When it comes to unique places in the world, you’ll be hard-pushed to find a country with as colourful a background as South Africa – which is why it’s known as the Rainbow Nation.
The country has no less than 11 official languages and the diversity is most evident in Cape Town, where western cultural influences are added to the melting pot of society. Given this, it’s no surprise that ‘Capetonians’ operate in a slightly different way to other colonial nations.
If you’re planning a trip to the capital, the Flexicover team thought it would be useful to highlight some aspects that may just help you to blend in.
While it’s not possible to make generalisations about Cape Town residents because of their diverse backgrounds and cultures, it’s still possible to detect a straight-talking nature amongst English speakers. This no-nonsense approach runs through most ethnicities in various situations, whether paying for items in a shop or undertaking a business deal. There’s no need to be offended by blunt words – the benefit is that what they say is what they feel, so you won’t have to worry about second-guessing.
Because of the apartheid years, Cape Town dwellers tend not to discuss the darker details of their history and politics. It’s not that they’re brushing it under the carpet - the District Six Museum alone shows they don’t shy away from the more difficult topics. It’s simply that insensitive comments suggest a lack of awareness about how far the country has come since segregation was abolished in 1994. If you’re curious about an aspect, introduce it after a Capetonian brings up the general subject, or until you know them well enough that they won’t take offence.
You can’t say you’ve had an authentic Cape Town experience if you haven’t been to a braai. It’s a tradition similar to a barbeque, but on open wood fires, giving the pursuit more of a rustic feel and the food a delicious smoky flavour. All South African ethnic groups have adopted the practice, changing the foods cooked according to their preferences. But meat is usually the star of the show – reflecting its importance in South African cuisine generally. To make a meal out of it, it’s served with pap (like a dry porridge), vegetables, salad and plenty of domestically-produced wine, beer and Amarula, the South African cream liqueur.
Here’s a little-known concept for you: Ubuntu. It’s a Zulu philosophy that literally translates to ‘humanity’, but incorporates the essence of what it is to live in a society where work for the common good allows people to live peacefully and prosperously. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it, “a person is a person through other persons”. The idea has grown in significance in post-apartheid Cape Town, as it became a political cornerstone. It changed decisions to benefit the majority of South Africans and it continues to hold significance today.
In fact, don’t walk around most places at night. The high crime rate in South Africa is a fact of life, but it needn’t put visitors off as it can be easily avoided. While daytime brings no issues, one of the rules that locals live by is to not walk around at night and catch a taxi instead. Make sure you order one from the place you’re in so that you’re not hanging around outside in search of a cab. Short distances around the V&A Waterfront and Long Street shouldn’t cause a problem as there will be other people around – just don’t brave it back to your hotel on foot for the sake of a few rand.
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