Cape Town’s Colourful Cultures

Cape Town’s Colourful Cultures
Known as the adventure capital of South Africa, Cape Town plays home to Locals, Visitors and Adventure Capitalists looking to invest in its iconic mountain ranges, natural wonders and ocean vistas.


Bo Kaap’s Rainbow

In the 16th and 17th centuries the occupying Dutch brought thousands of people (mainly Muslims) from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other African countries to the Cape of Good Hope as slaves. Their descendants were segregated under the 1950 apartheid law into Bo Kaap, a neighborhood designated as “Cape Muslims only.” These communities, in part for the celebrations of Eid, painted their hearts on their sleeves with a riot of crazy colours spreading across the street.

The colours directly overlap each other, featuring strong lime green bordering sky blue, light pink adjoining bright yellow, and purple rain touched by turquoise. Just 10 minutes from the city centre, this neighbourhood is now in danger of losing the community that made it shine so bright. Since 1994 the property taxes have risen steeply, and much of its original inhabitants have been forced to move out. Counter to this gentrification, activists living in Bo Kaap have emphasised cultural preservation.


District Six Museum

District Six was a bohemian, mixed neighborhood in every sense of the word. It was crowded with a multiracial blend of working class people, Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike, many of whom were descended from formerly enslaved people and immigrants. In the mid-20th century, a population of roughly 60,000 lived there. Unfortunately, District Six was also at the epicenter of apartheid in Cape Town, and still bears its scars.

In the 1960s and 70s, the segregating Group Areas Act saw all the non-white residents of District Six evicted and relocated further outside the city. It was called “slum clearing,” and the true intention of the racial discrimination was to fill the desirably-located neighbourhood with white residents and high rise buildings.

District Six became a symbol for the hunger games of apartheid oppression. A group called Hands Off District Six protested the redevelopment of their bulldozed neighbourhood. It remained empty. When anti-apartheid legislation came to fruition, reparations were paid to the resettled residents of the district. Some of them, along with their descendants, have been permitted to move back to the area. Others have been given financial compensation, but righting the wrongs is slow and still ongoing.

The excellent and sobering District Six Museum provides context as well as rotating exhibits on the residents who were forcibly removed from their homes. Another feature is St. Mark’s Anglican Church, built in 1867. The government was unable to bulldoze the historic religious building, and instead offered its clergy a resettlement stipend. They declined, and St. Mark’s continued to host the same community in the original location, now driving from all over Cape Town to attend service.

What’s left of District Six is now part of the Zonnebloem neighbourhood. A new generation has begun to rebuild there, but a small patch of land sits empty and deserted, a reminder of the cultural destruction that occurred.


Boulders Beach Penguin Sanctuary

This African beach is home to thousands of rare mainland penguins that are known for their annoying voice. One of the only remaining homes to this native penguin, Boulder’s Beach Penguin Colony allows visitors to get up close and personal with these strange, prehistoric birds that fit into the sands of time perfectly, despite their generally Antarctic reputation.

The African penguin was long known as the “Jackass penguin” due to its grating, braying chirp. However the world is apparently big enough for two varieties of penguins with the same horrible voice, and the colorful term is now used to describe a species of penguin found in South America. The Boulders Beach birds, while endangered, were actually growing as a population in the 1990s as they bred on the scenic beaches and migrated in from other nearby colonies.

However, the booming population became a public hazard as the noisy birds started tearing up gardens and annoying neighbours. The park was subsequently fenced off and made into a national park where they can be ogled at all day. In spite of their terrorising reputations, they don’t seem to do much and bar the hoards and busloads of eager tourists, the walkways make for a tranquil and scenic day out.


Monkey Town’s Prime Mates

Monkey Town in Somerset West is a Wildlife Centre for monkeys and apes as well as a large variety of other species of animals. There are more than 250 primates and 21 different exotic species of monkeys and apes including Tammy, Ruby, and Sunny – the famous chimp sisters. Visitors can observe the monkeys from caged walkways allowing the monkeys to roam freely on the outside, but for an extra fee you can feed a few of the smaller ones. You are also invited to handle the resident ball snakes and pythons. Located about an hours drive away from the CBD, the park is usually quiet during the week, with few visitors – ensuring that the wonderful primates and reptiles are your only faithful companions.


