Cape Town - South Africa’s beautiful, eclectic Mother City (31 May)

Interesting Facts about Cape Town

WHEN DUTCHMAN Jan van Riebeeck was sent by the Dutch East India Company in 1651 to the Cape of Good Hope, he was under orders to establish a supply post—not a colony—for ships passing around the southern tip of Africa. At first, he did just that. But after tensions developed between his party and the native Khoikhoi, van Riebeeck’s men had to begin farming to produce their own food. They brought slaves from Batavia (now Jakarta), Malaysia, Ceylon, Madagascar, and elsewhere for labor. The settlement grew into four streets of buildings, with a fort the sailors referred to as “Cape Town.” Within a decade, the would-be supply post had become a flourishing colony with a hospital and a mill.
From early on, this society was deeply diverse. The cape’s vernacular architecture, traditional cuisine, music, and fashion all bear the influences of a mélange of cultures and traditions, from the Khoikhoi and San people to the multiethnic slaves to the Dutch and British settlers.
The diversity that makes this city beautiful has also wrenched it over the centuries. There were early wars between the Dutch and Khoikhoi and the Afrikaners and British, and, more recently, apartheid imposed racial segregation on Cape Town. The District Six Museum in Cape Town provides excellent context on the latter.
When apartheid ended in 1994, Cape Town—like the rest of South Africa—descended into an identity crisis. But Capetonians have slowly come to terms with their turbulent past, following Nelson Mandela’s commitment to reconciliation and forgiveness. Cape Town is in the midst of a cultural renaissance, reflected in innovative cuisine (evident on the menu at Luke Dale-Roberts’s Test Kitchen) and the art scene (on display at the V&A Waterfront’s Watershed).
Perhaps the city’s multicultural quality is best demonstrated in the Bo-Kaap, a Muslim neighborhood inhabited by descendants of slaves brought to Cape Town from many other countries and called Cape Malays. Their cuisine blends the best of Indonesian, Indian, and Afrikaner influences. Here, small houses stand shoulder to shoulder, each painted its own cheery hue: lime, sunflower, cherry, royal blue. Dynamic and historic as this neighborhood is, some worry that gentrification is endangering Bo-Kaap’s distinct Cape Malay character.
And those who’d like a striking vantage point on the whole of Cape Town? The exotic, flat-topped Table Mountain sits just south of the city. Travelers can ascend it—and should—with the help of a cable car or their own two feet.