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Cultural Diversity of Cape Town's Townships and Malay Quarter   by Bronwen E. Roberts

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Long Street in the Centre of Town, Where Many Colonial Houses Remain, Cape Town, South AfricaCape Town is a place of consummate beauty, but behind the façade of Table Mountain is a complex culture. South Africans live in a multi-cultural, polyglot society, which can be culturally confusing for people who live here, but for visitors it presents a haven of opportunity and a rich culture of diverse entertainment.

Gugulethu: Wine, Dine and Dance in 'Gugs'

Gugulethu (meaning 'our pride') is one of the oldest and fastest developing black townships in South Africa. This township boasts many shebeens, restaurants and jazz clubs. A shebeen is a good place to enjoy the local beer and savour the sounds of township jazz. You can spice up your dinner at The Thuthuka Café that plays smooth live Cape Jazz: another hot venue is the famed Yellow Door jazz club. Kwaito, South Africa's answer to house music originated in the townships. This music genre has subsequently made a name for itself in the global arena.

Eating Out

People can eat at Cyn catering services, which specialises in traditional food. Skilled unemployed people are involved in the cooking, baking and waitressing. You can also dine at the Meat Market situated at Ezoni, the oldest building in Gugulethu. Varied meats are served; from sheep heads to the African cultural feast "umbengo" or braai. The market also serves as an entertainment center, providing pool games and a number of local shebeens. There are several licensed shebeens in 'Gugs' as well as some illegal ones. Local people frequent shebeens to have a drink and chat about politics, music, or soccer. Popza's Place and Frances in NY 3A are popular haunts.

A Place to Stay

Although there is not much tourist accommodation in Gugulethu: a good example of the hospitality of township life is to be found at the Salmonberry Guest house situated at 24 Dubua Crescent in Station Park.


Gugulethu has the the Ubuntu arts promotion and Cyn Catering service situated at Yellow Door Jazz Café, which is popular for its drama, art and craft stalls, marimba music, and top class jazz. Ubuntu (humanity) is a community-based organization, established to promote township tourism by bringing local people together.

Native Area on Wales Street, Cape Town, South AfricaThe Bo Kaap: A Multicultural Treasure

This community lives right below the slopes of signal hill, regarded as prime real estate in Cape Town. Follow the cobble-stoned streets with their brightly coloured houses, though a community bustling with activity. This is the traditional residential area of Cape Town's Muslim Community. Muslim 'saints' shrines ("kramats") and many beautiful Mosques including the first established Muslim Mosque in South Africa can be found here.

Most of the residents are descended from slaves brought here by the Dutch in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They came from Africa, India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, and elsewhere in Asia. The common term for people of this community is "Cape Malays", although most of them are not descended from Malaysians.

The early Muslim slaves in Cape Town included famous scholars and religious leaders. Many others were skilled artisans. This community has played a major role in the language and culture of Cape Town and South Africa.

The Muslim community has also had a large influence on the cooking of South Africa. Cape Malay cuisine is a delight. It consists of a combination of fruit, spices, vegetables, and meat. You can enjoy this artful combination of sweet and sour when visiting a restaurant in the Bo Kaap; eating in the traditional way, with your hands, while sitting on the floor.

Noon Day Gun - Cape TownNoonday Gun Restaurant

A well-known restaurant in the Bo Kaap is the 'Noon Day Gun'. Famed for its exquisite Malay cuisine, and run by a welcoming Muslim family that know everything you need to know about this burgeoning community. The 'noon day guns' are overhead, so if you're there at 12pm, watch out for the 'bang'.


The Bo Kaap's character started emerging during the period of 1790 and 1840. The architecture is characterised by both Dutch and British influences. Houses are mainly semi-detached, but free standing homes also exist. The Facade of the houses is what charms visitors the most, ending at the top in the parapet, and a molded cornice will be found directly below that. The entrance to the houses is mostly elevated from the streets.


No. 71 Wale Street, known as the Bo Kaap Museum was an original "huurhuisie" (house for hire) one of the first constructed houses in the Bo Kaap. The house has been restored to represent an original "Malay dwelling" of the 19th Century. Even the roof is in yellowwood to keep the feeling of the old Cape Dutch beams. 

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About the Author - has developed a range of self-drive, travel products from our many years of travel experience in South Africa and its neighbouring countries. Experts in this field of travel, we specialise in self-drive tours to suit your exact requirements, ensuring that no stone remains unturned and you have all the information you need for an in-depth cultural experience of South Africa. 

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Latest update: October 18, 2016