FROM THE FRYING PAN INTO THE FIRE
What a difference six months makes. Half a year ago we left the tranquility of Belvidere and small village life of Knysna, returning to our half year in Cleveland. Now we are in Cape Town, ensconced in a luxurious penthouse in Bantry Bay facing the ocean and the tumult of a bustling international city.
We are, moreover, between a rock and a hard place. We left an America with a dysfunctional government but an economy strong for the moment despite the anti-trade efforts of its President. We return to a South Africa with a dysfunctional government and a broken economy despite the efforts of its President to speak things up with platitudinous and meaningless speeches. Where are both countries going? Heaven knows.
Quite interesting is the phenomenon of “being where you are.” In the States I was becoming obsessed with the extraordinary self interest and hypocrisy of the politicians of both parties and their willingness to sacrifice the democracy and the country to serve themselves and their hunger to stay in office. Now I am in South Africa and American politics are no longer my obsession. It is the ignorant, power-grabbing and money hungry local politicians that give me nightmares. So it is my future intention to report an occasional State of the South African Nation and leave my concerns for the USA to those of you back at home. Maybe I will restrain myself and just ignore politics altogether except for the occasional important issues in South Africa, and focus instead on the wonderful attributes of this beautiful but troubled country.
I will start with Cape Town because that is where we have spent our first month. This really is the tale of two cities. Where we live in Bantry Bay higher up on the slopes of the mountain the stunning views from our decks and floor to ceiling windows are of a small park, oceanfront buildings, Table Bay with Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, and a parade of international shipping, a world in motion.
From our rear windows are extraordinary views of Lions Head and mansions that the California coast or French Riviera would envy.
Yet barely ten miles away, hundreds of thousands of people live in abject squalor, miles from their places of work. The few percent that actually have jobs, live with a broken transport system to get to their destinations, and central and local government paralyzed by incompetence, inefficiency and corruption. This is a formula for disaster and sooner or later the “Arab Spring” of previous decades will become a South African one.
In just a couple of weeks, the South African Airways has been placed under business administration (sort of Chapter 11 but a kind few businesses ever survive), and the South African Railways (PRASA) has just been given similar treatment. The company supplying the country’s electric power (ESCOM), through corruption that reads like a novel, is almost totally broken. We are currently in what is euphemistically called “level 6 load shedding.” This means power across the nation is switched off in blocks of 2-4 hours up to 3-4 times per day. In our home we have solar power, batteries, and an inverter and are protected. But imagine running a business, a factory, a restaurant, or just trying to live a normal life. It is predicted that the failure of ESCOM will drive South Africa into recession this quarter and into 2020.
But the tourists are pouring in and Cape Town is one of the most alive and vibrant cities in the world. Restaurants are full, beaches packed, sight-seeing places like the magnificent Kirstenbosch Gardens bustling with people from all over the world, and it is hard to believe all the bad stuff going on.
The first Friday evening of December was a very special Shabbat for our family. After more than 43 years since leaving Cape Town for Cleveland, Moira and I once again have a home in Cape Town. On our first Friday at home we had our entire family over for a warm, humorous, nostalgic, entertaining and exciting Shabbes dinner.
So that has been our first month – settling in, changing a lifestyle, enjoying family, getting up to speed on the state of the nation, and re-bonding with friends, many dating back to our pre-USA days.
Next month I promise more of a travelogue. Let me leave you with a few tantalizing glimpses of my favorite place in all the world, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
Happy and healthy New Year to you all
Cape Town, December 19, 2019.