the Mother Lode

Cape Town has long been on the radar for its nat­u­ral beauty, but now the city is rein­vent­ing it­self as a cul­tural cap­i­tal with a thriv­ing arts and din­ing scene. Madeleine Ross gets a taste of what’s on of­fer

Hong Kong Tatler - - December -

Cape Town has long been on the radar for its nat­u­ral beauty, but now the city is rein­vent­ing it­self as a cul­tural cap­i­tal with a thriv­ing arts and din­ing scene

It’s sur­real to think that less than three decades ago, Cape Town was liv­ing un­der the scourge of apartheid, os­tracised by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and cut off cul­tur­ally and eco­nom­i­cally from the West. To­day, South Africa’s old­est city is vi­brant and cos­mopoli­tan, with a thriv­ing art and de­sign scene, fan­tas­tic food and wine and a lib­eral-minded body politic.

Of course, gas­tron­omy and cre­ativ­ity are its less con­spic­u­ous virtues. The Mother City, as it’s known, is fa­bled for its ex­tra­or­di­nary nat­u­ral beauty: a dra­matic coast­line, white sand beaches and swathes of pristine wilder­ness. When Nel­son Man­dela was elected pres­i­dent in 1994 and the era of racial seg­re­ga­tion gave way to one of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, the for­mer pariah quickly be­came the stopover of choice for ad­ven­ture-seek­ers on their way to sa­faris in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

In­deed, Cape Town’s strik­ing and un­spoiled land­scape is rea­son enough to add the city to your bucket list. This hook-shaped penin­sula that curls into the tem­pes­tu­ous wa­ters of the South At­lantic Ocean is ar­guably the most spec­tac­u­lar of South Africa’s three of­fi­cial cap­i­tals (Cape Town is the coun­try’s leg­isla­tive cap­i­tal, Bloem­fontein its ju­di­cial cap­i­tal and Pre­to­ria its ad­min­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal). With ur­ban cor­ri­dors that weave around the foothills of moun­tains and forests, it has the the­atri­cal­ity of Rio de Janeiro, the beauty of Syd­ney and a raw­ness that is very much its own.

Much of its grandeur stems from the ma­jes­tic mono­lith that is Ta­ble Moun­tain. Part of the 300-mil­lion-yearold Cape Fold Belt, this promi­nence is a Mecca for na­ture lovers and fit­ness fa­nat­ics, many of whom make reg­u­lar pil­grim­ages to its plateau. “Capeto­ni­ans feel very con­nected to the ocean and the land,” says Mark Coet­zee, cu­ra­tor of the Zeitz Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), which is sched­uled to open on the Victoria and Alfred Wa­ter­front in 2017. “They refer to this great, in­spir­ing hunk of stone as ‘our moun­tain.’ There is this real feel­ing of hu­man­ity at one with na­ture—peo­ple are very care­ful not to lit­ter, not to ruin the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, and be­cause of this aware­ness of the nat­u­ral world we live in a very bal­anced way. Ev­ery­thing is toned down.”

Capeto­ni­ans use var­i­ous in­car­na­tions of “toned down” to de­scribe their city, usu­ally when com­par­ing it to Jo­han­nes­burg. The two me­trop­o­lises have vastly dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters—the lat­ter is South Africa’s com­mer­cial cen­tre; Cape Town is its life­style and leisure cap­i­tal. “Joburg is all about la­bels, the bling, what I’m wear­ing, what I’m drink­ing, where I’m hang­ing,” says Pamela Mconie, who runs be­spoke tours of the city. “Cape Town is all about wear­ing funky young de­sign­ers, vin­tage T-shirts and Ugg boots, about drink­ing great cof­fee and eat­ing amaz­ing or­ganic food.” Cape Town is also known as the con­ti­nent’s gay cap­i­tal and is the most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for LGBT tourists in South Africa.

