The Different Looks of Cape Town

Catherine Vaught University of Cape Town, South Africa


March 7, 2016

Let me tell you, I’ve never been in a city quite like Cape Town. From the ocean to mountains to nightlife, it’s truly an unmatched experience (sorry Minneapolis!). These are all wonderful things, but a not-so-wonderful thing is the wealth disparity in Cape Town. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit and spend a night in a township called Gugulethu, which is about 10 miles away from the city.

Trust me, those 10 miles make a difference. I’ve found that it’s easy to live in a bubble as an “extended guest” here. Most days feel like a vacation; we’ll go to the beach, eat at upscale restaurants, go to concerts, on and on. With the currency in our favor, a lot more is within reach. On the other hand, however, a lot more is out of reach for South Africans.

Areas such as Camp’s Bay, which is right on the waterfront, boast multi-million dollar homes and gorgeous sandy beaches. Luxury cars roll around every corner. Surprisingly, though, only about 5 percent of Cape Town actually lives in conditions like these. As you may guess, other conditions aren’t so fortunate. My overnight in Gugulethu opened my eyes to an entirely different – and more common – way of life.

As part of our Arcadia program, we were set up with host families to experience life in a township. We were also able to visit an orphanage, open-air market, go on a walking tour and attend a church service. The walking tour was an up-and-close look at the realities that families living in Gugulethu face. Sure, there are “normal” homes with electricity and indoor plumbing in the township, but most live in shack-like structures made from scrap metal. Most share outhouses with up to 10 other homes and fetch water from wells.

Even though these conditions seemed unimaginable for me, those we came across were so welcoming and happy. I don’t think I’ve ever waved at so many people in my life. The hospitality in Gugulethu was completely unexpected. We were fed an unbelievable amount of food (dessert too, of course) and given beautiful places to stay. My host “mama” made a mean lasagna, just sayin’.

Visiting Gugulethu showed me a side of Cape Town that I had only heard about. To actually be in the township gave me such an appreciation for what I’ve been given in my life. Before we left the orphanage, one of the “mamas” said, “As young people you should be somewhere else, but you chose to be here.” I don’t think I would want to be anywhere else – Cape Town has stolen my heart. ♡


South Africa