Observing Afrikaan Astronomy

The historic Astronomical Observatory was established to keep shipwrecks from littering the Cape of Good Hope. Until the work of the South African Astronomical Observatory (the SAAO) began in 1820, the treacherous seas around the area saw more than 500 years of ships battering and crashing through the South Atlantic, with little to no usable stellar navigation established. Without the language of the Southern stars accurately mapped, ships had little hope, often being left to their own devices in unfamiliar waters and beneath strange skies.

In 1820, a young Fearon Fallows was sent by the Royal Society of Astronomers to the Cape of Good Hope to get a handle on things. Fallows, a brilliant astronomer and mathematician, was from the same small town of Cockermouth in the north of England that produced the brilliant poet William Wordsworth and less brilliant (but maybe more colourful) Fletcher Christian of Mutiny on the Bounty fame.

Despite his small-town beginnings, Fallows was talented enough to be dispatched to the other side of the world to accomplish a nearly impossible task – to get an observatory up and running while plagued by sand and dust storms, snakes, a lack of qualified stone masons (major stone work was required to stabilise early astronomical equipment), and the dreaded tablecloth clouds that could almost instantly block out the sky. But Fallows persevered, and the original structure for the observatory was completed in 1829.

Fallows’ plotting of the southern skies finally appeared in star catalogues in 1851, and his successor’s catalogue of Southern stars has held as a basis of refined sidereal astronomy (a field that relates to constellations and their daily movements) in the southern hemisphere. The observatory’s measurements were so precise for their time (1833) that they accurately measured the distance of Alpha Centauri (our next closest star, almost four and a half lightyears away) to within 1/5,000th of a degree. As the SAAO notes, that’s like measuring the diameter of a penny from two and a half miles away.

The observatory eventually set up a campus of major telescopes in Sutherland, about four hours away from the main location, in order to take advantage of its dark skies, with very little light pollution and mostly unfettered by clouds. There they’ve erected the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere, the aptly named Southern African Large Telescope, or SALT, which houses 91, three-foot mirrors to create a light-gathering surface of 835 square feet. That’s just one of their telescopes, but it’s a lot of light.


Familiar And Foreign Foods

Even in South Africa, African food is not the default. And in Cape Town especially, dining can be quite Eurocentric. Centuries of colonialism erased indigenous foods and entrenched the idea that European food is somehow superior. These effects are still found today, but a microbiologist turned ice-cream maker, Tapiwa Guzha, wants that to change. With every handcrafted scoop served at Cape Town’s Tapi Tapi, he tells the story of his own food history, as well as stories from across the African continent.

His freezers contain flavours like rondo ice cream, made with a nutritious edible clay consumed by pregnant women all over Africa, as well as botanical flavours such as black-jack, bitter leaf, and baobab. Sometimes Guzha whips up an ice-cream version of kelewele, a caramelized Ghanaian plantain snack with ginger and fire-roasted peanuts. Guzha’s recipes range from comforting to challenging. One of his more daring ice-cream flavours included matemba, a dried fish that he paired with toffee.

Tapi Tapi is located in the heart of Observatory, an eclectic and diverse neighbourhood in Cape Town. Guzha has painted his open-air parlour with his own artwork and words. As a one-man business, his operation is truly remarkable, open six days a week and closed for churning ice cream on the seventh. But Guzha’s passion for his creations and his mission keep him going.

Tapi Tapi  is also the home of “Iwe neni,” Guzha’s food accessibility project where he makes nutritious meals for hungry locals. You can donate money or produce to Guzha’s feeding scheme, or pay it forward by donating ice cream to someone else. This allows Guzha to offer ice cream for free to someone who would like to try it but has financial limitations. He also offers a barter system. If you have an ingredient that you think would make a good flavour, you can exchange it for ice cream. The shop is closed to the public on Mondays. But you can learn how to make ice cream for free by joining Guzha for Monday morning churning. He’ll teach you the ropes, and you’ll get to take some dessert home.