Cape Town’s blessed geog­ra­phy is just the be­gin­ning. Blos­som­ing as a cul­tural cap­i­tal to ri­val Basel or Mi­ami, it is now on the radar of the art fra­ter­nity. The cat­a­lyst for this cul­tural re­nais­sance? A string of ma­jor in­vest­ments in the arts—and an in­flux of for­eign high­fly­ers. Se­duced by Cape Town’s laid-back am­bi­ence, tem­per­ate cli­mate and dearth of pa­parazzi, the jet set are snap­ping up real es­tate on the city’s “Riviera,” which in­cludes the sea­side sub­urbs of Camps Bay, Fres­naye, Bantry Bay and Clifton. “In­creas­ingly we are see­ing lots of wealthy Amer­i­cans, French and Bri­tish

buy places and spend the northern hemi­sphere win­ters here,” says Coet­zee. “With this kind of cos­mopoli­tan pres­ence we have seen the emer­gence of cul­ture, new restau­rants, wine farms, a whole sort of so­phis­ti­ca­tion around the re­dis­cov­ery of Cape Town. It’s a city of food­ies. They take their cof­fee and their wine in­cred­i­bly se­ri­ously.”

In 2014 Cape Town was named World De­sign Cap­i­tal in recog­ni­tion of its in­no­va­tive use of de­sign for ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion and com­mu­nity up­lift. It was a boon to the cre­ative scene. “Cape Town has al­ways had this edge but over the last few years it has re­ally started boom­ing. I think be­ing a World De­sign Cap­i­tal played a big part in that,” says lo­cal artist Lor­raine Loots, whose thumb­nail-sized wa­ter­colours have amassed a cult fol­low­ing. “There is just so much cre­ativ­ity in this city now. You can re­ally make a ca­reer as a cre­ative, whereas a few years ago it wasn’t pos­si­ble. The ceil­ing was very, very low.”

Noth­ing her­alds the city’s cre­ative trans­for­ma­tion like the Zeitz MOCAA, sched­uled to open in Septem­ber next year. A for­mer grain silo which has been gut­ted and re­pur­posed by in­dus­trial de­signer Thomas Heather­wick, it’s set to

be the world’s largest mu­seum de­voted to con­tem­po­rary art from Africa and its di­as­pora. The mu­seum’s fore­most pa­tron is Capeto­nian busi­ness­man Jochen Zeitz, for­mer CEO of Puma, who en­gaged Coet­zee as the mu­seum’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and chief cu­ra­tor. “Nor­mally when you start mu­se­ums you get very idio­syn­cratic col­lec­tions, but in this case we could start from scratch,” says Coet­zee. “This wasn’t about buy­ing what we like, but buy­ing what we be­lieve rep­re­sents the con­ti­nent.”

Capeto­ni­ans hope the Zeitz MOCAA does for them what the Guggen­heim Mu­seum did for Bil­bao. They also see it as an im­por­tant means to tell the African story. “It reaf­firms Cape Town as a cul­tural cen­tre and it sym­bol­ises the con­fi­dence that African peo­ple feel right now,” says Coet­zee. “Africa has been ex­cluded from cul­tural his­tory for too long. Un­til re­cently peo­ple have equated the con­ti­nent’s cre­ativ­ity with masks and skins and an­thro­po­log­i­cal util­i­tar­ian ob­jects. The no­tion that we have no con­tem­po­rary prac­tice

is rub­bish. Fur­ther­more, Africa has been very good at ex­port­ing sto­ries of poverty and cor­rup­tion but that is not the true story of Africa—it is a com­po­nent of what we have had to deal with, but it’s not ev­ery­thing. Africans are tired of hav­ing these sto­ries im­posed on them. This mu­seum pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for them to take own­er­ship of their story.”

Com­mer­cial gal­leries, too, have sprung up over the past decade, fu­elled by a new global in­ter­est in African con­tem­po­rary art. The Good­man Gallery, What If The World, Smac Gallery and Steven­son Gallery are worth a visit if you’re look­ing for an in­vest­ment piece. For cut­ting-edge con­tem­po­rary de­sign, be sure to stop by South­ern Guild, which shows work by the likes of Porky Hefer (his fan­tas­ti­cal hang­ing chairs sell for tens of thou­sands of US dol­lars) and Dok­ter and Misses, known for its lim­ited edi­tion, col­lectible fur­ni­ture.

