Nice place, pity about the locals

Saturday, 17 January 1998

The Seffrican term for it is "semigration" ­ the belief that moving to Cape Town is a panacea

I was in the midst of a rather pleasant dream involving an AK-47 and minibus taxi tyres when the incessant trilling of telephone finally penetrated through the fog of sleep.

"Mffff," I mumbled in greeting.

"Kanthan? I want you to listen carefully to me. You must stay in a house, okay? I don't want you staying in a flat."

"Aya?" Yes, it was my grandmother on the line from the ancestral homestead in Durban. Born 1911, and still zipping about at the crack of dawn like the Duracell/Energiser bunny. "Aya, it's still early."

"No, listen to what I'm saying. I've been reading in the papers that those Cape flats are very dangerous. There's some terrible murders happening there. So you mustn't stay in a flat. You must get a house, are you listening?"

I tried to rub the sleep out of my eyes. The taxis were getting away and I still had enough ammunition to take out a few dozen tyres.

Continue Reading Below

"Aya, listen to me. They're not talking about flats that you live in. The Cape Flats is an area -- like Phoenix."

She was having none of that. "Listen to Aya. I'm reading all these things in the paper and I'm getting very worried about you. Get a nice house. Don't stay in a flat, okay?"

"But..."

"Bye." (Click)

Cape Town tends to have that effect on people. Otherwise reasonable human beings suddenly start acting strange. Like the perception in Durban and Gauteng that Cape Town is safe and that the rest of the country is crime-ridden.

I lived in Johannesburg in the heart of darkness -- the city centre suburb of Berea -- for 14 months, going for nighttime strolls down to Yeoville with nary an incident.

Three days after I moved in to Kaapstad, my car was broken into right next to Newspaper House. The first weekend, the house I was renting in the supposedly safe and affluent southern suburbs was broken into.

A week later, someone stole my 14 year-old wallet out of my bag in my office.

Then came the house-hunting. "Boet," the large Huguenot of my acquaintance had said to me before I left his employ in Egoli: "Listen to the wise old Boer. Claremont, or Newlands, or Kenilworth.

"Above the railway line. Above main road."

Fair enough, except Pam Golding and Seeff between them have convinced everyone in the world that that is the best place to buy property. Prices start at about a half mil for anything large enough to hold a Rottweiler.

Then there are the beaches. Having grown up in Durban where midwinter plunges into the surf can warm your bod quite nicely, the Atlantic seaboard in summer is a rather cold shock.

"From grapes to raisins in an instant," my visiting nephew remarked after flinging himself nudely into the waters at Sandy Bay and finding his heart skipping several beats.

That aside, the Cape Peninsula is astonishingly beautiful. And all that beauty imposes a sense of numbing tranquillity that makes Durban seem quite teutonically efficient.

There's something quite deliciously hedonistic about being able to sit high up on the mountainside while biplanes perform aerobatics over the ocean beneath as the sun sinks slowly behind the Atlantic horizon.

So what if the weather is entirely unpredictable except for the fact that there will be wind? So what if gangsters, Pagad, the Chinese mafia, and hijackers are resculpting the landscape with pipe bombs and automatic weapons?

Up in the mountane, you can't really see them.

Yes, life moves at a substantially slower pace around here. Good reason to seriously consider relocating parliament to someplace more vibrant -- like Pietermaritzburg.