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Durban vs Cape Town

As my brothers and I grew to moving-out-of-home age (moving-cities age) and after my mother died and my family home was sold I learnt that a city can haunt you. Maybe it is somewhere you travelled when you were younger, or it is the place you were born. Perhaps you were never physically there but it came from a photograph you saw one day and never forgot. It seems as if, as human beings, we occupy cities, but this, I assert, is deep deception. Cities occupy us.

From when I arrived in Cape Town, a twelve-year-old, to now – eighteen years later – the city seeped through my skin and into my very being. I argue with myself about Cape Town and when others swoon over its beauty I temper my agreement. I don’t want to be seen to agree too vehemently.

Does a city have a pulse of its own or does the pulse of a city come from the heart beats and pressures of its people? If I live in a city am I complicit in its order and chaos, it’s justice and evil-doings? Particularly am I complicit when I do nothing.

Cape Town is beautiful but much of the city is also mired in ugliness, inequality – a seemingly deeply entrenched uneveness that sixteen years of democracy have barely managed to budge. Can I enjoy the mountain vistas, the clear seas without implicitly accepting the demographically divided spaces, the squatter settlements. Maybe if the mountains were less gorgeous, less celebrated I could bare it – if the disparate chracteristics were a little less disparate that would make it okay, perhaps. After all no city is perfect right? I don’t know.

Durban is also a beautiful city but it is a different kind of beauty. Less self-concious, a simple beauty. Rugged. An abundance of black people, people that look like me,  fill the streets making me think: this is the Africa I remember. But without the beguiling sparkle of Cape Town’s shiny parts; not the intense seduction just a simple bare-footed niceness.

These cities haunt me. It’s a gentle haunting sometimes resembling an incessant memory – not good or bad – but always there. Cape Town in my pores, my home whether I like that or not and Durban dangling an apparently valid alternative.

Is a city, the city you choose to live, like a brand you buy? The grocery store you prefer to shop at, your bank, where you pick to fill your car with petrol. And the things I buy, the places I choose to eat don’t they say something about me? If I am serious about my future as a black young architect do I go and live in Johannesburg, if I want to get away from it all do I move to Riebeeck Kasteel? If I take a plane and settle in Venice am I a sell-out, If I return home to Nigeria is that a Pan-Africanist statement? And what if I stay in Cape Town – what then?

A city can haunt you, follow you into the cracks of your sleep and lodge there for good. A city can breed an unending string of questions. Where do you live? has never been a more interesting and revealing question to answer. Especially for the middle class for whom it is no longer passive – Where do you choose to live?

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  1. catherine
    March 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Hello, loved this piece; rings true for me. Catherine (in Durban).

    • March 22, 2011 at 5:30 pm

      Thanks, Catherine. I am happy to report I will be spending some vacation time in Umhlanga to explore your Province further!

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