The Western Cape is a different country

David Bullard says Cape Town functions while Joburg continues to decay

Earlier this year I was invited to give a speech in Cape Town on my favourite topic – the demise of the SA print media. Since my hosts were prepared to pay good money to listen to my pearls of wisdom I accepted with alacrity and decided to fly down on Monday and leave late Friday. A great decision as it turned out because it was Cape Town’s first week of decent weather and I also missed the hail storm that stripped the spring leaves off the trees at Chez Bullard and left the pool looking like a swamp.

Over the past thirty years I have been a regular visitor to Cape Town. For ten years I owned a holiday flat in Higgovale nestling just under the cableway and with an uninterrupted view of Signal Hill. The flimsiest excuse would tempt me to visit Cape Town and I sometimes stayed for three weeks at a time, pretending to my wife that I needed to do urgent maintenance work on the flat.

I even invented the phrase “paradise syndrome” to describe the lethargy that prevents one from doing any real work in Cape Town during the summer months. In over 14 years I only ever missed one “Out to Lunch” column for The Sunday Times and that was when I was in Cape Town in January and found myself suffering from writer’s block (or maybe a prolonged hangover). I managed to persuade my editor to run something else in my space with a note that I was “on a beach” that week.

Although Cape Town has always had a scenic advantage over Johannesburg it wasn’t always a pleasant city to visit at night. Even when I had my flat there a walk down the lower end of Long Street after nine would be asking for trouble. The roads weren’t particularly well cared for and there was a perceptible air of gradual decay; not as bad as Jo’burg but noticeable nonetheless.

Today all that has disappeared and Cape Town functions in the way would expect a modern European city to function. The roads are in excellent condition with the verges well cared for, Cape Town streets are clean, the robots work and even walking the city at night doesn’t feel like an act of folly. That’s because, unlike Johannesburg, the city of Cape Town comes alive at night, particularly Long Street. The atmosphere is great and the choice of eating and drinking venues the equal of anything you will find in Europe with the added advantage that you don’t have to seek the anodyne safety of a shopping mall.

Even more surprising is the attitude of the traffic police, as reported to me by two independent sources. Well, to be honest reported by one but I was so incredulous that I sought confirmation from a second person. I was told that if you break down on the highway you are likely to find a police car drawing up behind you to ask if you have a problem and whether they can help. The image of the traffic police in Cape Town is completely different from the image of the traffic police in Johannesburg.

Friends who have “semigrated” to the Western Cape and make occasional forays to Johannesburg have often told me how Jo’burg looks worse every time they visit. As a Jo’burg resident who is rather fond of the city he has lived in for the past 31 years I used to put this down to the inevitable superiority displayed by anyone who believes he has moved to paradise. But now I realise they are right.

My regular morning walk around the northern suburbs and Zoo Lake gets worse by the month. The pavements in some areas are non existent and where they do exist they are uneven and poorly maintained (OK…not maintained). Piles of uncollected rubbish strew main thoroughfares like Jan Smuts and there are beggars at every intersection. Add to that the frustration at broken traffic lights, the appalling driving skills of our taxi drivers then it’s hardly surprising that Jo’burg is in danger of becoming the road rage capital of the world.

That’s the visible sign of decay but the less immediately obvious signs are there also. The catastrophic municipal billing fiasco, the marked decline in delivery of essential services and the often hostile attitude of the Metro Police looking for bribes.

All these things not only wear us down, they also make us ashamed of Johannesburg. We can only see it getting worse under the current kleptocratic administration. So why even try when all the signs are there that things can only get worse?

That’s in marked contrast to Cape Town where the residents are very upbeat about their city and talk enthusiastically about the improvements they have noticed in the city over the last few years.

Obviously Cape Town, like all South African cities, has problems but the feeling in Cape Town is that there is at least a sporting chance that some genuine effort will be made to tackle those problems. The changes thus far have mainly benefitted those the leftie media like to refer to as “privileged” but since these are the people who currently fund Cape Town that’s not such a dumb idea. Contrast it with Jo’burg where the economically active seem to have been penalised the most; the latest outrage being the e.toll debacle where, in effect, people will be taxed to drive to work.

The unavoidable conclusion is that the DA manages the Western Cape far better than the ANC ever did and I have no doubt that Capetonians are praying for an increased majority for the DA in next year’s election. And maybe residents of Gauteng will cast their eyes south and finally decide that what they really need is some competent management because without it things can only get worse.

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