Tuesday, March 15, 2011

This is Bellville

I don’t mean to only profile Southern Suburban neighbourhoods. PJ’s neighbourhood, Glenhaven in Bellville South, is growing on me. (Actually, we have this theory that Bellville is the New Jersey of South Africa. Will flesh that one out for you, later.)

The last two times I’ve been in Cape Town, Bellville has been the first place I’ve been and seen once getting off the plane. Each time I’ve commented that PJ’s neighbourhood looks like Southern California—palm trees, green grass, pastel stucco houses. The legend I’ve been hearing a lot lately is that most of Glenhaven is on top of a natural spring, so you don’t really need to water your grass—it’ll always grow.

That’s not to say this neighbourhood is paradise—no neighbourhood is. Because of infrastructural problems (which is a problem for all of South Africa), Bellville seems more isolated and far away from Cape Town than it really should be. In a car, you can get to town in 25 minutes. Taking public transit (bus, train, taxi), you need to budget at least two hours for the journey. That’s two hours, each way.

The newest trains running by Metrorail, which is the government-controlled passenger rail, were put on the tracks in the 1970s. There are trains in use that are decades older than that. Not only do these old cars need to be replaced, the number of trains running needs to be increased.

Safety is a huge issue here as well. PJ’s mythology of Glenhaven really is appealing—neighbours help neighbours, run errands for each other, teach each other how to garden to work on cars. But when you leave the boundaries of this South African Pleasantville, you’ve got to be on your toes. Women do not walk alone at night—or ever, if it can be helped. Men and women get mugged—and violently—on a pretty regular basis. It’s not pretty.

And yet, this Saturday I needed airtime for my phone, but the local garage (gas station) had not one but TWO out-of-order ATMs. It was a sunny afternoon, so I took a stroll down Kasselsvlei Road to the next grocery store. I walked a half hour each way, got my cell phone minutes and an Appletiser, and made it back with no hassle. (OK, a few truckers honked. But that seems to be a universal problem.) I was absolutely the only American person around, yet nobody troubled me.

Later that night I was in Observatory, which has lots of students and Westerners and white people in it, and I had a hard time withdrawing money from an ATM. Main Road in Obz is busy and filled with people—dance clubs blare music, people sit outside cafes for languid meals, young people pub crawl. And there is a very large and aggressive bloc of pan-handlers along the road, as well. My theory is that students and foreigners are easier game, and perceived as most vulnerable.

Saturday evening, I actually felt too uncomfortable in Obz to make an ATM withdrawal—I felt like too many people on the street were watching me, waiting to hit me up for a hand out after I’d visited the ATM. I missed Bellville at that moment, and realized it was time to write out my complicated feelings toward this complicated neighbourhood.

PJ and I are working toward living much closer to UCT. It will be a good move because it will cut down on our commute time. But I know there are things we’ll lose, too, things we’ll miss out on. That’s what happens when you move from the north to the south.

Photo by Peter-Jon Grove

Photo by Peter-Jon Grove

1 comment:

  1. i Like the pics and the way Bellville was mapped, good eye journo.