The best way to see Cape Town’s gal­leries is to do a pri­vate tour with art dealer João Fer­reira, who estab­lished the city’s first con­tem­po­rary art gallery in 1998. “Our gallery sys­tem in South Africa is very young be­cause we had the cul­tural boy­cott un­til 1994,” he notes. “In­ter­na­tional anti-apartheid sanc­tions made it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for South African artists to gain any kind of pro­file or get ex­hi­bi­tions abroad. So the gal­leries only estab­lished them­selves late. It’s rather in­cred­i­ble the way they’ve man­aged to make up for lost time.”

Soak up the city’s cre­ative spirit a lit­tle more ca­su­ally at First Thurs­days— gal­leries in the cen­tral dis­trict stay open late on the first Thurs­day of ev­ery month. “This is an ab­so­lute must,” says Loots. “Ev­ery­one fin­ishes work early and spills out into the streets with wine to talk about art and see art. It’s very laid­back and a lot of fun.”

It’s also worth check­ing out the grit­tier side of Cape Town’s art scene in Wood­stock. This for­mer in­dus­trial neigh­bour­hood is be­com­ing a hub for ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies, artist work­shops,

bou­tiques and cafes. Its gen­tri­fi­ca­tion has been driven to a large ex­tent by the pro­lif­er­a­tion of street art. Sim­ple ter­race houses are now can­vases for strik­ing works that speak to dis­tinctly South African is­sues, like the trauma of apartheid and the loss of en­dan­gered wildlife. Res­i­dents get frus­trated by tourists pho­tograph­ing their homes, so it’s best to view the works with a lo­cal guide (we rec­om­mend Juma Mk­wela, who runs Juma Art Tours). Stop by the Wood­stock Ex­change af­ter­wards for a cof­fee at Rosetta Roast­ery, and don’t miss the Old Bis­cuit Mill for or­ganic pro­duce, craft and de­sign.

Cape Town’s din­ing scene is also boom­ing. Bree Street, the city’s fore­most gas­tro­nomic strip, is pep­pered with cafes, del­i­catessens and restau­rants for which “farm to ta­ble” is a re­li­gion. At Ja­son Bak­ery, be­spec­ta­cled thir­tysome­things perch on crates eat­ing

pasteis de nata and sip­ping flat whites. Don’t miss the home-brewed pome­gran­ate kom­bucha and the many ar­ti­san cheeses at Cul­ture Club Cheese a few doors down. Ba­con on Bree serves deca­dent vari­a­tions on the clas­sic BLT us­ing or­ganic free-range pork from pigs reared on the owner’s farm. “The ar­ti­san thing is just ex­plod­ing. Lit­er­ally ev­ery two weeks some­thing new is open­ing around here,” says Mconie.

And there are plenty of op­tions for fine din­ing. Don’t let the no-reser­va­tions

pol­icy at Chefs Ware­house de­ter you from its in­no­va­tive set menu of tapas, which changes nightly. Also a must is Mul­berry & Prince, a sleek, con­tem­po­rary eatery with cop­per ta­bles and Mediter­ranean fare. The most talked about restau­rant in Cape Town is The Test Kitchen in Wood­stock’s Old Bis­cuit Mill. Chef Luke Dale-roberts serves painstak­ingly crafted dishes like spring­bok with black pud­ding-stuffed sprouts, and Ja­panese egg cus­tard with wild mush­rooms, sweet­breads and duck liv­ers. With the pic­turesque vine­yards of Stel­len­bosch and Fran­schhoek just an hour’s drive away, wine lists are dom­i­nated by top lo­cal drops.

