It has only been one week that I have been in Cape Town, but so far the experience has been exciting and very bizarre.
Besides being possibly the most beautiful city in the world, I have come to love the distinct culture of Cape Town. It is a mostly black city (a big departure from Madison) that also has a significant colored and black culture. South Africa has 11 official languages and it seems everyone here speaks at least three of them. Yet they are not the commonly heard Mandarin or Spanish. Instead, many of the languages here, such as Afrikaans and Xhosa, only reside in this region of the world. South Africans seem to pride themselves on the uniqueness of their lingual culture.
Yet, for all the different languages that are spoken, American and pop music still dominate. No matter where I seem to be, Lady Gaga, John Mayer, David Guetta, and even Creed are blasting from every type of establishment. The perfect example of this came when the University of Cape Town took us to a very poor township outside the city where locals were to put on performances for all the new international students. My thinking, perhaps it was racist, was that they would perform traditional tribal dances. I could not have been more wrong. The first entertainer was a drag queen that lip synced a disco song while prancing around the community center. While no performance had the shock value of that experience, other locals danced to songs such as “We No Speak Americano,” “Womanizer,” and “Club Can’t Handle Me.” At no point was an African song, from any time period, played. The closest was “Waka Waka,” but even that is sung by Shakira.
While one could simply point to America’s cultural reach as the rationale for only pop music being played, I think South Africa’s cultural and political identity is also an important factor. The country is one of four in the world where gay marriage is fully legal and its “Rainbow Nation” motto is also fully embraced. South Africans, especially around the particularly liberal Cape Town, are extremely progressive and open to a changing culture. Thus, none of the South Africans we were with, regardless of socio-economic standing, saw an issue with a transvestite performing dance music. It was refreshing to see this openness, after being in an American culture that is often dominated by those seeking to preserve the status quo, no matter how detrimental to personal liberty.
The house my friends and I were put in is also really interesting. We are in a neighborhood called Observatory that is in between UCT and downtown Cape Town. While our house is nice and is in a great location, we seem to be the only international students that were not put with other international students, which is a bit frustrating to not be on the same page as other students that just arrived. Instead we are living with five people who are slightly older and work around the area. Four are originally all from Africa and the fifth is from Pittsburgh. However, some of the Africans took us out a few nights ago to show us around town and they were quite fun and fascinating to be with. The advantages of living with locals was quickly on display as they took us to some great spots throughout Cape Town.
The best part of going out with them though, was hearing all about their perceptions of white people and South Africa, in general. Apartheid is still very much a raw topic here and the people we were with have an understandable anger towards older Afrikaaners. However, they are more ambivalent towards younger white South Africans and the country appears headed for a more unified population as people are eager to follow Nelson Mandela’s advice: “forgive, but not forget.”
- alexsommer posted this