Molo articles

African liveability History  & memory

Cape Town in 50 objects


In 2011, director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor published A History of the World in 100 Objects – a challenge that greatly intrigued the creators of Molo. If we had to choose just 50 objects to show the depth and breadth of Cape Town’s history, what would they be? For the November/December 2013 edition, we tried our hand at this act of careful (but also playful) curation. What objects would you put on this kind of list, and why? Here’s our selection.

1 Africa

Love it or hate it, Brett Murray’s “Africa” remains a talking point 15 years since its installation on St George’s Mall. Brett won the commission put out by public competition in 1998 but it nearly did not happen because of objections by the city council. Today he reflects on the iconic piece: “I am delighted that the work now seems to have been accepted favourably, and has been embraced by locals and travellers alike. Every time I walk past the sculpture there are tourists taking pics, climbing all over my work. I love this. It remains quite a playful and irreverent sculpture with a serious undertone, which questions the relationship between western and African cultural paradigms.”

  • Find “Africa” at the intersection of St George’s Mall and the Fan Walk.

2 Koesister

“You know it’s a tradition in our culture – Sundays mean koesisters. I learnt how to make koesisters from my mom, the traditional kind with five spices and naartjie peel in them. She used to make them daily to sell and as she got older I took over from her. That was more than 10 years ago. Now it’s me who makes them every Sunday and I think I will always be doing it. People wouldn’t let me stop now; the regulars arrive at all hours looking for their koesisters. Even if I say there are none left they say, ‘But please, Soraya, don’t you have just two?’ But I don’t mind. I grew up in District Six, and now that I live in Woodstock it feels a bit like you are part of it again, you know? I start on Fridays already, and I make 3-4kg each Sunday, so at least 800 koesisters. Now my daughter helps me too; in fact it is a whole family affair, we mix the dough and fry it in batches together.” – Soraya Essop

  • Find Soraya Essop’s famous koesisters at 10 Walmer Street in Woodstock on Sundays between 07h00-09h00
Ghoema drum

Ghoema drum. Image supplied.

3 Goema drum

“If you take a pinch of Khoisan lament, a dash of Malay spice, a bold measure of European orchestral, a splash of Xhosa spiritual, a clash of marching bands, a riff of rock, the pizzazz of the Klopse, some driving primal beat, and a lot of humour and musical virtuosity, what do you get? Goema Goema Goema!” This is how the documentary film Mama Goema: The Cape Town Beat in Five Movements describes the sound of Cape Town. Although goema is as much an attitude as it is a genre, at its heart lies the beat of the hand-held goema drum, which originated in Khoisan culture and today is often associated with the Kaapse Klopse. Image supplied.

4 The wind

The Sudan has its haboob, northern California its Diablo and in Cape Town we have the Cape Doctor. The southeaster, which arrives in early spring and often stays for summer, has long had the reputation of purifying the air of the city and blowing away “pestilence”. while it can be a hazard for unprepared pedestrians, it also fulfils an important ecological role, aerating the water of lagoons and river mouths and ensuring the condensation that feeds the fynbos on our mountain slopes.

5 Golden’s Flowers

Golden Sonwabo is a soft-spoken man with a shy smile beneath his moustache. He arrived in Cape Town in the early 1990s, where, despite his best efforts, he could not find work. It was only after he had had the same dream – of finding flowers at a rubbish dump – three times that he acted on what he believes was a message from God. Using tin cans, Golden started to create flowers from this waste material. First daisies, then roses and later lilies too. Today Golden has a thriving workshop in Khayelitsha where his children help him in painting the flowers. People come from all over the world to see an example of how an environmental problem can be turned into art, through ingenuity.

Buchu tea

Buchu tea. Photo by Lisa Burnell.

6 Buchu

Buchu is found only in the Cape floral Kingdom, the smallest and richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms. (The second most diverse, the rainforest of the Amazon, has 400 unique species per 10 000km², contrasted with 1 300 species per 10 000km²; of Cape fynbos. Buchu has been used since ancient times: the San prized it as a medicine, deodorant and insect repellent, while these days it is most often drunk as a tea. However you consume it, its health properties include anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal benefits. Happily, with a flavour reminiscent of blackcurrants and mint, it also tastes good.

