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Riding the buses » Cultural travel, Memorable moments, South Africa » The power of the visual in Western Cape, South Africa

The power of the visual in Western Cape, South Africa

Thabo Nyelele’s interpretation of life in an ‘informal settlement’ in the Cape FlatsA large water colour hangs on a wall in our home in Canada. My husband Gerrit was very moved by Thabo Nyelele’s interpretation of life in an ‘informal settlement’ in the Cape Flats.  For a man who rarely purchases art, it was an unusually spontaneous and decisive act and ten years later, he continues to appreciate the work.

Cape Town is a visual paradise and much of the beauty of South Africa and indeed the entire continent is on display in the many galleries and shops. It is through arts and crafts that an outsider can observe an interaction between African blacks and whites that highlights the particular experiences and strengths of each group. Virtually all the sculptures and crafts on display are created by black Africans; however, it is often the white Africans, with their access to greater resources and entrepreneurial expertise, who present the works to the best advantage.

In recent years black artists have had the freedom to tell their social and political story to a wider audience through their paintings.  Now visitors to Cape Town have ample opportunity to savour this outpouring of creativity and take an example of it home.

An Arts and Crafts Map of the Cape Peninsula and the outlying towns, guides visitors to outlets that feature fine art, photography, ceramics, jewellery, basketware and crafts. The choice is wide and very eclectic.

Bo-Kaap in Cape TownBo-Kaap

The city of Cape Town is dominated by the majestic splendor of Table Mountain. Tucked close to the mountain and in wonderful contrast to its grey, austere profile sits a neighbourhood of many colours. In Bo-Kaap, colour rules and what fabulous colour it is – shocking pinks, vivid greens, powder blues and soft limes. 

This delightful community of terraced houses and cobblestone streets was developed in the 1760s and has been home to European settlers, freed black slaves and, most famously, Muslim Malays who came to the Cape from India, Indonesia as well as Malaysia. The first mosque in Bo-Kaap dates from 1794 and continues as a place of worship.

The Bo-Kaap Museum is the oldest house in the area. The building and its exhibits provide an historical reference for the influence of settlers who came from the east and the west to live in the neighbourhood. In particular, the museum honours the contribution of Muslims to the culture, the economic accomplishments and culinary excellence of the Western Cape.

Sign Sculpture, District Six MuseumDistrict Six

District Six is within walking distance of Bo-Kaap and although the ethnic mix of the two neighbourhoods was similar, there are no prettily painted houses in District Six. In fact, most of the houses of earlier days are gone.

In 1966, the apartheid government of South Africa passed the Group Areas Act which forced people into racial classifications. Although District Six was populated by a cosmopolitan mix of mostly working class residents, the government designated the area as ‘whites only’. With this decision, the forced removal of 60,000 inhabitants began, many of whom were forced to move to the soulless Cape Flats, 25 kilometers away.

The story of the destruction of a community is captured in the exhibits of the District Six Museum. The ‘Sign Sculpture’ – constructed from an almost complete set of original street signs – most poignantly serves as a memory of the tragedy.  Ironically, the signs came to the museum from the man responsible for supervising the demolition of the buildings and the dumping of rubble into the sea.

The District Six Museum is an example of individual South Africans, of different races and backgrounds, working in harmony to create a powerful visual memorial. In 1994, a 170-year-old Methodist church, which had served as a political sanctuary, was transferred into this museum. The colourful banners on the outside of the building beckon you in and the plaque on the wall prepares you for the sense of loss and rage you are about to encounter:



Cape Dutch Architecture

If you enjoy beautiful buildings with distinctive style and romantic ambience, you may wish to spend a few days in a Cape-Dutch-styled hotel or B&B. 

Cape Dutch Architecture, Lairds LodgeCape Dutch Architecture was inherited from Mediaeval Holland, Germany and France and is distinguished by a grand, ornately rounded gable, whitewashed walls and reed-thatched roof.  Only a few examples of this architecture have survived development in Cape Town; however, many examples exist in farm communities along the Wine Route and in historical towns such as Stellenbosch.

Interestingly, although the architecture is European, the actual design and construction is attributed to Malay artisans who worked without blueprints, following their technical and creative instincts.

From our memory bank of wonderful Christmases, the one spent in a Cape Dutch hotel located along the Garden Route stands out. It was an experience that included stunning scenery, gracious hospitality, African motifs, European style, and dishes that incorporated a scrumptious blend of east and west – truly a sensual delight.

By: Barbara Reinhardus
Photo credits: Barbara Reinhardus

© Riding the buses 2011

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2 Responses to "The power of the visual in Western Cape, South Africa"

  1. janet spaun says:

    I was touched to read your comment re Thabo’s painting. I represented him for many years in my Gallery Art Inc Africa at Groot Constantia Wine Estate, but have lost touch with him, and am very concerned as to his welfare, as he was not too well. His relatives keep phoning me to get in touch with him. We had a good relationship and I sold many paintings for him, he spent a lot of time in my shop doing portraits in pencil for customers, which he was incredibly good at. A very nice man, and I am renewing my search for him.
    Janet Spaun artincafrica

    1. Sylvia Fanjoy says:

      Janet, I forwarded your comment to Barbara Reinhardus, the author of the article, and here is her response:

      Dear Janet,

      I am sorry that you have lost touch with Thabo and hope that he is in better health and continues to paint.

      We enjoy his painting very much and are grateful that we met him and decided to make that purchase during our visit to Cape Town.


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