millions who don’t have that luxury?

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