Cape Town’s 300-acre Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, “where the city meets the sea” as the tagline goes, is unabashedly built for tourists. I wonder, by who and at what cost?
Ads for helicopter rides, scuba diving, whale watching, catamaran sailing, private boat parties and every other tour you can think of are plastered across every available post. Tour boats fill the docking areas.
The complex includes a massive mall with 450 stores, including just enough Western brands you need to feel like you’re back home. For good measure, there are a few gift shops thrown in boasting authentic souvenirs – one of my least favorite oxymorons. There are dozens of dining options overlooking the frigid blue of the Atlantic, from McDonalds to white table cloths. The views from the ferris wheel also promise to be stunning for about USD$10 a pop.
The V&A Waterfront is owned by South Africa’s Public Investment Corporation, which is essentially run by the government. It attracts about 24 million visitors per year and in 2016 brought in USD$ 3 billion to the GDP, according to the website.
There’s a page dedicated to the waterfront’s history. It begins in 1652, with the story of Jan van Reibeek, a Dutch colonist whose original mission was to simply set up a “refreshment” point for wary Dutch sailors of the Dutch East India Company. His arrival is often referred to as the beginning of colonial settlement and the founding of what was then called the “Cape of Good Hope.”
What’s missing from website’s history page is any mention of Europeans bartering with the native Khoikhoi and San people in order to get the most essential items for their refreshment operation – fresh water and meat, for example.
Not a single mention of European encroachment on native land or attempts to exploit native people for labor, which eventually led to bloodshed and displacement, a pattern that would continue playing out in different forms for centuries.
In fact, no mention of native people at all.
But hey, at least someone out there wants to at least make sure visitors don’t forget that South Africa’s Rhinos may be going extinct. This beauty and others like it will be auctioned off at the end of the exhibit, and proceeds will go to a non-profit “on the front lines of poaching.”