Cape Town: A Potted History
When the Dutch East India Company sent Jan Van Riebeeck to establish a colony in Cape Town in 1652, he quickly turned it into an efficient waystation for ships rounding the Cape of Good Hope en route to the spice-producing lands of the east. Cape Town quickly outgrew its original purpose, becoming the economic and cultural hub of the Cape Colony. Indeed, prior to the Witwatersrand Gold Rush and the development of Johannesburg, the current location of the country’s stock exchange, Cape Town was the largest and most prosperous city in South Africa.
With the French occupation of the Netherlands during the French Revolution and Napoleonic War, Great Britain began to occupy and conquer Dutch colonies, including Cape Town, which was captured in 1795 and legally ceded to Britain in 1814. The conflict between Britain and the inland Boer Republics would later lead to the Second Boer War between 1899 and 1901, which was won by Britain, resulting in the entire area’s establishment as the Union of South Africa.
By 1929 general elections were being conducted under a system that allowed white men to vote while only a tiny number of black and colored men were so empowered, a privilege they were denied completely after 1939. The basis for this treatment lay in Afrikaaner and British perceptions of coloreds as a slave class (as they were descended from Cape Malays originally shipped to Cape Town to make up for the shortage of manual laborers in the city) and of Africans as savages (as their ancestors had lived as tribal hunter-gatherers prior to the arrival of the Dutch).
In 1948, the National Party won South Africa’s general elections. Their campaign platform had been one of ‘apartheid’, an Afrikaans word meaning ‘separateness’, implying a policy of racial segregation later passed into law as the Group Areas Act. The campaign preyed on the fears of white South Africans with a slogan referring to the ‘swart gevaar’, or ‘black threat’ that the African population supposedly posed to the security of the European-descended population.
Apartheid saw formerly multi-racial suburbs of Cape Town ‘purged’ of unlawful inhabitants (often their homes and possessions were outright destroyed), who were sent to live in the Cape Flats or the townships, far from the central areas of City Bowl.
It’s just 10km from the shores of Cape Town, visible from the beaches of the West Coast, that you’ll see Robben Island, where many leaders in the fight against Apartheid were held prisoner, and it was from the balcony of Cape Town’s city hall that Nelson Mandela made his first public speech in decades just hours after his release in 1990. Mandela’s election as president and head of the African National Congress in 1994 marked the beginning of a new era of economic prosperity for the country, ushering in massive booms in Cape Town’s real estate and tourism industries.
Cape Town’s suitability for expatriates
Incidents of xenophobic violence swept South Africa in early 2008. They began in the month of May in the township of Alexandra in Gauteng, where residents attacked Malawian, Zimbabwean and Mozambiquan immigrants, killing two and injuring 40 more. Soon similar incidents occurred in nearby townships, and it became apparent that the attacks were spreading, virally, it seemed. They would eventually reach the coastal areas of Durban and Cape Town
In the end, the attacks left 62 people dead and several hundred injured, not to mention a huge amount of immigrant-owned property, including shops and stalls, destroyed.
There’s been much talk surrounding these attacks and their significance to foreigners looking to relocate to Cape Town. People are being warned that immigrants to Cape Town run the risk of facing a similar fate.
The fact is, prominent among the various factors identified by the Human Sciences Resource Council, that these attacks were triggered by the relative deprivation of the people and areas where the attacks occurred. The perpetrators and the victims were, typically, in intense competition for the same jobs, as well as for basic housing and commodities. As such, those attacked were primarily refugee asylum-seekers perceived to be taking the bottom-rung jobs that would otherwise have been available to needy locals.
So, as hideous as their fates may have been, the situations of the victims of the xenophobic attacks are not remotely comparable to those of most expatriates engaging in deliberate relocation. By contrast, the latter tend to be well educated and in pursuit of highly skilled jobs, or better yet, responsible for their own job-creating businesses. If they weren’t, they’d face a great deal of trouble getting a residence or work permit.
