Large black-maned lions used to roam the land where Cape Town now stands. The last one was shot sometime between 1802 and 1858.
The sea used to wash through what is now downtown. It was pushed back in the 1930s and 40s – presumably using the know-how of the Dutch, those masters of land reclamation.
District Six was a thriving mixture of cultures. Apartheid policies razed it. It is now largely grass supporting a few religious buildings. People sprawl between the occasional boulders and rubbish.
Now, the city focuses on what it does have – at least for the tourists.
And there is no more popular spot than the V(ictoria) and A(lbert) Waterfront, the most visited destination on the African continent. It was revamped, with reference to San Francisco, Boston, Baltimore, Vancouver and Sydney, in order to re-establish the city’s links with the sea after the infilling. In the evening it’s restaurants, table to table, spilling out onto the boardwalk; street performers with drums and fire and juggling balls; a ferris wheel and groups of African men wooing diners with song.
Conference goers (and there are plenty of them since Cape Town is the foremost African city for conferences) are given the full bead treatment. Even the earplugs on the hop-on hop-off tourist bus get into the colour game, being bright orange.
Cape Town has some other strong cards to play.
Table Mountain offers stunning 360° views. Catch a bus or taxi to the rotating cable car or hike (puff) to the top. I envied those wandering the plateau with picnic baskets – it was hard to imagine a better place to dine as the sun set.
There is a sense of giants and fairytale worlds.
Clouds roll in like ocean, making islands of peaks. One could simply walk off the mountain and away – as if to eternity.
An early morning hike up Lion’s Head …
can be illuminating.
Apparently, we might all be familiar with the beaches at Clifton. Not because we are necessarily one of the physically beautiful and financially rich who come here to the protected bays but because it is a prime location for photo shoots. If you want to purchase a beachfront property (there’s no restriction on foreign ownership) you’ll currently need up to R 65 million (US$6.3 million). However, if it’s only a garage you’re after there is, as I type, a “once in a life time offer to purchase a garage in Clifton” for R 1.5 million. Bargain.
There’s been a serious miscount somewhere along the line as there are actually seventeen Twelve Apostles lining the Atlantic coast. They channel wind down and across the ocean, blowing away warm surface water in summer. Cold, nutrient-rich water rises, which explains the lack of swimmers in summer. In winter, temperatures rise as warm water is blown into the bay from the other direction. The width of sand on the beach is another indication of the season.
One could immerse oneself in Cape Town museums for days, and I would return to do only that. District Six Museum examines the costs of apartheid through that acute lens.
The Iziko South African Museum is a vast place with both soaring rooms and interesting, darkened nooks. Stuffed animals of many classes abound. (I’m always drawn to them even in their staring, fake-life – it’s my only chance to see many of them. I hope they were not killed for my viewing pleasure.) It was very much a case of ‘Welcome to the antelope/gazelle/elegant, hoofed (non-bovine or equine) mammals family’. I had little idea there were so many variations on the theme.
A massive blue-fin tuna, suspended in an otherwise-empty glass case, could not have been a more poignant reminder of the need to protect the species from overfishing.
Markets thrive in the city centre but one can’t help feel the desperation just beneath the surface as traders try to keep customers in their stalls, plying them with other goods or reducing prices. I felt saddened as well-heeled tourists bargained ruthlessly over trinkets. One child of eleven in a beaded jewellery stall told me he looks after it on weekends. I wondered if people bargained with him.
Out in the ‘burbs it’s not all colourful adornments and exquisite baskets.
Razor wire abounds in many residential areas but some abodes are too close together for that.
The safety officers sprinkled throughout the city ironically reduce one’s sense of safety – one can’t help thinking authorities must consider them necessary. However, the total number of human-contact crimes in central Cape Town has dropped from 2004 levels.
But, there’s a buoyancy in the city. It’s present in the women’s hair, in so much as pleasure and pride in one’s hair plus having the time, creativity and community to style it, reflect one’s satisfaction with the present and optimism for the future. (Much creativity graces the streets on women’s heads.) If this was the spirit with which the populace faced each day, Cape Town would thrive.
For information on accessing Table Mountain click here.