When people ask me where I’m from, I always reply, “The most beautiful city in the world.” I say this with every confidence, knowing they will understand I’m talking about Cape Town. My home city is a popular tourist destination in South Africa, but often visitors tend to focus on the narrative of the formerly “white areas” of the city. These prime areas of real estate were designated “whites only” by the Group Areas Act in 1950. Even though the act was abolished in 1991, these areas are still well maintained and showcased by tourism agencies. At the same time, swathes of the city where black and brown people live, which are rich with history, are mostly ignored. This guide aims to help conscious travelers navigate the city to explore all facets of who shaped this place. With this in mind, I have written a guide on how to enjoy the city in a holistic way that is inclusive of all the Mother City has to offer. Of course you should visit popular landmarks such as Table Mountain, which offers breathtaking views and plenty of Instagram-ready moments, then make time for equally compelling sights that are slightly below the radar.
Feast Like a Local
For a city known as the culinary capital of the country, most of the offerings have a European slant, with tapas bars being all the rage currently. If you want to eat like a local, check out these spots:
Marco’s African Place (15 Rose Lane, Bo-Kaap)
Chef Marco Radebe started this popular downtown restaurant in 1997 and has been serving authentic Xhosa food ever since. The traditional menu features delicacies such as tripe, oxtail curry, and a fresh, farm-reared chicken dish known as umleqwa. For less adventurous palates there are steak and linefish options. A live band every night adds to the ambiance.
Nomzamo Butchery (Host13 Business Center, King Langalibalele Drive, Langa)
This second-generation family-owned establishment is in the oldest township in Cape Town. They serve shisa nyama: freshly grilled meat. Patrons keep coming back for the delicious fresh meat. There are also ready-made dishes like stews. The stews are popular with the lunch crowd as they can be picked up with no wait time. The cooked dishes sell out quickly during the afternoon rush, but the grill is always available.
Bo-Kaap Kombuis (7 August Street, Bokaap)
Cape Town is known for its diverse range of food from all over the globe. Cape Malay cuisine was fusion before it became trendy. It originated from the culinary traditions of Malaysian, Indonesian, and East African people who were enslaved and brought to the Cape by the Dutch. The recipes were adapted to include local ingredients, then passed down from generation to generation. When eating classic dishes such as bobotie, made with spiced minced meat then topped with egg and oven-baked, chances are the recipe will be the same as it was 300 years ago.
Wine with Soul
No visit to the Western Cape is complete without a wine experience, especially since South Africa is the eighth largest wine producer in the world. The region has six different wine routes, perfect for exploring and making it the wine destination in the region. While the French have trademarked Champagne, the local bubbly made using the Méthode Cap Classique way is just as tasty. A unique local varietal, Pinotage, made by crossing the Cinsault and Pinot Noir grapes, is also making waves worldwide. The oldest wineries in the region have been there 300 years, meaning they are inextricably linked to colonial history. Black-owned wineries are still rare, but the number is steadily increasing, and they deserve support.
Seven Sisters (Welmoed Road, off Annandale Road, Stellenbosch)
The Brutus sisters are from a small fishing village called Paternoster. After their father lost his job as a fisherman, the family was evicted from their home and scattered as they moved in with different relatives. Determined to make sure the family would never be separated again, middle sister Vivian started the business in 2007. She had no prior knowledge of winemaking but enlisted all her siblings to help grow the business. The charming tasting room in Stellenbosch offers all their wines to sample.
Bridge of Hope Wines (Slangrivier Road, Wellington)
Rosemary Mosia became interested in the wine industry while doing research for her master’s degree in business leadership. In 2012, she made the leap to becoming a wine producer herself, with a farm in Wellington. The Bridge of Hope winery is located on a farm that was originally established in 1699. With modern farming practices that embrace current cellar methods and an interest in uplifting unemployed youth in the area, Bridge of Hope Wines is ensuring the future is equally bright.
A History Lesson
A lot of popular historical sites in Cape Town whitewash our history, with a strong focus on the stories of colonialists and their descendants. Visitors must learn that our city has a much richer history than that, and fortunately there are places that showcase the diversity that is commonly ignored.
District Six Museum (25A Buitenkant St)
Visiting this museum is a poignant reminder of the vibrant community that used to live in the area before they were forcibly removed, having had their houses bulldozed to the ground. District Six was established in 1867 as a community for freed slaves, merchants, immigrants, and artisans. As time passed, the proximity to the city and the port ensured that the area remained a vibrant cultural center with a mixed population. After the Group Areas Act, the government, embracing apartheid, bulldozed the area after residents refused to move to neighborhoods designated by race. A visit to this museum may leave folks feeling uneasy at this ugly part of history, but it is a necessary stop.
Langa Tours with Fatima Dike
The oldest township in the city, Langa, is named after the Xhosa chief Langalibalele, who was imprisoned on Robben Island. As a playwright and local historian, Fatima is the perfect person to guide you on a walking tour. She has traveled all over the world, from India to America, for her writing, but her roots remain firmly at home. As a local historian, she can show visitors hidden areas of the township they may not have otherwise had access to. Because of her theater background, she is actively involved with the Guga S’Thebe Arts & Cultural Centre as a mentor for workshops and director for certain plays. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While enjoying the many pleasures the city has to offer, it is also good to embrace the spirit of Ubuntu, which loosely translated means, “I am a person because you are.” This spirit can be found in the friendly faces all around. Learn a few words of Xhosa, the local language, so you can say molo (hello) and enkosi (thank you) on your next visit.