A nuclear accelerator, a movie set, a wildebeest and everything in between

These past few weeks I have made my way quite a couple of times between Olive Leaf’s two offices here in the Western Cape. One office is in the rolling wine land hills in the eco-village of Lynedoch. The second in the township Khayelitsha on the sandy dunes of the Cape. It is quite a contrast between the two spaces, as the eco-village is more or less a paradise to live in and every piece is carefully considered before it gets a sustainable purpose. Khayelitsha is (kindly put) an agglomerate of shacks and mostly put together informally – so no planning involved. The government is trying to restructure and building schemes for housing are in place, but Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day and neither will Khayelitsha undergo a transformation that quickly.

If this contrast isn’t enough, in between the two spaces an assorted variety of use of space exemplify the dramatic differences. First port of call along the way are the film studios, which were built as part of the movie boom a few years back. Denzel Washington is currently shooting a movie in the township – and a friend of mine ran into him at a cocktail party, confirming he’s every bit a man as he looks on screen. Then there’s a number of farms with game meat, like wildebeest, impala, ostrich etc. Oh, yeah and the occasional cow.

Next to the wildebeest and the impala’s you will find the first sign of the township, sex workers. Girls, women, in all shapes and sizes, you see an occasional car stop – and the women do their work in the bushes of the first lower dunes, servicing men on the way between Stellenbosch, Somerset West and Cape Town.

And today I learned that under the ground in the area where the sex workers work and where there are still some wine farms, a nuclear accelerator with a diameter of 6 kilometers is based. It has the odd name of iThemba Labs. You come across many NGOs that actually have iThemba in their name, which means ‘hope’. This accelerator is run by the government and is also geared at providing radioactive materials for medical purposes. Perhaps that is the reason for the name.

Last landmark along the route is a military base. The soldiers sometimes do running exercises into Khayelitsha. They pass a big braai area, which for me has become so typically connected to the smells of the township.

I cannot quite say which place I like best. The eco-village is charming and the birds twittering each morning are amazing, but in Khayelitsha you feel the life blood of the people streaming, with all its positive and negative consequences. I just feel they both resemble an example of the many complexities this country is facing and the landmarks along the way everything else that is in between.

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