7 Ajax

Ajax Cape Town, the “Urban warriors”, are Cape Town’s best-known football club and were formed in 1998 when two local clubs, Seven Stars and the Cape Town Spurs, merged, under the parent club of Ajax Amsterdam. Today you can watch them at the Cape Town Stadium. Learn more about upcoming match fixtures at

  • Did you know that the Ajax player who scored the highest number of goals in a single season is Mabhuti Khenyeza who scored 23 goals in 2008/09.
Leopard toad crossing

Leopard toad crossing. Image supplied.

8 Western Leopard Toad

For just a couple of nights around August each year, Cape Town’s most famous amphibian, the Western Leopard Toad, goes looking for love. At this time, thousands of toads, palm-sized and beautifully marked, converge on breeding ponds, where (according to “the males snore and fight for the females. The females lay their eggs and depart, migrating back to their gardens. The exhausted males follow later when no more females arrive at the pools.” None of which would be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that the toads have to cross roads and highways to get there. To avoid the carnage that would otherwise ensue, Capetonians have formed themselves into volunteer toad groups, which man the roads, control traffic and rescue toads.

  • Discover more about the volunteer group in your area by calling the Western Leopard Toad hotline on 082 516 3602 and visit to find out what to do if you come across one of these endangered toads in your home or garden.

9 Mxit

Do you know the total number of messaged sent each day using Mxit? Try 750-million. Written on Post-it notes, they would stretch around the earth. (Mxit was in fact created in Stellenbosch, but as Africa’s largest free online chat platform, with almost 50 million users, we figured it deserved a mention.)

Table Mountain cable car

Table Mountain cable car. Image supplied.

10 Cable car ticket

When the cableway was built in 1929, 200 people attended the opening event. By 2011 the cable cars had conveyed more than 21 million visitors to the top of Table Mountain, a figure that has increased dramatically since Table Mountain was recognised as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2012.

  • Take advantage of the Sunset Special when all return tickets are half price from 18h00. The special runs from 1 November to 20 December 2013, and from 6 January until 28 February 2014.

11 Gay flag of South Africa

Launched in Cape Town in December 2010 and designed by Eugene Brockman and Henry Bantjes, the gay flag of South Africa is a symbol of freedom, diversity and pride. Skye Grove, a member of the local LGBTI community, explains; “Here, as in the rest of South africa, people who identify as ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ still face extraordinary challenges: corrective rape and other forms of gender-based violence are very real. Even within the LGBTI community, there are still divides to be bridged. What the flag does is hopefully point to a time when the diversity of people who make up this place, whoever they are and whatever life they choose, feel welcomed and recognised and safe, to be who they are, without fear.”

12 Shack painting

Zakhile Athumani spends two days making the small paint and tin bas-relief of shacks, in the style of Jackson Nkumanda, with a painted silhouette of Table Mountain in the background. He sells it on Greenmarket Square for R600, mostly to foreigners, “people from Germany, Switzerland, America, everywhere”. Zakhile came to Cape Town eight years ago from Tanzania to “make a life” and, when I ask him if he thinks the painting shows Cape Town as it really is, he cheerfully assures me, “Yes, here is the mountain, here is the sea, here are the people. See, Cape Town.”

Iziko Museums of South Africa, Carina Beyer

The postal stone. Image supplied by Iziko Museums of South Africa, photo by Carina Beyer

13 Postal stone

It’s human nature to want to “make your mark” on the world, to let others know that you were here and that your life meant something. Engraved bones found at Blombos or present-day graffiti; we’re all trying to etch out a living. So too with postal stones, found where the Golden Acre stands today, and used as early as 1527 (some 26 years after the first letter was “posted” in South Africa – slipped inside a shoe and hung in a Milkwood tree near Mossel Bay). These stones were engraved with the names of ships, officers or dates, and some were used to weigh down letters until another ship came to shore. They can be found in the Iziko Social history Collections (at the Slave Lodge). Sources: and

  • Caption: One of Cape Town’s postal stones with the following Dutch inscription: “Paul Steur Sommer / P.S UEIS dIC / N 1614 DEN 20 NOV”. Image supplied by Iziko Museums of South Africa, Carina Beyer
Cape Town's oldest vine

Cape Town’s oldest vine. Photo by Lisa Burnell.

