Find Africa in Cape Town
Cape Town may be on the south-western tip of Africa, but it is home to people from all over the world’s second-most populous continent. [co-written with Lynnette Johns on July 12, 2014]
Take a stroll through the heart of Cape Town, the old CBD, and you will hear a range of languages, including Swahili, Amharic, French, Portuguese and Arabic.
The Mother City has become Little Africa, from curio shops and stalls selling food, to clothing and appliance stores.
No one knows for sure how many people from the rest of the continent now call Cape Town home. Some came to Cape Town to escape war, famine and poverty; others came for the adventure, and to experience life in another country. Whatever the reason, the multitude of nationalities has added to the potpourri of the Mother City.
Solomon Yizaw, from Ethiopia, has lived in Cape Town for 18 years. His restaurant, Madam Taitou in Long Street, is refreshingly different. Outside it looks like a curio shop, but step inside and you are immediately transported to a different age, a different country.
Cool and dark inside, foliage surrounds comfortable wooden booths, the curios on display are for sale and books on the shelves are for reading.
Enticing smells waft from the kitchen.
Yizaw says he wanted to create a space where people would feel comfortable. ‘It must feel like someone’s place, like their home. They can admire the art, read a book, and we treat them like guests in our home,’ he says.
The food is authentic Ethiopian, and, he says with a smile, ‘our service is informal because we want our guests to have a more personal interaction with the staff’.
Mary Kamunya is originally from Kenya and owns Ebenezer, a curio shop on the second floor of a pretty building in Shortmarket Street.
She’s been in Cape Town for 10 years and she goes to Kenya often to buy curios, which range from jewellery to wooden carvings.
‘Most of my clients are tourists from around the world,’ she says in a lilting voice, ‘but now, it’s winter and very, very cold, so business is slow.’
Kamunya’s shop is close to Greenmarket Square, which is always a hubbub of activity, and where South African traders share space with the African diaspora. Traders invite you to see their wares, wooden masks and statues, and they are open to bargaining.
‘You don’t have to buy, you are welcome to just have a look,’ a smiling young woman says. Her table is filled with soapstone figurines and other trinkets.
Even though the sun is shining it is a cold winter’s day, and trading is slow on Greenmarket Square.
Gabriel Seya, from Senegal, is having an animated telephone conversation. Even so, he espies potential customers and holds eye contact as he quickly finishes the call.
He sells wooden and metal masks, but they are not from Senegal, he says. He gets the masks from other countries on the west coast of the continent.
Seya has been in Cape Town for eight years and says the Senegalese are a close community.
‘We meet once a week and we see where the needs are, and help each other out,’ he says.
There are many people and communities in Cape Town who support each other, and in Long Street there is one man who is doing his bit to keep African music alive.
Mark Charnas has owned the African Music Store since 1997. The shop is a landmark in vibrant Long Street.
It is one of the few independent shops in South Africa that stocks local music. Charnas sees it as an important part of what he does to try to promote music from the continent, which is as good in quality, diversity and talent as the European and American music stuff that people almost always automatically choose to listen to.
‘Lots of foreigners come to Cape Town and they know nothing about music and here (in the store) is an opportunity to educate them about all this amazing music coming from South Africa and Africa,’ he says.
Cape Town is often seen as the gateway to Africa — the first (literal) port of call when visiting the continent. If South Africa is the only country you are able to visit during your holiday, be sure to find ways of discovering the sights, sounds, people and experiences from the rest of Africa right here in the Mother City.