A few other delicious finds include the array of options dotted along the VA Waterfront’s scenic strip, Cape Towns modern Mexican cocktail bar choices, sunsets at The Bungalow members club (dining open to the public), Le Petit restaurant in town for an outdoor brunch to the sound of bongos, the Clay Cafe for cosy homemade coffees and ceramics, the Nine’s Hotel for rooftop ruses, and drag brunches at Honey & Dora where the menus are a crash course in Gayle.


Zeitz Museum Of Contemporary Art

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) is a public non-profit museum which opened in 2017. It boasts the largest museum of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. The museum is located in the Silo District at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, and also includes the Centre for Art Education, a Fellowship program, Atelier artist residency, a retail shop, rooftop restaurant and a coffee shop.

This month’s exhibitions included timely features on global politics under a Seismography of Struggle: Towards a Global History of Critical and Cultural Journals, as well as the impact of migration on individuals and communities through the eyes of Seekers Seers and Soothsayers, and Mary Evans: Gilt, a solo exhibition on surviving the historical wounds of slavery, colonialism, apartheid and even late-stage capitalism.

A central motif of Evans’ decades-long practice is that of the life-sized silhouette. She assembles many silhouetted figures in a narrative form, which she calls ‘history paintings’. The large-scale works act as a type of glyph or coded visual language that counters difficult Black histories. The figures function as a familiar device to provide viewers with an entryway into the artist’s work. The scenes of light-brown shadows placed against monochromatic landscapes recall histories of colonial entanglement while facilitating a humanistic reading of the Black figure as every body. Her practice and choice of materials (paper and other disposables) gesture at the historical and contemporary ways in which the Black body has been treated – cheaply, shipped, broken, commodified, disposed of and feared.

GILT uses familiar visual motifs – that of the silhouette – to highlight Evans’ consideration of the inter-relational experience of Black diasporas, migration and global exchange. As part of the exhibition, Evans presents new work commissioned by Zeitz MOCAA that is a site-specific response informed by a period of research and exploration of Cape Town and, by extension, South Africa. In looking at the history and psychogeography (exploring urban environments that emphasise interpersonal connections to places) of specific cultural and heritage sites in the city, Evans has conceived an installation that invigorates the rich iconography of shared histories of resistance and resonance.


WhatIfTheWorld Gallery

Founded in 2008, WHATIFTHEWORLD has developed into a recognised contemporary art gallery, both within South Africa and internationally. Part question, part purpose and part statement, their name anticipates the gallery’s programme: a host of ambitious projects that promote curiosity and thought. With a strong focus on Africa and the African diaspora, the gallery represents influential artists who engage with global and local contemporary art and socio-political contexts. The gallery is dedicated to showing resolute solo projects and multi-disciplinary installations, with an interest in creating an environment that allows artists the freedom to create exhibitions of significance.


Cape’s Cannabisters Club

Cannabisters is a members only club selling legal cannabis products. It takes 10 minutes to sign up using your passport for a one-off fee of just £5. With the dawn of cannabis legalisation sweeping the world, Cannibisters is the first of its kind incorporating a local herbal apothecary. The club environment is elegantly presented in the familiar style of a retail store, coffee shop and relaxed lounge area. It is designed to be a home away from home where members can share Cannabis and related products privately and responsibly. A few nights a week they also offer either classical or light jazz music and cover bands.


Oenophiles And Oneironauts

Cape Town and the surrounding countryside vineyards are of course famous for their fragrant wines. Some of the best menus are in Stellenbosch, internationally renowned for its beautiful environment, wine tastings, street cafés, restaurants, historical buildings and university. Our visits included Constantia Glen and Lourensford Wine Estate, picturesque boutique wine farms producing premium cool climate produce.

Lourensford Estate was once part of neighbouring Vergelegen, which was established by Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1709. The earliest traces of human activity in the Hottentots Holland Valley are to be found at Grootnek and Uitzicht, two locations deep in the heart of Lourensford Estate. The Uitzicht stoneage midden has early and middle stoneage artifacts (150 000 – 200 000 years BC) that are leached out of the soil by winter rains. The estate’s current adult playground features a complex of shops, galleries and art installations including the EarthBox Experience curated by the Rolls Royce Dream Commission.