14 The oldest vine

In 1785, the owner of a townhouse on Heritage Square in Cape Town noted in his journal that he had drunk wine “under the grape tree”. This Crouchen Blanc vine, thought to have been planted in 1771, still exists today, making it the oldest grapevine in the southern hemisphere. Thanks to the attentions of winemakers Jean Vincent Ridon and Kyle Anthony Zulch, the vine is also still producing enough grapes for about 20 litres of wine per year. “Today the vine produces the grapes for our special 1771 heritage wine,” confirms Jean Vincent, owner of urban boutique winery Signal Hill wines.

15 Bashew’s

Bashew’s, Cape Town’s beloved cool drink brand, was started in 1889 by two brothers who delivered their drinks by horse cart. While their early success was with their ginger beer flavour, Bashew’s was soon producing seven cool drink flavours. Factory manager Abdul Omar remembers the ginger beer from his own childhood, and wants to help preserve the memories of Bashew’s in Cape Town. “Everybody’s got a story about Bashew’s, and a favourite memory. Whether it’s a happy occasion or a sad one, Bashew’s was always there. We’re inviting people to write to us at admin@bashews. with their stories.”

Rashaad Pandy with a gatsby

Rashaad Pandy with a gatsby. Photo by Lisa Burnell.

16 Gatsby

So just how did Cape Town’s signature fast food, the Gatsby, get its name? According to Rashaad Pandy, owner of Super Fisheries fish shop and self-professed inventor of the foot-long chips-and-everything-else sandwich: “I came up with it when I didn’t have anything else to give some workers who were helping me clear a piece of property. Using what I had, I combined a Portuguese loaf with chips, polony and atchar. When Froggie, one of the workers, tasted it, the first thing he said was, ‘Hey, larney, that’s a Gatsby smash!’ At the time the film was showing across the street.”

  • Find Super Fisheries at 63 Old Klipfontein Road, Athlone.

17 Bicycle

Rising fuel costs, more environmentally conscious commuters and the implementation of integrated transport plan of Cape Town, which includes cycle lanes that make it easier and safer for bike commuters to get from A to B, has given rise to an increasing cycle commuting culture in Cape Town. Capitalising on this trend for the good of a greater community is Ubuntu Bikes, a social enterprise that sell second-hand bikes customised by local artists and home- grown bike accessories.

The cover of Mannenberg by Dollar Brand

The cover of Mannenberg by Dollar Brand

18 Mannenberg (Is Where It’s Happening)

Recorded in the winter of 1974 by the artist then known as Dollar Brand, now Abdullah Ibrahim, together with Basil Coetzee, Robbie Jansen, Monty Weber and Morris Goldberg, “Mannenberg” helped define a new Cape Town sound and became the city’s unofficial anti-apartheid anthem – almost 10 years after the destruction of District Six and forced removals to “new suburbs”, of which Mannenburg was one. The original song title, “Mrs Williams from Manenberg,” was inspired by Abdullah Ibrahim’s vision, which he had while playing the song, of an elderly woman walking down the street of one of South Africa’s townships, and Morris Goldberg’s visit to his family’s former housekeeper, Gladys Williams in Manenberg. While the title might’ve been shortened later, Gladys is still present: she features on the original album cover, in a photograph taken by Abdullah Ibrahim himself. Source: The Making of Mannenberg by John Edwin Mason, published by Chimurenga Magazine in 2008. Image supplied.

“It was driven by an infectious danceable beat. and it was an intriguingly unfamiliar combination of familiar ingredients – the groove was marabi, the beat resembled tickey-draai (or perhaps a lazy ghoema, depending on who was listening), the sound of the saxophones was langarm, and the underlying aesthetic was jazz.” – John Edwin Mason


Samoosas. Photo by Lisa Burnell.

19 Samoosas

These triangular pasty filled with a variety of savoury fillings originated in the Middle East in the 10th century and travelled to the Cape with slaves from India and Indonesia. Today they are regarded as a staple in the Cape Malay culinary tradition and have resulted in local twists on the classic ground beef or chicken with fillings of smoked snoek and crayfish.

