Two Sides of Cape Town

CATEGORY: Study Abroad
TYPE: Photos, Articles
RELATED PROGRAMS: Environmental Studies, International Center

By Will Chilton ’11
Worcester, Massachusetts
Economics, Environmental Studies

What struck me most wasn’t really the difference in wealth or race, but the surprising cultural
shift in community on the other side. --Will Chilton ’11

I studied abroad on the Macalester-Pomona- Swarthmore consortium program Globalization and the Environment in Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town lies in the smallest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, the fynbos, a small region in western South Africa with overwhelming floral biodiversity.

Cape Town also makes a great place to study globalization, as its extreme polarization makes globalization highly visible. When visiting the wealthy areas of the city, visitors could be fooled into believing that they are in Europe. Tourists are directed toward enticing destinations, from stunning day hikes to a wine-tasting to a local colony of penguins. One can eat outstanding food, stay in immaculate accommodations, and have an experience that combines Cape Town’s natural beauty with the comforts of any other westernized city.

However, the reality for many Capetonians is much different; most of the population lives on less than $2 a day. I utilized my independent study project and the resources it provided me to see the other side of Cape Town, the “informal settlements,” where families live in shacks, and entire neighborhoods share communal toilets.

What struck me most wasn’t really the difference in wealth or race, but the surprising cultural shift in community. Here people didn’t have gates around their homes. They didn’t really lock their doors; rather, they often kept them open. One could acceptably walk into a stranger’s home and sit down, before explaining why he was there. Somehow, this part of the city that was known for danger and poverty managed to have the strongest signs of community.

PUBLISHED: 08/30/2011