i realise that this is increasingly turning into a blog about south african politics rather than my experiences of south africa/my life here more generally... but at this point, i've been so slammed with work as a result of said politics that i've barely had a personal life... and even then, it's hard to forget about politics.
on saturday night, paymon (the other american volunteer i've mentioned), dalli (completely awesome, progressive, mid-twenties afrikaner who now works at Community Health Media Trust--a treatment literacy org of sorts), and i were headed to town to meet up with some friends of ours to get a drink or two then head to a party. on the way, paymon mentioned that his sister, parissa, (who is currently visiting) was blown away by "how few black people there are here," as she phrased it. i've noticed the same myself--while the office i work in is mostly black, if i go out to the clubs or anything, they're still mostly de facto segregated. and cape town is a very, very white city in comparison with the rest of south africa. to say that i probably encounter more blacks during my life as a UChicago student, isolated ivory tower institution that it is, is really saying something.
this led into a very frank and at times uneasy discussion about race, one that i'd say has a lot of implications in the US as well. go to any bar on the north side of chicago, a city that's 42% white and ~37% black according to the most recent census in 2000, and you're barely going to see any blacks there. while it's difficult to make a comparison between the racial demographics of chicago and cape town due to the south african category of colored, it's safe to say that cape town is ~24% white according to their most recent census (1996). so yes, the de facto segregation is more striking here, but to say that very similar things aren't happening in US cities is just flat out wrong. there's also the issue that parissa's sample population was skewed--the locations she'd been to were generally very touristy/rich (like the v&a waterfront), but her point was definitely well taken--it's something that had occured to me quite often, and still does in areas like that.
dalli's response was well, yes, there are very few blacks in a lot of areas, but the fact that there are *any* there is an important change, and at this point, the absence of certain people in certain areas has more to do with class than with race. i think his point has some merit, but i'll get there in a moment--at this point, i was silent, and paymon went absolutely off on the idea of it being attributable to class--other cities, like jo'burg, have managed to create a black middle and upper class at this point, so why not cape town? to say it has nothing to do with race is to mask racism that is bound to be around thirteen years after the official end of apartheid.
i'd say that they're both right--that the legacy created by apartheid (and thus by past racism) has so thoroughly entrenched massive numbers of blacks in poverty that it will take a decent amount of time to get beyond that. kids who started school after apartheid, in desegregated schools, are just starting to pass matric (graduate), and the public school system is still a wreck. some schools pulled/are continuing to pull tricks to avoid integrating, much like schools in the US post-brown v. board, kids are still being illegally prevented from attending education, and there's a vast differential in funding between the schools in poor areas and the schools in middle-class and rich areas. during the struggle, most of the leaders espoused heavily socialist views--we now see the anc lead government, under mbeki, setting up a generally liberal welfare capitalist state. rather than get into any huge discussions about the proper way to organise an economy here, i'll just note that in order for the ideals underpinning welfare capitalism to be realised, everyone needs to have a fair shot in life, and that means equal access to education and health care. in their defense, the anc inherited a complete mess in terms of both of those systems, and i generally believe that at least on the education side of things, they're doing their best to sort it all out. but it's going to take awhile, and there's no way around that.
at this point in the discussion, we got to our destination, called it quits on the political discussion, and walked into the bar, which was filled wall to wall with people. we each left it unspoken that there were only three black people in sight.