Five spots to have great samoosas:

  • Bibi’s Kitchen (smoked snoek samoosas): Medi Centre,  Broad Road, Wynberg T: 021 761 8365
  • Café Ganesh (crayfish samoosas): 38 Trill Road T: 021 448 3435
  • Al-Haq (beef samoosas):  52 Harrington Street T: 021 465 1900
  • Mariam’s Kitchen (chicken samoosas): 101 St. George’s Mall opposite the Cape Argus building
  • Vandiar’s Indian Cuisine (potato samoosas): 16 Dunkley Square Barnett Street T: 021 462 6129
The Noon Day Gun on Signal Hill, Cape Town

The Noon Day Gun on Signal Hill, Cape Town. Photo by Lisa Burnell.

20 The noon gun

It’s been fired 207 times, and today a back-up is at the ready in case the first misfires. 3.1kg of gunpowder is used each day.

Catamaran off Cape Town

Catamaran off Cape Town. Photo supplied.

21 Catamaran

Cape Town is a port city and, with its bustling harbour, it is little wonder that the city is a global player when it comes to boat building. Cape Town is recognised as the number one global manufacturer of luxury catamarans. While these multi-hulled vessels originated centuries ago in Polynesia, the modern vessels have been perfected by local boat builders Robertson and Caine, who are currently the second largest manufacturer of cats in the world. They are also the only manufacturers of Leopard Catamarans, producing about 130 of these fast, smooth sailers every year. According to sales manager Daniel Snyman, this number is set to double over the next two years, due to increased demand. Image supplied.

22 Adderley Street festival lights

One of the largest free open-air events in the country, the annual switching on of Cape Town’s festival lights in Adderley Street is also a cherished family memory. Many an adult remembers coming into town as a child each year to watch the lights being switched on, and the excitement of the countdown. Nowadays more than 80 000 people gather and, in addition to the lights, there is also a free concert, parade and the delights of the Cape Town Summer Market (14 to 30 December) on offer.

Taxi to Sea Point? Photo by Sydelle Willow Smith

Taxi to Sea Point? Photo by Sydelle Willow Smith

23 Minibus taxi

While minibus taxis are a common sight throughout South Africa, the ones you find in  Cape Town have a unique feature, namely guardtjies. With cries of “Seeeeeeeeeeeeeea Point! Seapoint-my-lady. Sea Point!” these men seated at the passenger door of the taxi, vie for customers. What makes a good guardtjie? A booming voice and some serious whistling skills along with the necessary clout to extract payment from commuters. Image by Sydelle Willow Smith.

24 Wild almond hedge

In 1660 Jan van Riebeeck had a hedge planted as a defensive barrier along the eastern boundary of the newly established Dutch settlement at the Cape, which lay in the path of traditional Khoikhoi grazing routes and resulted in conflicts. The hedge of indigenous wild almond trees and thorny shrubs was planted along the section between the Liesbeek river and Kirstenbosch. Remnants of the hedge can still be found in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

25 Mobile health solutions

How can cellphone technology, which is so widely used in South Africa, help to create health solutions? This was the question posed by a group of local academics and interest groups in 2000. The result was Cell-Life, a local NGO that harnesses the power and accessibility of mobile technology to try to change behaviour and provide people with health information, particularly around HIV, TB and maternal health. The project has been recognised around the world for its innovation and dedication to using new technologies to create positive social change.

26 Daar Kom Die Alibama

A popular Afrikaans folksong and often heard at Tweede Nuwe Jaar, as one of the many well-known songs sung by the Cape Minstrels, “Daar Kom Die Alibama” commemorates a moment of American war history. The lyrics refer to the CSS Alabama, a cruiser of the Confederate States navy which visited Cape Town in 1863 during the American Civil War. The ship managed to evade a Union blockade off Cape Point only to be sunk on 19 June 1864 in the English Channel.

1884 map

1884 map. Photo by Lisa Burnell.

