Last week I wrote about some of the wonders in Cape Town. It’s a city of great beauty with a beating heart – the heart of the people. However, like many cities worldwide, it does have a less salubrious side. The contrast between the poor and the wealthy is obvious, if you choose to see it. It would be remiss of me not to write about it, effectively forgetting the people who struggle daily, people who belong here with a rich history of wonderful ancestry. Tourists from all over the world flock here in droves to discover this for themselves, especially during the glorious summer months. Any time is good in Cape Town!



As you travel along the highways, you ‘ll pass shacks and sub-economic housing. Don’t be surprised to see someone washing their clothes in a plastic tub and hanging it out to dry. Slowing down at the traffic lights will give you the opportunity to purchase a bag of fruit, vegetables, flowers, beautifully crafted wire flowers and even hand-knitted beanies. Highway shopping with a smile especially if you buy the page of jokes. I kid you not. How many mouths will be fed with the day’s takings? 

Unfortunately, car hi-jacking is extremely high in the Western Cape. Having experienced an attempted hi-jacking myself, the fear never quite leaves you. I escaped by accelerating and swerving, hoping the gun pointed at me wouldn’t go off. Caution is advised so keep your car doors locked and windows closed. 



Empty land will attract the homeless and you can see holes in the ground where someone will sleep, covered by plastic sheeting if they’re lucky enough to have it. I assure you this is not a myth. I’ve seen many. 

Informal settlements tumble down to the highways and byways, prey to the heavy rainfalls that will leave a morass of mud. No piped water. No electricity. No ensuites. No way to live, but there’s no choice.

If these shacks were placed in an art gallery, in the Western World, they would be considered Installation Art. 

Extract from my novel Maya’s Journey: 

“The area was a mélange of shacks, built topsy-turvy. Surprisingly colourful, considering the materials used – old pieces of wood and rusty corrugated tin. Many of the shacks were painted in lurid colours, with a variety of artistic graffiti. Discarded advert signs were nailed haphazardly onto the shacks.

The consumer society with all its brand appeal was advertised here – Coca Cola, Baumann’s Biscuits, and a large billboard reading – Safe Sex Use Condoms. Someone had inserted the letter D changing it to Used Condoms. Raucous laughter – neither celebratory nor happy rent the air. Another sign attracted Maya’s attention.

It was for the Casino and ironically pointed towards the shacks – shacks holding the grief and sadness of reality. The palatial buildings of the Casino were in the distance, in great contrast to the scene in front of her. Maya shuddered.” 


This means the electricity is cut off usually for 2 hours in the morning and two in the evening, although this is now increased. There is inadequate national energy. Maintenance is needed on ageing power stations. 

Small businesses who can not afford generators are suffering. Covid has already closed many businesses down. Does the South African government not care about the economic detriment to this beautiful city and country? Does it not care about its people, the people who voted them into power? Regardless of which company is providing electricity or not, the government is ultimately responsible. Eskom is state owned. 

Depending on what article you read this crisis is due to corruption, mismanagement and incompetence. Your voters, your people say – “SORT IT!” 



Cape Town’s average salary is approximately $1535 per month. The minimum hourly rate is approx $1.40. To survive in Cape Town, you need to earn a great deal more. Rents are high. Medical Costs are high, and if you don’t have a Medical Plan then the cost of visiting your doctor is approximately $24. That may seem comparatively low to people in the Western World, but I assure you it’s not. 

Partly funded primary school fees vary area to area from $30 to $615 per child per month. The low figure will indicate impoverished areas. The median figure would be $150 per month for each child. Private schools fees are much higher. None of these figures include the cost of uniforms and school supplies. 

The pension is approximately $110 per month. Current unemployment figures in Cape Town are a whopping 34% and possibly more. 

Like any country worldwide you do need two incomes to survive and hopefully put you in a position to buy a property. Social assistance is exceedingly low and not sufficient to feed a family. Forget about paying bills of any kind. 

