Even though apartheid is over and proof of democratic progress can be seen in much of Cape Town, racism and segregation definitely exists in many respects. The vast expanses of townships extending out from Cape Town proper and covering much of the Cape Flats are probably just far enough away for the average visitor to miss, but ironically enough the trip in from the International Airport to downtown drives past many township edges. Townships are basically squatted land, with thousands of people living in shacks, and majority (if not all) are coloured or black. One initiative by the local government to improve their public image that was explained to me was to ameliorate these township outskirts by either improving the appearance of all the visible shacks, or build newer, higher fences to limit what you can actually see from the highways. These types of stories are disappointing and extremely frustrating to hear because the last thing townships need are to be hidden away or fix the walls of a few, arbitrarily selected homes.
One day a group of 5 of us (all ‘whites’) visited Gugulethu township with the guidance of Andy, an eccentric English-born South African who insisted we go to a famous barbecue held there every weekend. He insisted we take public transportation, and demanded we ride third class on the train. All that meant was we were in the crowded carts in the back half of the train, different from first class (there is no second class) where very few (usually white) passengers pay twice the price to take the same journey. Then we squished into a taxi bus all the way to Guguluthu, which was basically a butcher shop, a smokey, brick braii room, and a big roofed area outside full of drunk people sitting around limited tables listening to a dj play techno music over a semi-blown sound system. The basic point was to bring as much of your own beer as you could drink, go to the butcher and order as man kilograms of fresh cut meat as you wanted, then tip the braii guys in the smoky room to cook it to taste and smother it with salt and sauce, and then messily eat it with your hands out of the big, steel bucket that they served it to you in. Genius.
It also happened to be the day South Africa played Denmark in one of the preliminary games, so some promotional trailer had driven up and parked on one side of the covered patio with a tv showing the game. We ended up stuffing our tummies full of cheap meat and luke-warm beer with a bunch of other township locals, tourists, and soccer fans, and then when South Africa won, we all had a reason to keep on drinking and dancing until the sun went down.
Link to Gugulethu: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gugulethu