27 Map from 1884

In 1884, when this map was created by Richards and Sons of Castle Street, Cape Town looked very different from the city we know today. Imagine walking towards the city from Green Point. If you look to the left you will see the Green Point Common, where, instead of the stadium, there is only green vlei. During winter this area filled with water and residents used it as a venue for water sports. As you continue on your imaginary stroll you will notice that the city is tiny compared to its size today: there are no houses on the slopes of Table Mountain and no tall buildings creating a city skyline, and the highways have yet to be built. Horses, not cars, travel down familiar streets like Heerengracht and Buitengracht, and horse-drawn trams make up the bulk of public transport. But perhaps the biggest change, geographically at least, is the fact that the ocean reaches almost all the way to the Castle. That’s because the building of the Foreshore wasn’t completed until 1945, when 400 hectares of land was reclaimed from the sea, and Woodstock beach ceased to exist. Image supplied.

Daisy caps

Daisy caps. Photo by Lisa Burnell.

28 Daisy caps

Like a scattering of the flowers that heralds the start of spring, red bottle caps litter the urban landscape of Cape Town. But where do these red caps come from? The source is the plastic one-litre bottles of cheap liquor called “Daisy” that many Capetonians who’ve fallen on hard times turn to for solace.

29 Mrs Ball’s Chutney

Originally from India, chutney is a relish made from fresh fruits and spices. The recipe travelled from here both through colonisers and slave traders to various parts of the world including South africa. Locally the most famous of these must be Mrs HS Ball’s Chutney, originally made by Amelia Ball from a chutney recipe she inherited from her mother, who produced “Mrs Henry Adkins Senior Colonial Chutney,” commercially from around 1870. Amelia took up the chutney-making trade when she and her husband Herbert Saddleton Ball retired to Fish Hoek, Cape Town. Amelia’s husband would take a few bottles every day by train into Cape Town to sell. It was on one of these sales trips that he met Fred Metter, a food importer who started making the product, which resulted in increased production. Today the brand is owned by Unilever.

A medora, as seen in Cape Town. Photo supplied.

A medora, as seen in Cape Town. Photo supplied.

30 Medora

Medoras are objects of ritual and rites of passage: they are the headdresses worn by Cape Malay women on their wedding day. Made from a very fine cloth and heavily embroidered with symbolic patterns – originally in real gold or silver thread – they are often family heirlooms. Weaam Williams, who is the granddaughter of the late Saeed Hartley and the fifth generation of her family to reside in Aspeling Street in District Six, explains: “My great-grandmother Hadji Gadija Shadley Awaldien was the only woman in Cape Town who could make medoras woven with real gold or silver thread. As a young girl, she visited Mecca in the 1920s, and was taught this skill. She was taken to the Kaaba where she swore to keep this craft a life secret. For me, history is documented from a male perspective; the medora is a chance to tell the more ephemeral story of women. The medora represents the history of people who trace their roots to the Malay Archipelago, brought to South african soil by Dutch colonials and, in generations to follow, moved from their homes via the Group Areas Act.” Image supplied.

31 Jive

With funky flavours like Pineapple Spike, Cocopina, Razz Rasberry and Mango Tango, the soft drink, Jive is a real Cape Town original. Jive was started in 1989 by local entrepreneur Sharief Parker and production takes place right here in Epping. Jive has also added its stamp on the urban landscape with handpainted signs decorating retailer’s shopfronts across the city.

32 Sequinned suit

Every year seamstresses across Cape Town sew 15 000 to 20 000 glittering costumes for the Cape Minstrel troupes. The troupes follow the unwritten code for uniforms that include jacket-and-pants suits, with a panama hat and umbrella as accessories. Asked what happens to the suits once the competition is over, Cape Town Minstrels Carnival Association CEO Kevin Momberg says, “Some costumes get donated to prison programmes but a lot of people keep their suits in the cupboard as memorabilia from every year’s competition.” Costumes are serious business and the best dressed get awarded at the annual competition. In 2013 the Shoprite Pennsylvanians (pictured here) were triumphant.

Sonny Venkatrathnam with the Robben Island Bible

Sonny Venkatrathnam with the Robben Island Bible. Photo supplied.

