I’m so happy in Cape Town

In South Africa's second city, poverty as well as other forms of inequality, are the direct consequence of elite and middle class wealth.

Sea Point, a suburb close to central Cape Town. Image by Jbdodane, via Flickr CC.

Cape Town is such a beautiful city. I mean, look at it: those majestic mountains, the deep blue sea, world-class vineyards, a new cosmopolitan zone of creative hipsterdom, and not to mention the penguins swimming amongst the boulders!

Everyone worth anything wants a piece of this city. People from Johannesburg coming down to party in December, the Americans coming on their exchange visits, and the Germans doing whatever it is Germans like to do here. David Beckham, Roman Abramovich and Jack Nicholson all have holiday houses here. In December and January, Cape Town is a worldwide attraction that rivals any other city on Earth.

And now its beauty and tourist value is being augmented by a range of initiatives designed to inch our experience that much closer to paradise. We’ve got amazing new arts programs such as First Thursdays, Infecting the City, and that bright shining star in Signal Hill that keeps us excited and fascinated.

Strong local policing protects our mountains from rubbish (and homeless people), our beaches from violent dogs (and black youth), and our city from anti-social tagging (and those who tag). We have massive new office buildings going up and an extended convention centre in the works – not to mention our world class and picturesque stadium.

And District Six–oh I mean The Fringe–is so trendy now that one could even forget it has such a negative history!

We, the privileged classes of this wonderful city, have it so damn good. We are so happy in Cape Town (in contrast to the blight of the rest of the continent) that we now have a string of celebratory parties named for this very fact.

So, Happy in Cape Town?, which began as a November party in a massive Constantia house at the cost of a paltry R500 entry fee, has now upgraded to a 16th of December extravaganza at the Enigma Mansion in Camps Bay with a more respectful entry fee of R1,500. Attendees are “part of an epicenter of luxury, flair and effortless elegance that rival the continental European Summers.”

And, no doubt, it is a celebration. A celebration of what though?

The hard (or not so hard) work of maintaining the ill-begotten wealth of one’s family throughout the year.

The ability of this City’s top 5% to socially and physically separate themselves from almost any link to the hellish conditions of the significantly darker population of the City’s townships.

The construction of an elite and exclusive social network within the City and internationally, on which business and therefore profit is increased.

But most important of all, this is a celebration of the security elite Capetownians feel as a result of building a successful middle-class buffer between them and poverty.

It is not those who live in Bishops Court or Camps Bay who feel the angst so typified by the new Suburban Fear tumblr, which has exposed the shear level of racist anxiety of the black encroachment on white middle class suburbs. Unlike the elite, the inhabitants of white middle class suburbs don’t hire personal security guards to remove that “suspicious bm [read black male] looking at houses” but instead must do it themselves via vigilante civic organizations.

Which brings us to the reason why some Capetownians are so happy here that they have their own self-affirming events production company to prove it.

Hidden behind all this self-congratulating elite propaganda that infuses directly into popular culture, is the clear fact that, as the old anti-racist slogan goes, We’re over here because you’re over there.

Their happiness is because of others unhappiness.

In other words, poverty as well as other forms of inequality, are the direct consequence of elite and middle class wealth.

One does not have to read Das Kapital and understand how labor is accumulated to realize this (though it doesn’t hurt).

All one needs to do is look at this city; look at how the poor have been absolutely dispossessed from land, from access to water, and from other basic needs. One merely needs to open one’s eyes to how hard the poor workers slave in factories, in restaurants, and as servants for big fancy mansion parties merely to make the rich richer and happier.

The poor are working harder (both in the formal and informal economies) than ever before. But their income can buy less and less despite even greater pressure to consume. How expensive is bread these days? – and these loaves have never been of such deficient factory produced quality. How expensive are homes now? – and they’re falling apart at a faster rate than during apartheid.

It’s simple then, people are poor in order to make others happier – or at very least to create the facade of happiness because we all know that 25 year old driving his father’s Ferrari is so fucked up that he needs to celebrate his wealth snorting mounds of cocaine in order to hide his emotional angst.

In the end, we’re all in this together – we can’t pretend that wealth comes from anywhere else than the exploitation of other people’s labor and natural resources. There can be no celebration (or reconciliation for that matter) without revolutionary justice.

So, if after reading this, you’re not so happy in Cape Town after all. If you’re feeling that tinge of white guilt or that sense of alienation from such dishonest celebrations, a good place to start on something positive is checking out a farmworker’s union that has been hit with a cost order by a mean old Labor Court judge (whose son is probably dying to go to the party in that Camps Bay mansion).

CSAAWU has organized thousands of the most vulnerable, underpaid and abused workers in the Western Cape. If they do not raise R600,000 in the next few months, the union closes and the farmworkers lose just about the only thing which they have to organise themselves a better deal.

So click here and give what you can to support CSAAWU

Further Reading

Edson in Accra

It happened in 1969. But just how did he world’s greatest, richest and most sought-after footballer at the time, end up in Ghana?

The dreamer

As Africa’s first filmmakers made their unique steps in Africanizing cinema, few were as bold as Djibril Diop Mambéty who employed cinema to service his dreams.

Socialismo pink

A solidariedade socialista na Angola e Moçambique pós-coloniais tornou as pessoas queer invisíveis. Revisitar esse apagamento nos ajuda a reinventar a libertação de forma legítima.