Cape Town – It’s home to millions of people, each has a story of what Cape Town means to them.
More than a city, it’s a narrative expressed by its inhabitants. What visitors experience is like reading the cheat notes, and our responsibility is to flesh out those notes, to tell the real stories, the tales of how the city came to be what it is to so many.
Each suburb and neighbourhood has a unique character, so within the space of as little as two or three kilometres there are differences, not just economic ones, but common social preferences, different lifestyles and even accents.
Someone who swears by life in Sea Point has an entirely different perspective to another who has chosen Durbanville as home. Observatory is home to many creative people and students, Athlone has its own personality and people in Muizenberg have their lives marked with the salt of the sea and the fresh south-easter wind.
Mitchell’s Plain is home to people who run businesses throughout the city – it’s in their DNA. Even within neighbourhoods there are pockets of people with differing approaches to life, so it’s difficult to define what a Capetonian is.
You may ask a visitor if the locals are friendly, and they’ll base their responses on how they’ve been treated. Also, depending on how well-travelled they are, they’ll compare their reception with other cities around the world. How they are treated may depend on their own personality, too.
We’re a city made up of various diasporas, older generations from other places, some first-generation immigrants, locals who have called the place home forever and some just passing through.
Apart from all of the remarkable experiences and attractions visitors will get to share, they’ll come into contact with us. Our isiXhosa and Afrikaans (and English) may be hard for them to navigate, but an intrepid traveller will find a way to overcome language barriers. Communication is more important than words – body language, hand gestures, smiles: these can be welcoming.
Within ourselves we are learning; lessons like how to greet a Muslim woman respectfully if you are a non-Muslim man (no handshake, just a half-bow with your own hand on your chest) and that distinct township handshake – grip and regrip. The important thing is to remain open to learning, to observe, respect and grow.
As locals, we know what’s good, what’s new, what’s interesting. We know the fastest routes for avoiding traffic and the ways in which the weather can change several times a day. We know what’s safe – not flashing valuables and so on – and we can provide an endless resource to visitors.
You may wonder why we should bother with these interlopers, outsiders, who flock to our city on holiday. It is no exaggeration to state that they are keeping our economy together, ensuring that tens of thousands employed in tourism can support families. They drive our restaurant economy, and contribute to various other industries within the city, agriculture, transport, construction and various channels of supply chains. Tourism does not live in a vacuum, but in many ways it is threaded through other sectors, keeping them together.
So what unites us? Is it Table Mountain? Our love for sport and braais? Our enjoyment of the beaches or having easy access to all of these and more?
This complex place we call ‘home’ that means so many different things unites us, no matter where we come from. If we travel abroad and we’re asked where we come from, we feel a glow of pride in being able to say ‘Cape Town’. That’s something we need to remind ourselves at home, so that we can share the message – we may all be very different, but we all love Cape Town.
This article was first published IOL on 30 December 2016.