The flavours of the Far East are also prom­i­nent in Capeto­nian cui­sine. When the Dutch East In­dia Com­pany colonised the Cape in 1652, it brought in slaves from what is mod­ern-day In­done­sia (then the East Indies), which was also a colo­nial pos­ses­sion of the Dutch. These im­mi­grants, known as the Cape Malay, pre­served the cook­ing tra­di­tions of their home­land.

When slav­ery was abol­ished in 1834, the Asian com­mu­nity clus­tered in an area now called the Bo-kaap. The once poor neigh­bour­hood is now highly sought-af­ter, its brightly coloured houses and cob­ble­stone streets home to de­scen­dants of those slaves. A high­light of my trip to the Bo-kaap is a cook­ing class with Gami­dah Ja­cobs, who teaches me in the kitchen of her sky-blue home to fold samosas and whip up sweet Cape Malay-style donuts known as koek­sis­ters.

For all its virtues, Cape Town also faces sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges. In spite of its cul­tural di­ver­sity and over­ar­ch­ing mood of peace and har­mony, there are clear dis­par­i­ties be­tween the liv­ing stan­dards of dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups. It’s also worth not­ing that Capeto­ni­ans speak very freely about race, which is

done with­out mal­ice but can be rather jar­ring at first. Mem­bers of the Cape Malay com­mu­nity gen­er­ally iden­tify as “coloured,” while peo­ple of Dutch or Bri­tish de­scent are “white” and those of African de­scent are “black.”

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Capeto­ni­ans still live in “town­ships”— precincts akin to shan­ty­towns that were re­served for black and coloured com­mu­ni­ties dur­ing apartheid. Crime is high here, but much is be­ing done by the gov­ern­ment and pri­vate or­gan­i­sa­tions to im­prove liv­ing con­di­tions and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for res­i­dents. Vis­its to the town­ships are best or­gan­ised through Uthando, a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion that chan­nels the funds it earns from tourism into pro­grammes to build schools, pro­mote fe­male em­pow­er­ment and teach job skills.

If you’re savvy when vis­it­ing town­ships, Cape Town feels as safe as any other ma­jor city. “Many of our vis­i­tors say they feel safer com­ing to Africa than they do other parts of the world be­cause of the threat of ter­ror­ism in Europe and the US. It’s in­ter­est­ing how per­cep­tions have changed,” says Coet­zee. He has no doubt the city will be flooded with tourists when the Zeitz MOCAA opens. “We’re get­ting ma­jor at­ten­tion glob­ally and we haven’t even opened yet,” Coet­zee says of the mu­seum. “Cape Town is ready for this. The world is ready for this.”

Madeleine Ross’ per­son­alised itin­er­ary was or­gan­ised by bou­tique tour op­er­a­tor Ja­cada Travel. ja­ca­da­travel.com

state of the arts Clock­wise from top left: Bet­tina esca (2014), a hang­ing chair made of leather, fish­net and steel by Capeto­nian de­signer Porky hefer, who cre­ates one-of-a-kind col­lectible pieces of fur­ni­ture; a ren­der­ing of the foyer of the Zeitz MOCAA, a for­mer grain silo that is be­ing trans­formed into an art mu­seum by Thomas heather­wick; the South­ern guild de­sign stu­dio

Cape Town is ob­sessed by cof­fee right now. If you’re han­ker­ing for a caf­feine fix, be sure to go for the ter­ri­bly fash­ion­able flat white— any­thing else is so­cial sui­cide

in­dus­trial strength Clock­wise from left: re­pur­posed fac­tory build­ings, like the old Bis­cuit mill in wood­stock, now house cafes, ar­ti­san bou­tiques and de­sign stu­dios; Ja­son Bak­ery on Bree Street serves the best cof­fee and pas­tries; street art is part of the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of wood­stock

food for thought From left: the menu changes nightly at Chef ware­house, which serves avant-garde tapas; a visit to Test kitchen is a must; the his­toric Bo-kaap neigh­bour­hood; gami­dah Ja­cobs runs cook­ing classes in her home

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