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For the next 5 weeks I have the privilege of calling Cape Town my home. I am embarking on a research visit to the University of Cape Town and will be hosted by the African Centre for Cities. The aim of my research visit is to explore the planning issues associated with the use of tourism for local economic development and poverty reduction in the Cape Town metropolitan area – and to then compare it to what I know of the case of Cape Coast, Ghana. Thus, the rather long title of the research proposal as – “A tale of two capes: tourism-led local economic development planning in Cape Town, South Africa and Cape Coast, Ghana”. I am most grateful to the generous funding from the University of Sheffield through the World Universities Network Research Mobility Programme. Now, this is not going to be the fun holiday research visit I envisaged when I first wrote the grant application but I am nonetheless excited. The major goal of my time in Cape Town is to grind out and finish writing the 2nd draft of my PhD thesis in addition to fulfilling the objectives set out in my grant proposal. The good news is that I am told it is going to be a rainy and cold winter season so I can look forward to getting stuck indoors writing my life away.

Due to many competing priorities, I have not had the chance to really reflect on the kind of experiences I hope to gain. I don’t even know the top 10 ‘must-do/must-see’ things/sites in Cape Town. At least my sweet wife Marre has offered me some tips and insist that I visit the Robben Island. In addition, I have been informed by both South Africans and non-South Africans who have first-hand, second-hand and third-hand experience of having visited (lived in) South Africa about the great atmosphere and things to do in Cape Town. Amidst all the good stories of the wonders of visiting/living in South Africa, there have always been the sobering warnings about the need to be extra careful and to develop a sixth sense for my personal safety given the rates of crime and violence. I have found this to be quite peculiar although I know that personal safety precautions are a must when in a new city. I have been informed that South African cities have a different vibe to them than what one encounters in West Africa. Consequently, I am going to be both wary and curious of the realities of this vibe vis-à-vis the image I now hold of Cape Town.

One of my earliest memory of and knowledge of South African while growing up in the mid-1990s came through the movie SARAFINA! The enduring memory from that movie has been the music and dancing and certainly the school shooting scene. I think for many of my generation in Ghana who grew up watching it, this movie was a combination of feel-good elements, sad bits and hopeful ending. I mean how can you not smile, sing and dance along to….FREEDOM IS COMING TOMORROW!!!

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Recently, this meme of the movie came through one of my ‘Old Students’ Whatsapp group bringing back childhood memories. So in anticipation of and preparation for my research visit, I watched SARAFINA! again. This time around it was a more sobering experience for me. This set me thinking of how the innocence of youth gets stripped away by the realities one encounters on the path to growth and maturity. Reflecting on the movie now against my current knowledge of South Africa, which comes from reading news and feature articles, conversations with South African nationals I have meet and remain friends with, I know there are enduring features of segregation, poverty and violence even years after independence. Perhaps, a ‘perfect’ summary of the image of South Africa I held in my teens is captured in “Nightfall in Soweto”, a poem by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali. As a student of Literature-in-English back in Senior High School, this poem was one I had to memorise, study and write ‘appreciation’ report on in terms of its use of literary devices, imagery, subject matter and meaning. I used to be able to recite all 8 verses verbatim but now I managed to remember only the first verse. I have reproduced the full poem here for your enjoyment reflection.

NIGHTFALL IN SOWETO
Nightfall comes like
a dreaded disease
seeping through the pores
of a healthy body
and ravaging it beyond repair

A murderer’s hand,
lurking in the shadows,
clasping the dagger,
strikes down the helpless victim.

I am the victim.
I am slaughtered
every night in the streets.
I am cornered by the fear
gnawing at my timid heart;
in my helplessness I languish.

Man has ceased to be man
Man has become beast
Man has become prey.

I am the prey;
I am the quarry to be run down
by the marauding beast
let loose by cruel nightfall
from his cage of death.

Where is my refuge?
Where am I safe?
Not in my matchbox house
Where I barricade myself against nightfall.

I tremble at his crunching footsteps,
I quake at his deafening knock at the door.
“Open up!” he barks like a rabid dog
thirsty for my blood.

Nightfall! Nightfall!
You are my mortal enemy.
But why were you ever created?
Why can’t it be daytime?
Daytime forever more?

After over 20 years of independence as the rainbow nation, I wonder if this poem is still a ‘perfect’ descriptor of the realities of live for many people. I am curious to find out if the image of South Africa I have aggregated from different sources concur with the reality of my own first-hand experience. During my stay in Cape Town, I hope to write about my experiences in a series of ‘Cape Chronicles’ blog posts. Stay tuned and let me know if you have suggestions of what to see/do – preferably things that can be done during daylight and not at night 🙂

 

 

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