33 Robben Island Bible

In the 1970s, prisoners on Robben Island were briefly allowed to have one book other than a religious text. The African People’s Democratic Union of Southern Africa’s (APDUSA) Sonny Venkatrathnam chose The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – which he passed on to 31 other political prisoners, who marked, signed and dated passages they thought were meaningful or significant. Among them were Eddie Daniels from the Liberal Party; Saths Cooper and Strini Moodley from the Black Consciousness Movement; Neville Alexander from APDUSA; Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Mac Maharaj and Nelson Mandela from the African National Congress; and Kwede Mkalipi from the Pan Africanist Congress. When book allowances changed and the text was compounded, Sonny Venkatrathnam convinced a warder that it was “the Bible by William Shakespeare”, and disguised it with Diwali greeting cards.

  • Go to the Folger Shakespeare Library online and look under What’s On (Folger exhibitions) for “Robben Island Shakespeare”:
  • Theatre director Matthew Hahn has written a play based on the robben island bible and interviews with former political prisoners.
  • Interested in the way Shakespeare was read and used on Robben Island? Read Ashwin Desai’s Reading Revolution: Shakespeare on Robben Island
  • The image of Sonny Venkatrathnam holding the Robben Island Bible is used by permission of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Shine Shine cushion

A Shine Shine cushion. Photo supplied.

34 Shine Shine

Shine Shine was started in 2007 and is the brainchild of Tracy Rushmere and designer Heidi Chisholm. The distinct tongue-in-cheek designs of the fabrics and products that make up the Shine Shine range celebrate the iconography and bright colours of Africa. “The designs evolved from my love of commemorative, religious and political fabrics that I have collected from all over Africa,” says Tracy. “Shine Shine is a more contemporary urban take on this tradition.” Image of Shine Shine cushion supplied.

35 Miss Wong by Tretchikoff

One of the city most famous artists, Vladimir Tretchikoff, was born in Russia but called Cape Town home for more than 60 years. It was here in the Mother City that the artist painted some of the women that he would be famous for including the Chinese Girl and Miss Wong. According to research conducted by Tretchikoff biographer Boris Gorelik the sitter for Miss Wong was Cape Town resident Valerie Howe. According to reports the Port Elizabeth-born beauty was 18 when Tretchikoff painted her at his Bishopscourt home in 1955. At the time, she lived in Cape Town and walked her dogs in Camps Bay, where she met Tretchikoff by chance.

A toilet in Langa, Cape Town

A toilet in Langa, Cape Town. Photo supplied.

36 Toilet

“Throughout history the issue of sanitation has been a political one (London’s Great Stink of 1858, when parliament came to a standstill due to the stench emanating from the river Thames, is just one example). In a case like Cape Town, where many people live in close proximity and have to share toilet facilities, having an enclosed, modern porcelain toilet can become a powerful symbol of a citizen’s rights to privacy and dignity; for this reason portable toilets are seen by many informal residents and political activists as unacceptable. This issue has sparked the so-called “poo protests” that have recently occurred in the city.” – Professor Steven Robins. Image supplied.


Cape Town's heart

A mime with a wire heart, made by a craftsman in Greenmarket Square. Photo by Lisa Burnell.

37 Heart

According to the Organ Donor Foundation of South Africa, twenty-four adults and three children received heart transplants in this country in 2012. Almost fifty years ago the radical procedure – to replace the heart of one person with another – was pioneered in Cape Town. On 3 December 1967 the first human heart transplant took place at the Groote Schuur Hospital, tying the city to this ground-breaking medical triumph. The surgery was performed by Dr Christiaan Barnard, who headed up a team of thirty surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses, and technicians, including his own brother Marius. This took approximately nine hours and Louis Washkansky, who received Denise Darvall’s heart, lived for eighteen days, with full heart function, before succumbing to pneumonia.

Granite curbstone in Cape Town

Granite curbstone in Cape Town. Photo by Lisa Burnell.

38 Granite kerbstone

In Cape Town you literally have history underfoot. The granite kerbstones that you find in the central city have been part of the city fabric since the late 19th century. The granite was most likely quarried at the Bellevue Quarry on the slopes of Table Mountain, in the vicinity of the present day Bellevue Street. Because many of the kerbs fall within a heritage overlay zone on the city’s planning scheme, any construction that affects the stones needs to undergo scrutiny by the Heritage Resources department and in most cases needs to be preserved as part of the fabric of the city.

