Since arriving here, I've been told one thing repeatedly: it's an exciting time in South Africa. The country is still licking its wounds after living through decades of the apartheid regime. But they're moving on. And yet, while the government-dictated distinctions between whites, coloureds and blacks may be obsolete, the rhetoric continues.
White people tell me not to worry if a black person stands too close. It's just their way, they say. My colleague, a young black man, flashes his BMW key fob. A birthday present to himself, he says. Later he tells me some people think he's a sell out, or a coconut, a black man living like a white man. I haven't visited any of the number of sprawling townships, or shack villages, but I want to. White people though, tell me it's not safe. I met a young Afrikaner couple. Sweet. The young woman is one of my students, and reads the paper every day. They both live in comfortable homes in the suburbs. Their doors and windows are covered by locked bars, and gates surround their gardens. There are four million people in Cape Town -- a quarter of them live in those shacks that seem endless on the city's outskirts. So I asked the couple if they thought they were rich. They said no, and besides they said, there are plenty of poor white people living in shacks too. The transportation is lousy here. I'm told gangs operate the most common means of public transport: the hundreds of crowded, white mini buses I see cutting in and out of traffic on the highway. Oddly enough, I've never seen a single white face inside any of them. I'm warned not to flag one of them down if I ever need a ride into town. It's just not safe. Apparently in Cape Town it's legal for women to pass through a red light if she feels unsafe. The longer you wait at any intersection, the more likely you are to be held at gunpoint. Or so I've been told. Over and over again.