EarthBox’s Sacred Soils

Relative to its online presence, experiencing EarthBox without context or an added audioguide can feel a little underwhelming. This trip through the dirt requires a sobering dose of imagination – in practical terms, you literally pay £25 (two wine tasting menu’s worth) to sit and stare at the wall.

It is however, an unprecedented attraction that brings together artistry, ancient geology and engineering, where you are invited to take your shoes off and journey into the earth; travelling back through the layers of time to experience the world beneath our feet. A 24 metre long underground chamber that takes you 5 metres below the surface, you’ll cover ground between 550 and 560 million years old.

For some reason no photography is allowed, and while loudly exclaiming that there’s no one down here to police this, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that dreams really can afford to prevent permanence. As a man emerges from the darkness, illuminated by LED lights, you’re encouraged to sit, reflect and meditate in the mud for as long as you feel your money’s worth.

“Initial discussions with geologists and geotechnical engineers elicited great curiosity as well as a breakdown of the type of geological formations that would be able to accommodate the subterranean chamber of this nature. Equipped with this information, a previously farmed stretch of land at Lourensford Estate in Somerset West, largely unused except when serving as a parking lot for the occasional event, was identified as the perfect location for what had come to be known as EarthBox. What followed was a collaboration of gargantuan proportions, bringing geologists, geotechnical engineers, structural engineers, landscapers and creatives together in ways that no one had anticipated or experienced before.”

Probably more engaging are their ticketed body-mind activities including yoga, pilates and dance, dirt dining experiences and underground music events.


Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Galileo Cinema

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is acclaimed as one of the great botanic gardens of the world, and the arden presents a variety of indoor and outdoor art exhibitions. Find five life-sized, anatomically correct dinosaurs and a pterosaur, sculptured in tin and hidden amongst the cycads in the Cycad Amphitheatre. Created by artist David Huni, the pieces draw attention to the fact that many of South Africa’s cycads are on the brink of extinction, and could soon face the same fate as the dinosaurs, however this crisis is not being caused by an asteroid impact – and is almost entirely thanks to the unkindly activities of mankind.

Artists such as Ebony Patterson and Charmaine Watkiss are known for their installations linking plants and herbs to legacies of slavery. This possibility for botanical subjects and the beautiful objects they inspire, to serve as vehicles for confronting ugly realities and histories is something encapsulated by the gardens. It is also the domain of lost languages, cosmologies, and truly natural sciences.

Watkiss’ avatar, The Earth Goddess – Oracle of Our Forebears (2023), is drawn amidst plants that recall naturalist botanical studies from the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of these plants have medicinal properties. The leaves of the bitter gourd (or bitter melon) for instance, are boiled to produce cerasee tea, which is used to treat a number of ailments from high blood pressure to constipation. They have also been used to induce abortion and prevent childbirth. The castor bean is used in folk medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties, but its seed also produces the highly toxic ricin – used as a poison by the enslaved. The Earth Goddess drawing includes an Osanyin staff among the foliage, honouring the Yoruba spirit of herbal medicine, and pointing to the knowledge and wisdom required to work with these plant properties. In the artist’s words, “plants are alchemy.”

Next door, the Galileo Cinema is an open air venue where you can watch movies beside the mountains and beneath the stars. Synonymous with the start of summer in Cape Town, it’s the perfect setting for an evening with family and friends, for birthday celebrations, work socials or date nights, and seems popular with proposals. Screening a variety of family favourites, musicals and cult classics – secure your spot on the lawn with backrests and blankets and let the cinemagic do its thing.


Woodstock Exchange And Street Art

Woodstock is one of the oldest suburbs in Cape Town and is home to some captivating street art. An incredible diversity of cultures combine to make the neighbourhood a vibrant, bustling blend of food, fashion, arts, and design. From a once busy seaside resort to a semi-industrial area and now a creative hub of activity and hip coffee shops, the suburb of Woodstock just outside the Cape Town CBD has seen its fair share of re-invention. Recently street art has been adding another voice to this transformation process.