39 Tattoos

Tattoos have a long maritime connection, and even the word tattoo comes from a Tahitian word, tattau, introduced to the west by the crew of Captain Cook’s voyage to the Pacific Islands in the late 18th century. In Cape Town, tattoos have not only been the province of sailors, however, but also of gangsters. Prison tattoos related to the number gangs of the 26s, 27s and 28s are specific to Cape Town and include a huge variety of symbols and pictures which represent a gang member’s criminal history and gang alliances.
  • Ruan Scott, who works at Deluxe Coffeeworks, sports a tattoo which says “lekker by die see” on his forearm.

40 Drugs

Whether we like to admit it or not, Cape Town ranks poorly when it comes to substance abuse. Drug use is also directly related to crime, with police statistics showing a 45.3% increase in drug-related crime from 2008/2009 to 2011/2012. Often drug use, especially the use of “tik”, is also related to risky sexual behaviour and sexually transmitted infections including HIV. If you know of someone in need of help, contact the South African National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence on 021 945 4080/1 or the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centres 021 447 8026 or 021 391 0216. If you witness drug-related activities call SAPS on 10111.

A UDF t-shirt

A UDF t-shirt. Image supplied.

41 UDF T-shirt

On 20 august 1983 the United Democratic front was launched in Mitchells Plain. The UDF mobilised hundreds of community-based organisations in the struggle for a democratic, united, non-racial, and non-sexist South Africa. Steve Gordon, a member and the sound engineer at the launch, recalls the importance of emblems during this time: “Organisations like Community Arts Project, which still exists in Chapel Street, trained communities and civic groups in producing independent media. Remember that this was the era pre-digital technology; if you look at T-shirts from that era, they were silk-screened in small batches with little blemishes and nuances that almost make them like artists’ prints.” Image supplied by Steve Gordon.

42 CA plate

There was a time when CATs came from Cradock, CARs came from Clanwilliam and CEOs hailed from Grabouw – if you’re talking about vehicle registration plates, that is. Nowadays, Cape Town’s number plates still feature CA, which once denoted Cape Town as the oldest/largest city in the province (at the time Port Elizabeth was CB) .

  • 4 Secs condom applicator by XYZDesign

    4 Secs condom applicator by XYZDesign

    Don’t want to ride solo any more? Consider a car pool. It can save you time (work or read while stuck in traffic) and money (shared fuel costs and less wear and tear on your car)

43 4 Secs Condom applicator

Condoms are recognised as the most effective barrier against the risk of HIV/AIDS infection, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). With approximately 5.26-million people in South Africa living with HIV (mid-year population estimates by Statistics SA, May 2013), encouraging condom use is important. Not only does the 4 Secs Condom applicator designed by …XYZ Design ensure safe, correct and quick application, but the cheeky packaging also seeks to subvert some of the resistance to condom use. The 4 Secs Condom applicator has won several design awards and was included in Cape Town’s World Design Capital bid book – certainly a testament that good design can not only transform life but also save it. Image supplied by …XYZ Design.

Gable illustration by Etienne Britz

Gable illustration by Etienne Britz

44 Gables

The architectural style commonly referred to as Cape Dutch is an inheritance from the settlers in the early years of the Cape Colony. Although ascribed to the Dutch, the style also reflects influences from Italy, France and Portugal. The style is typified by thick, whitewashed walls, a thatch roof, small-paned windows, and ornate gables. Various gable styles can be seen through the region, including scrolled, curvilinear, pedimented Baroque and neoclassical gables. One of the most famous gables in the Cape is the Groot Constantia manor house gable. The wine farm was established in 1685 by Simon van der Stel, one of the first Dutch governors of the Cape. The manor house, built in 1692 and altered over the course of time was destroyed by a fire in 1925. It was restored to its current state by architect Frank Kendall in 1926-27. Illustration by Etienne Britz.