Cape Town, on the whole, is very hospitable to expatriates, with numerous clubs and societies binding together substantial expatriate communities of varied European and American origin, and restaurants catering to every culture and taste. Many of these are listed in various parts of this guide.
Cape Town is cen
Capetonians on the whole are very tolerant of eccentricity – living amongst such a wide variety of cultures, you pretty much have to be. As such, it’s not the sort of place you’re likely to cause anyone much offense so long as you stick to basic English or American standards of politeness. Far from expecting you to behave in any kind of specific or formal way, most people will do their best to put you at your ease and get you to loosen up.
Nonetheless, there are a few rules of thumb you should keep in mind when getting used to living, socializing and doing business in Cape Town.
Greetings, body language and conversation
- Shake hands firmly, smile and make eye contact when meeting someone for the first time. Regular eye contact (intermittent, not the staring, fixed kind) is considered normal, friendly behavior.
- It’s common on meeting someone for the second time in social and family situations for men and women to hug women, and men to exchange hand shakes. Both women and men should remember that neither limp handshakes nor crushing grips are going to impress anyone. Try for a moderate, firm grip.
- Avoid swearing in the first few minutes of talking to somebody new. Once you know one another, most people are comfortable with moderate, occasional cursing.
- Be cautious of how you use racial terminology when you meet someone. Long-time friends might be comfortable with you referring to them as black or colored, as is the generally accepted way in Cape Town, but doing so out of the blue during a first encounter is a sure recipe for social awkwardness.
- Don’t touch someone’s arm or bare skin unless you’re trying to flirt or known them quite well. The shoulder, upper back and even the lower back are considered acceptable if you’re trying to get someone’s attention.
- When passing people on uncrowded pavements or in corridors, it’s customary, should your eyes meet, to exchange a nod of acknowledgement. Some include a verbal greeting with this, though it’s not regarded as necessary. Africans often carry this even further, with full blown greetings and an exchange of comments with random people they encounter in the street. Be aware, however, that if this behavior is accompanied by an offer of a handshake, it’s probably a lead in to some kind of begging, a mugging, or an offer of drugs (particularly common in Long Street).
- Place your napkin on your lap, not under your chin.
- When in doubt, use your knife and fork to eat everything. Some people will even eat convenience foods, such as burgers or pizza, with a knife and fork (though few will judge you for doing otherwise). When in an Asian restaurant, use the chopsticks – it’s seen as both more respectful and more cultured.
- Burping or spitting at the table is regarded as rude, and, if either proves necessary, should be kept quiet and concealed behind a napkin.
- A separated knife and fork (‘open gates’) is used to indicate that you’re still busy with your meal. Frequently inexperienced waiters won’t know this. Say ‘I’m still busy with that’ if a trainee tries to take your lunch.
- Knife and fork placed together, with the handles of the utensils pointing to 5 o’clock, indicates that you’re finished with your meal.
Capetonian attire is purely western in its influences, so be assured you’re unlikely to stand out unless you show up wearing some kind of traditional garb. Smart casual clothing is generally a catch-all, acceptable for most informal business meetings and social situations. For men, this would consist of a collared shirt, jeans or slacks and smart leather loafers or upmarket tennis shoes, and, for women, a skirt or jeans and a blouse. Save the formal wear for the board room.
At the beach
Wear a bikini if you’re a woman, and a pair of board shorts if you’re a man.
Be aware that, for men, wearing a Speedo is generally regarded as a deliberate indication that you’re homosexual (which is why you’ll notice so many men wearing them on Clifton 3rd).
tered on City Bowl, the business district surrounded by the dramatic peaks and crags of three mountains that form a natural amphitheatre facing onto Table Bay, where Cape Town’s busy harbor borders on the Central Business District. The municipal area of the city encircles these mountains and sprawls out along the West Coast and over much of the Cape Peninsula. Cape Town’s varied, dynamic geography is discussed more thoroughly under ‘City Structure’.