It’s a perfect Cape Town dawn, my first. Table Mountain looms large from the waterfront. I’m staring through plate glass windows and a well-kept garden of succulents. Morning’s long light is gentle on everything. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet somewhere out there.
Mandela passed Thursday, as I was boarding my flight from Washington. Remembrances pour from the television broadcasts and newspapers. My colleague Burcu Kilic and I pause to sign a tribute book in a waterfront tent. Mandela’s rainbow nation seems real enough; hosts and guests I’ve met so far are black, white and brown, with preponderances less dramatic than I expected.
Breakwater Lodge, the conference hotel, is luxurious (a bit much so for our budget), and I have a certain ambivalence. I am comfortable and enjoy it. I feel enthusiasm and perhaps even pride, rooted in my years in Sierra Leone, to find such cosmopolitan opulence in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet I know it’s not only laudable social achievement that’s created this place; Africa’s astounding little Europe. Cape Town is also the haven wealth built for a few, with a tame but consistent democratization since.
I make a quick peace with it. I wouldn’t do much good fighting the past, which is neither simple nor moral. Better to embrace and channel what it has built for us today.
Burcu and I are here for several conferences: a regional conference on AIDS, a continental congress on open African innovation and research, and a global congress of academics concerned with how patent and copyright rules should account for public interests such as health, development and creativity. We’ll see many friends and colleagues.
Time to go run up that mountain. And then get to work.
Learn more about Open African Innovation & Research (Open AIR).
*Waterfront photo by Cape Town Travel; licensed under Creative Commons. Others by Kelsey Wiens, Burcu Kilic and Peter Maybarduk.