45 Cape Table

From the time of Jan van Riebeeck, 1652 until the end of the 17th century, furniture made in Cape Town workshops was influenced by the styles in Holland. Three centuries later Cape Town-based designer Gregor Jenkin reinterpreted Cape Dutch furniture with his design, Cape Table, that is constructed from flat sheets of laser-cut steel. Not only did he express the style in a new material but traditional details like turned wooden legs and joints are reinterpreted through the steel. The table resulted in international acclaim for the designer and is stocked at the famed Conran shop in London.

Anton Butler of Ferral works on a surfboard

Anton Butler of Ferral works on a surfboard. Photo by Lisa Burnell.

46 Surfboard

With names like Razorblades, Washing Machines, and Thunder Dome, surf spots along the coastline of Cape Town are varied, challenging wave riders like few others. It is little wonder that the art of shaping the right board for these epic conditions has resulted in several local producers. Anton Butler, founder of Ferral, who’s been in the business of boards since 1985, explains that we have both reef and beach breaks, so surfers often opt for multipurpose boards. “My bread and butter is high-performance boards, which are CNC machined and then hand finished, but there is also a retro movement that is gaining momentum. These old-school boards are 100% handmade, which requires time and craftsmanship.” Image supplied.

47 Beer

While the Cape region might be well known internationally for its fine wines, beer brewing actually predates wine production in the Mother City. The Dutch settlers who arrived in 1652 brought with them their native beer-drinking culture, and soon a local supply was needed. The fresh-water springs of the eastern slopes of Devil’s Peak and what is known today as Newlands provided the main ingredient, and home breweries were established here as early as 1656. The Newlands Brewery, the oldest commercial brewery in South Africa, was established when Jacob Letterstedt built the original Mariendahl Brewery in 1820. More recently, home breweries and microbreweries have been popping up, establishing a craft beer culture. One such brewer, Devil’s Peak Brewing Company, celebrates a sense of place in its name: “We chose the name because we wanted the name to reflect the place where we brew our beer. Devil’s Peak is an iconic landmark and it is steeped in myth,” says sales manager Mitch Lockhart.

A piece of snoek. Photo by Lisa Burnell

A piece of snoek. Photo by Lisa Burnell

48 Snoek

What does Cape Town taste like? For many the answer is snoek. This long, bright-silver fish is synonymous with the city, and a source of sustenance and livelihood for many. In and around Cape Town you can buy freshly caught snoek directly from fishermen on quays in Hout Bay and Kalk Bay. But it is often salted and air- dried, or smoked for later use in the hearty classic Cape Malay dish smoorsnoek (a local interpretation of kedgeree), which combines onions, tomatoes, potatoes and spices with rice. Photo by Alma Viviers.

49 Cape Argus newspaper

The first issue of the “Argie”, as it is affectionately known, was published on Saturday 2 January 1857 at 63 Longmarket Street, Cape Town. Today the Cape Argus, which was named after the hundred-eyed giant of Greek mythology, is still produced within shouting distance of this original site, at Newspaper House on St George’s Mall. In between, the paper became the first to use telegraphs, made its reputation as a politically liberal publication, and remains unapologetically aimed at the middle to upper income earners of Cape Town. By far the best anecdote related to Cape Town’s oldest daily paper was overheard by this writer when a local, seeing a heavily tattooed fellow citizen, quipped: “hy lyk soos hy was geslat met ’n nat Argus” (he looks like he was slapped with a wet Argus).

  • The Cape Argus has recently appointed a new editor, Jermaine Craig. Find out more at

50 What is your Cape Town object?

Write to us. We would love to hear your suggestions of other objects which represent Cape Town to you. Drop us a line or send us a photo at or come and find us on Facebook.

Molo: Cape Town in 50 objects

What objects do others choose?

  • Lost and found in Cape Town: Sometimes the absence of things can be more telling than their presence. Read more.
  • What represents Cape Town? You answered. Read more.
  • The Cape Town Partnership in one object. Read more.
  • Discover more about the History of the World in 100 objects. Read more on Wikipedia, or order the book.

This article was compiled by Judith Browne, Ambre Nicolson and Alma Viviers, with all photos by Lisa Burnell (unless indicated otherwise). It first appeared in the November/December 2013 edition of Molo: The heart of Cape Town in 50 objects. Read it online.

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