The purpose of the art is not to change Woodstock, but to help transform the area by bringing more people onto its streets – making it safer for everyone. The majority of the art on display shares a social message: from nature conservation and social justice, to uplifting and inspirational motifs. The array of work is as vast and diverse as the artists that created them, both local and international, young and old, unknown and world-famous, have come to leave their mark.

The nature of street art is one of continuous movement. New buildings, alterations, new gates and fences, and vandals obscure and modify the pieces, in some cases changing the meaning of its message. It’s this element of street talk that’s often the most fascinating. It also means that the local tours are ever-changing and reward repeat visits. The majority of the artwork is either done via proposal or commission and always with permission from the owners of the buildings. The project states that its intention and design is to make the area a safer and more pleasant place for the mostly impoverished community who live just beyond the streets full of hip coffee shops and hotshot agencies.

The Woodstock Exchange and the Old Biscuit Mill in the area are popular developments dedicated to local and creative businesses. WEX as it’s affectionately known, is an incubator for young fledgling businesses as well as being home to international market makers and acclaimed artisans. Prior to its redevelopment into today’s dynamic and creative hub, the Old Biscuit Mill functioned as an actual biscuit mill for the Pyott’s biscuit company. John Pyott opened the factory in the early 1900s and it remained in operation until 1946.


Franschhoek’s French Quarter

Franschhoek ([fransˈɦuk]; Afrikaans for “French Corner”, Dutch spelling before 1947 Fransche Hoek) is a small town in the Western Cape Province and one of the oldest towns in South Africa. It was formerly known as Oliphants hoek as there were vast groups of elephants roaming the valley. Today there are only pigs. And even these residents are artists.

Pigcasso, the local celebrity, is a beastly collaboration between pig and performer Joanne Lefson, who aims to create an “awakened connection between our food, animals and climate change – in order to inspire a kinder, more sustainable world”. Transforming the slogan ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ into ‘less meat, more art’ beneath buddhist memorabilia, the team champion Duchamp’s surreal reveal: “art-making is making the invisible visible.”

Pigcasso was rescued just before slaughter in 2016 and taken to Farm Sanctuary SA in Franschhoek, where you can also spend a few nights in their villa retreat. When Joanne noticed that Pigcasso ate or destroyed everything except some old paint brushes that were laying in her stall, she decided to nurture the pig’s potential talent. It didn’t take long before Babe began to brush – and over time, the painting process developed into an extraordinary commercial bond between human and animal.

Lefson selects the colours while Pigcasso takes the brush into her mouth and creates her magic across the canvas. Lefson watches from afar, able to stop Pigcasso if she observes an interesting form developing that is relatable to the human eye. Every original is signed by Pigcasso’s nose-tip, countersigned by Lefson and includes a Certificate of Authenticity. Proceeds from the sale of every artwork benefit the registered non-profit set-up by the duo. Their mission is to highlight the unsustainable and unethical farming practices and market forces contributing to animal violence and climate change.

The resident dogs are also happy to show you around the property, which is one of many beautiful natural escapes within the Western Cape. Franschhoek’s indigenous inhabitants were the Khoisan peoples (an economic designator rather than a cultural or ethnic one). They are now mostly extinct, but their descendants continue to live in the area as mixed race (Khoisan and French/Dutch) people. In 1685, King Louis XIV banned Protestantism in France causing hundreds of French Huguenots to flee their country. In 1688, almost 300 French Huguenots arrived at the Cape of Good Hope by ship, and they were given the Franschhoek Valley by the VOC to settle. The town’s only museum presents a history of the Huguenots, alongside a few perfume-making workshops.

The French Huguenot refugees populated the valley establishing farms and businesses, bringing with them their French culture and experience in agriculture. The name of the area soon changed to le Coin Français (“the French Corner”), and later to Franschhoek (Dutch for “French Corner”), with many of the settlers naming their new farms after the areas in France from which they came. Today the area is known for its fine dining, wine trams, coffee shops, exclusive art galleries and private members bars boasting provocative pieces within their walls; Just behind the locked iron gates, statues of Gandhi and Mandela decorate the lawns. Visitors are most welcome to join them, so long as you’re a member of the club.