Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Conversations on Long Street

One of the most striking things about Cape Town is how vibrant and friendly it is by day, and how seedy and menacing it can be at night.

I have just moved into the CBD for the next two weeks or so, and while Long Street is now effectively my back yard, the contrast, once the sun sets, is frightening, and a reminder of what Pretoria and Johannesburg have become.

I managed, surprisingly, to walk the entire length of Long Street, acquire some KFC, and then return home not only unscathed, but having managed not to distribute most of my loose change in the process. I have taken to walking in the middle of the road in parts to avoid the many "conversations" the idle traveller is subjected to along the street.

The beggars are overwhelming young, able-bodied and male, and the dealers of drugs and women usually foreign, but not always so. I suppose if the demand did not exist, neither would the supply, but I think one of the reasons I am so anti-drugs is because of the type of people who make money off them. I'm no prude, neither I am much of a social conservative, but in a city like this, you need your wits about you.

Capetonians, why can't you keep your hands off the Colombian marching powder? Look what all this sh*t is doing to your city. It seems that even Cape Town's wealthy are unable to connect the dots.

Middle-aged, bearded, German men indulge their self-loathing by picking up young black girls on the street.

The worst are the beggars/dealers who follow you, walking alongside trying to strike up a conversation. The same guy tried this both ways.
"I am from Tanzania", he said.

"That's funny", I replied. "You were from Liberia ten minutes ago."

The conversations usually begin with calling you "sir", or something equally offensive like "master", or, to my dismay, "father".

It's hard to know whether to be aggressive, or just walk faster. I generally choose the latter, in a country where life is cheap. I never smile, I've learnt it's a sign of weakness, or encouragement, so I keep an icy expression.

There is no police presence, at all, as there would be in the quietest of European cities. And so Cape Town descends into a night-time world of whispers from doorways and offers of illicit services to passers-by.

15 Opinion(s):

Yoda said...

Strangely Ive been in that position many times. Lived in Sunnyside in pretoria about 7 years back and it was exactly like that when just going to the local shop. My mom got mugged and luckily nothing else happend, This was supposed to be a rather safe area. Quite chilling to think of it again and Im glad I dont live in a city in SA. There isnt even the slightest hint of police presence and its crime that runs the streets with police to scared to leave the station.

Anonymous said...

Great Post!

The last time I was in Cape Town it left me feeling as if I did not belong in the place. It felt strange.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Last time I was in Cape Town I visited Long Street and literally every last dodgy loiterer tried to sell me drugs so the blogger's sentiments really ring true with myself. It was so ridiculously noticeable that I started to wonder if maybe I just looked like the epitome of a dwelm head in dire need of a fix. The fact that I was carrying a large sum of cash on my person (yes, stupid but unfortunately inevitable at the time) wasn't helping my attempt at calm yet confident body language either.

Anonymous said...

Long Street used to be the epicentre of a rich-Leftish counterculture but with lots of interesting, eccentric people and shops.

The power of the illicit drug industry to destroy a civilization is truly frightening. SA is just starting down that road. Look at Mexico.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like Thailand, only more violent. Vancouver must feel like a world away.

Anonymous said...

Vancouver also has a drug subculture.


Lime Lite said...

Cry beloved country...

Viking said...

Yes, Vancouver has its own problems. If anything, B.C.'s homeless (as seen in both Van and Victoria) are even more young, male and able-bodied than South Africa's.
Drugs are the no.1 reason for this, with mental illness playing its part, too.

Every city has its panhandlers, what I've noticed about Cape Town is the associated feeling of menace, which some commentors here (thanks anon 09:47) have agreed with.
Bear in mind, too, Long Street is probably the most well-known tourist destination in the country, and is touted as a safe, tourist-friendly area. If they aren't going to make it look and feel safe, how are they going to protect World Cup visitors?

I almost regret saying that, because a country that can't protect its own citizens has no business pretending it can protect hundreds of thousand of soccer fans - and I happen to think someone whose family has lived here for 200 years ought to be a bit more of a priority than someone who takes the risk of being here....

Viking said...

thanks btbw :)

ahem, note to lawyers: any "libellous" content not the responsibility of ILSA. cheers!

redacted comment from Born To Be Wild:

"German men are notorious for screwing around with blacks but I don't think they do it out of self loathing, they consider it a form of game hunting. I knew a German game hunter who made it a mission to screw at least one woman of every nationality on the planet. Married to a German wife, with kids, of course. Remember the German owner of the B________ Hotel in M____ Street, Sandton, now a _____ Hotel? He had coloured children all over the show. Shipped his old wife back to Germany. That was in the 80's, and he was an old fart then."

Sorry to be a pedant.. but when we have Vanilla Ice's lawyers coming on to tell us VI has to change his moniker, we can't be too careful :)

Viking said...

speaking of creepy lawyers, we do get the odd agent provocateur who makes comments at ILSA like

"hey we really need to take out this Malema guy, don't we? hey? hmm, don't we guys?"

Needless to say, agreeing would be foolish. ILSA does not condone or advocate violence towards any individual blah blah blah ...

Although praying for the death of those individuals is ok :D

Anonymous said...

Great post Viking. I used to walk about 1km along Main Rd, Sea Point to work each morning. Between 3 and 5 indigents would accost me on each trip. They would call me 'bubby' or 'larney' or 'brother' and insist I must give them 'skuif' (cigarettes/dagga) or they would boldly come out with, "Give for me five rend!"

Some of the locals here are completely deranged and anything can set them off. Some soccer fans are going to find out what it feels like to have half a quart bottle inside them. If you even look at some oke funny or are checking out his girlfriend, they come at you lightning fast and as violently as possible.

Over the years I have developed my own '1000 yard stare' and noticed since having grown a beard that for some reason I get accosted less.

Walk like you have blinkers on, do not look anyone in the eye, do not smile, do not talk loudly and draw attention to yourself and your accent. Ladies, handbags over your shoulder, Gents, wallets in front pocket. Do not walk around 'texting', step into a shop and do it there, likewise count money in private - lock yourself in a bathroom stall.

All the liberals and multicults who come and troll on this site, don't say "No one told me."

Viking said...

Norman, good to hear from you again.

and thanks for your comments, Sea Point (I don't know if you've been there lately) has cleaned up its act a lot. There are far fewer Nigerian gangs loitering than even three years ago, and the place just feels neater. Having said that, once the sun goes down, Sea Point is full of the shadow people....

Beards is a new one! I get accosted less wearing shorts and tshirt than a shirt and trousers. People with beards often look a bit mad themselves and so might get left alone :)

I cannot extol enough the virtues of acting eccentric!

Anonymous said...


Do you have any pictures you are willing to add to the website from your trip to Cape Town. I have not been back in years and it would be great to see how things have gone since then. Last time the Nigerians had taken over the market in Cape Town. Zimboonians at the station. Glue sniffing kids all over and the main road in Sea Point was dangerous at night. The second road up from the road that runs next to the beach was Nigerian hell both at night and in the day.

Viking said...


I have been meaning to. and I will. whipping out a camera in most parts of town still seems rather dumb, but Ill take my other phone with next time and take some shots.
The Market is decidedly non-SA and most of the sellers are that uber-black colour we associate with West Africans, while the street kids are now street-teenage-thugs, who tried to execute a daylight mugging of a young coloured girl on my street yesterday.

I fear it would depress you, but a photo-journal is a good idea.