COVID increased unemployment rates and many people got into debt. One family were unable to pay their rates and their water was cut off for 2 days. Great idea during the COVID pandemic! Cape Town is not for the faint hearted and I admire the awesome strength of all the people who live here. 

How fortunate we are in the Western World. 

robben island


Whatever you do, don’t leave Cape Town without going to Robben Island. I visited there in 1989 and the memory has stayed with me. Shown around by an ex-convict who told us he had been a freedom fighter, it was an eye-opening and humbling experience. That Nelson Mandela and many like him endured imprisonment on this island tells me that they were men of strength mentally and physically: working in a quarry, breaking stones, inhaling the dust, sometimes under extremely hot conditions, others in freezing cold conditions. Seeing his prison cell I wondered how such a small space could contain a man of such stature, a man who was an icon to so many and still is. 


Approximately an appalling 12 million people desperately need housing. Living in a sub-standard abode is not conducive to one’s health – physical or mental. Life expectancy for men is 61 and women 67. 

How would you feel if you had to use an external shared toilet knowing that it was actually dangerous? Children disappear, rape, murder and car hijackings are exceedingly high. Armed Response signs and security gates on private housing is the norm in many places, while the addicts look for their next high wherever they can. 

Cape Town is not alone as a purveyor of the weapons of poverty, a life of fear, a life of hunger. Mexico, Pakistan, Brazil, Turkey, Argentina, share this shameful legacy of shanty towns. Canada Real is the largest informal settlement in Europe. Ironically, Los Angeles, considered for its wealth and beauty has the infamous shanty town called Skid Row. 

Does it help to know you’re not alone in your predicament? No! 

Does it help to know that you may not aspire to own an apartment in the Waterfront, or even a simple house in one of the many attractive suburbs? No!

Does it help to know that you or your children may die because of the lack of clean water, bad sanitary conditions, typhoid, Aids and other illnesses? No! 

What the future holds for people who are desperately in need of human basic rights – I do not know. 

Cape Town continues to expand as more luxury apartments and houses are built. Surrounded by high walls and electrified wire, one way to stay safe in a city divided.

I sincerely hope that Cape Town and all of South Africa one day achieves the true freedom Nelson Mandela desired. It’s a beautiful city with a heart of gold, a city impassioned by the strong faith of its people, a city that needs all of its inhabitants to build a better future for everyone, and free primary school and high school education for every child to help them on their journey into the world. 


cape town

As we stand at the top of Table Mountain admiring the view, look down and see the depths of despair on the faces below. Do you have a rope to haul them up? How can you help? Get in touch with the many charities and workshops that help people in need. People in local communities fundraise and feed the indigent and help in any way they can. They do amazing work, but many more volunteers are needed. To all of these generous hearted people who give freely of their time I say Thank You. 

Right now I’m sitting in the darkness – load-shedding. A few miles away families are sitting in shacks without electricity, piped wanted or indoor toilets. Load-shedding is just a word – it doesn’t affect them. I light my candle and pray. 

Apartheid ended 

We were free 

Apartheid ended 

We were free to live in shacks along the highway 

We were free 

Forcibly removed from our homes 

From the communities we loved the friends and family 

We were free 

Our new abodes became drug-ridden 

A highway to nowhere

We voted our people into power

They have forgotten who we are When will we be truly free To live a life of normality 

                                                                                                                     ©Helena Abrahams

Read my blog –  A Tale of Two Cities Part One 

I have written two novels available on Amazon !

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Both are available on Kindle Amazon!

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  1. Wow!!! How terribly tragic.So well written Helena as always and shows us the other side of Cape Town .Such a stark reality-shocking in its depravity and truth .

    • Yes, it’s tragic, but there is so much hope and strength. People’s faith is strong and I truly believe that’s what keeps it together.

    • Every city in the world has its downside like Cape Town. It’s the people in Cape Town who make the city’s heart beat strongly. They have enormous strength and faith.

  2. You have exquisitely described life in Cape Town. You blog is truthfull and beautifully written.

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