Medellin in Colombia – once the world’s most violent city – is turning back the tide on deep social blight. With the right political will, Cape Town can do the same, Ivan Turok tells Michael Morris.
Cape Town – One of the most powerful men in Colombia’s recent history once wrote a note for his sister to keep in the cubbyhole of her car. It read, with surely unnerving understatement: “This car belongs to my sister, Alba Marina. If you steal it, please return it, in order to avoid problems.” It was signed: Pablo Escobar.
The murderous king of Colombian cartels even saw fit, perhaps as a joke, to include his thumbprint. It wasn’t necessary. Nobody needed reminding just who he was and what he was capable of doing.
A photo of this note in the 2007 Paris Review conveys at once the chilling reach and the shabby would-be panache of Escobar’s brutality. But there was more to Medellin’s nightmare.
Behind Escobar’s casual assertion of bandit power – something we glimpse now and then in the everyday, near-commonplace, killings on the Cape Flats, and the cocky talk of gangsters – stood a society deeply riven by inequality, political instability, poverty and despair.
Medellin’s pathology is all too familiar. But the remarkable thing about Medellin is that it has turned things around.