Insiders Guide: Cape Town

Table Mountain is flanked by two prominent collaborators. On one side is Devil’s Peak and on the other, Lion’s Head. If you look at Devil’s Peak from the foot of Lion’s Head, you will see the form of a woman lying in the mountain. And once you see her, you can never stop seeing her.

She’s lying on her back, her dreadlocks flowing into Table Bay at Salt River. She has just given birth, and the baby lies peacefully at her feet, forming the left slope of Table Mountain’s table top. The woman’s head and breast are formed by the curves of Devil’s Peak. Take your time to find her, because it changes everything about the city once you see her.

For me, this image is the reason Cape Town is called ‘The Mother City’. She is a maternal city, with all the vulnerabilities and power of a new mother having just brought life into the world. The thing is, to see the mother you need someone to show it to you, just like I am showing you now. And it is in that sharing of knowledge that the key to this city lies.

Cape Town is a city divided along numerous social, political and geographic lines, and to overcome these barriers - created by apartheid and colonial rule, and hardwired into our psyches - Capetonians need to work together. The mother is one of the best places to start because here you begin to understand that all the resources we need to make this city the place we want it to be are in front of us. I couldn’t see the mother until my friend Jethro Louw, the ‘ghetto poet’, revealed her to me. From then on, everything changed - I was able to see across the lines.

As a visitor to Cape Town, you are fortunate because you have an opportunity, more than most locals, to see the city beyond our issues. To make this journey a deep one, I’ll introduce you to the places that have opened my eyes.

To start, head to the top of Table Mountain and look across to Table Bay. From the harbour, keep scanning to the right. As you look, you will spot two tall, thin red-brick towers. That is the former Athlone Power Station, and just behind it is Langa, the oldest township in the city, set in the centre of the metropolis. Langa was established in the 1920s as a ghetto for black African labourers but is now slowly building a reputation as a cultural and creative hotspot. Tony Elvin, a social development expert, is behind the campaign to turn the area into the city’s new heart. The Langa Quarter (iKhaya le Langa) backs onto the old Athlone Power Station site, which is slated to become a major recreational, commercial and cultural development. To get a picture of what the future of the city looks like according to Elvin, visit the Langa Quarter for yourself. You can even stay: locals are spearheading a new hotel concept called the Langa Quarter Homestay Hotel, in which bedrooms in people’s homes are turned into hotel rooms. If you prefer to base yourself more centrally, the Cape Heritage Hotel is another good option.

Next, head up Washington Street to meet Alfred Magwaca at Langa Heritage Museum and learn more about the history of apartheid in South Africa. Here you can visit the old Dom Pass Office, or ‘dompas’ which translates as ‘dumb pass’, a document that black South Africans were forced to carry during the apartheid years. It restricted their movement and was one of the central tenets of racial segregation.

You can learn a little more at District Six Museum, which explores the volatile history of the suburb. Originally established as a community of freed slaves, District Six was controversially demolished and the residents evicted during the 1970s. Exhibits in the museum chart their long fight for reparations after the end of apartheid.

After all that history, you’ll probably be getting hungry. In the Langa CBD, you’ll find Nomzamo, a butcher and ‘shisa nyama’, or barbecue eatery. This is my friend Viki Mangaliso’s place and the food comes highly recommended. After you’ve chosen your meat, it’s barbecued and served to you. They have a few vegetarian options, too, such as pap (a traditional porridge/polenta made from mielie-meal) served with chakalaka, a spicy vegetable relish.

Langa is also the birthplace of Popla, a pop-up dining concept co-founded by local radio celebrity Africa Melane. Popla turns fine dining on its head by hosting dinners in heritage Langa venues - and it’s exactly what the city needs as nobody expects to find a fine dining offering in a township. (Follow their Facebook page to make a booking.) You won’t get more ‘insider’ than this.

Back in the city centre, relax with a locally brewed Citizen craft beer at Neighbourhood Restaurant, Bar & Lounge, one of my favourite spots because it’s such a diverse space. Or try artisanal gin at The Gin Bar on Wale Street. About five kilometres away in Sea Point is the Sea Point Pavilion, next to a public swimming pool. Here you can eat Cape Malay prawn curry wrapped in roti (known as salomi), served at a tiny kiosk called Chilli Point on the Pavilion. You will probably end up eating two of them. Work it off by hiring a bike from Up Cycles, and ride the promenade to the V&A Waterfront development via the Green Point Park.

In the park, spend time in the indigenous garden learning about medicinal plants, such as fynbos, and then step into one of the traditional Khoikhoi huts, made of reed mats. From here, look across to the $600 million Cape Town Stadium. Where else in the world can you see the full extent of human history in a space of just 600 metres? This, my friends, is Cape Town.

Words by Iain Harris - Published in Voyeur February 2016
Quick Facts 
Population 3,500,000
Time Zone GMT +2 hours
Languages Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.
Currency Rand
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