Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Cape Town Trance Music Scene

We've settled into a new apartment in Cape Town closer to the beach and in a better area. It was a bit of a nightmare because the previous tenants owned a dog. They locked the poor thing up all day and it peed all over the house. Then they stopped paying rent.

When we moved into the apartment it smelled of dog pee, had no hot water and had bad leaks in the kitchen. Most of the first week was spent waiting for various trades people. On top of that they lady who owns the apartment lives in the UK and compensated for the distace with, to put it kindly, great attention to detail. We had to do a complete inventory of the contents down to the number of cheap plastic shot-glasses in the cupboards. The lease agreement was 20 pages long. We were then expected to pay an administration fee for the labor in doing this inventory!

As home owners ourselves we were as sympathetic as we could be. We didn't pay the administration fee given how much time we took to meet all the trades people, but we tried to be as helpful as possible, and to the owners credit she got right onto getting all the problems fixed. We now have new carpets and are enjoying a great apartment close to the beach. We no longer have to burn incense around the clock.

From our new home we finally started connecting to the cool stuff in Cape Town a bit. Down the street from us is a Psy-Trance pizza shop which is just one of the many facets of the incredibly
active Trance Music scene here. For those people who don't know what trance music is, it is basically a form of electronic music commonly associated with all night dance parties. If you haven't been to an all night dance party, you've probably never heard the music. It isn't something you will typically hear on the radio.

In Calgary the Trance music scene is limited to maybe a half-dozen parties a year, most of which are private or semi-private events held for a few hundred people. I've always enjoyed going to these parties as I love the music and I can dance until my legs fall off. In Cape Town the scene if far bigger. There are at least 3 clubs which have weekly trance nights with visiting DJs. On top of this there are outdoor parties almost every weekend for 8 months of the year, each of which can draw thousands of people. Most of the parties feature a host of artists from all over the world. The parties are held in private venues like farms and forest preservers and many of them have rivers to swim in and places to camp. We went to our first party last weekend and really enjoyed it. On New Years we are going to a 3 day party in the winelands that has hot showers and a dam to swim in.

Another really nice thing about the parties here is that because they are private events law enforcement generally keeps a low profile. Certainly there are many people who take drugs at these parties, and I can't argue that some of them are potentially harming themselves. Yet I've never seen any evidence that the drug taking at music parties is any more harmful than the consumption of alcohol in any western city on a Friday night. The South African police for the most part seem to agree and they let people have fun as long as they don't cause problems.

By comparison, a few years ago I was at a party in Vancouver with some friends when the police showed up at 2 AM and kicked everyone out. In Vancouver it is (was?) illegal to dance after 2AM, a rule which the city the nickname "The Land that Fun Forgot". I would personally question the wisdom of sending 200 highly inebriated people to their cars at 2 AM in the morning, but I guess that is why I'm not in law enforcement.

In Cape Town we danced through the night and had a great time. There was security there to help keep people safe but they weren't there to spoil the fun. Many people brought tents so that they could nap for a while the next day before heading home. I guess this is why Cape Town has a reputation as such a fun city. We've certainly enjoyed it so far!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blame South Africa for the Tragedy in Zimbabwe

One of the most amazing things about South Africa is just how multi-cultural it is. And I'm not just talking about the mixture of white and black and colored and indian people. When we talk to people on the streets we run into people from all over Africa. There are people from Ghana, DRC, Malawi, Namibia, and every other country you can name.

The saddest is the people from Zimbabwe. Zim (as they call it here in the papers) borders on South Africa and as Mugabe has systematically destroyed the country it has caused somewhat of a refuge crisis here. The cholera epidemic that has started with the rainy season, combined with the complete collapse of the Zimbabwe economy, has caused straving, sick refugees to flood across the borders. To their credit the South African government is trying their best to help them, although on an individual level life for the refugees is very hard.

The situation for Zimbabweans in South Africa is similar to that of imigrants all over the world. They are desperate and poor and therefor they are willing to do work that local people don't want to do, for salaries that local people wouldn't want to be paid. The result is that local people resent them and accuse them of stealing jobs. In South Africa this got to the point where imigrants were being burned alive on the streets in anti-immigration riots. I talked to one man who sells things to tourists down the road from here who said that he had lived in a township for years when the riots started and he had to flee when the local people came to burn down his house. He was lucky that he had savings in a bank and most of his supplies in storage but he says many of his friends lost everything they owned.

There can be little doubt now that there will be a tradgedy of enormous proportion in Zimbabwe this coming year. The economy has completely collapsed with the value of the currency falling by 50% every two hours last week. There is no food production, the water supply is contaminated with cholera, and the government has ceased to function. Solidiers were running rampant on the streets last week because they hadn't been paid and were trying to steal their salaries. Mugabe had a bunch of people randomly executed to restore order but it is unlikely to last as more people starve and die.

Much of the blame for the situation in Zimbabwe rests squarely on the shoulders of the South African government (the ANC). Sure, Mugabe is an evil bastard, but it is the ANC that has actively worked to keep him in power all these years. Every time Mugabe steals an election the ANC hails him as a great democrat and an example for Africa. Every time people attempt to bring Mugabe to justice or suggest pressuring him to leave, the ANC blocks the action and says they will stand by him. Post-apartheid South Africa had a strong start as a moderate country and a voice of freedom around the world. It is a real shame that only 15 years later these principles have been so completely forgotten that the ANC is willing to let millions of Zimbabweans continue to suffer.