While I was in Cape Town for a cultural immersion case study, I compiled a bucket list of to-dos for those traveling to and sightseeing in Cape Town, South Africa. I highly recommend learning about the history of South Africa before going to the beautifully resilient culture.
- Learn about South African Apartheid
Ferry ride to Robben Island
Robben Island, the unique symbol of “the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, suffering and injustice” with a rich 500 year old multi-layered history, is visited every year by thousands of people eager to understand and honour the important aspects of South Africa’s history that the Island represents.”- Robben Island website
Robben Island is a crucial part of South African history and culture. It is where human rights and anti-apartheid activist, South African President from 1994-1995, and world leader Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned (the photo on the left is the cell that Nelson Mandela was held in). For a detailed timeline of Robben Island, click here.
To get to Robben Island, you will go to the V&A Waterfront (listed below) and take a ferry to the island departing from Nelson Mandela Gateway. The views are beautiful and the firsthand knowledge you will learn is worth the ticket price. Not only do they give you tours of the facilities but you will ride a bus around the island. The tour is given by former political prisoners of Robben Island and they go in extensive detail of what life was like on Robben Island.
- Visit the District Six Museum
Apartheid (Afrikaans pronunciation: [ɐˈpartɦɛit]; an Afrikaans word meaning “the state of being apart”, literally “apart-hood”) was a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the National Party (NP) governments, the ruling party from 1948 to 1994.
Visit the District Six Museum (pictured left) to learn more in-depth about apartheid and what happened within the communities, families and landscape of South Africa. The Iziko Museums of South Africa are helpful in better understanding the turmoil and disparity that motivated South Africans to rebuild their nation. It’s hard to believe that Apartheid wasn’t ended until 1994…
- Ride the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway
You will not regret this. The lines might be long if you go during the summer months (opposite of the states) and you might feel like an ultra-tourist, BUT it is the most magnificent view you will ever experience. Table Mountain is one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World and for good reason. The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway will bring you to the top of the mountain where there are viewing spots, paths to explore, and a cafe. I would recommend ordering a beer or a coffee and sitting back and enjoying the view.
- Climb Lion’s Head
I was told at lunch, after dressing in nice white pants and a delicate blouse, that I had the option to hike Lion’s Head. Little did they mention it was more of a CLIMB! But besides the point, there is a lot of hiking and some areas where you must climb a ladder or rock to get to the top. Even though I made it in dress clothes, the trail is pretty steep so wear shoes and clothing you can move easily in. Views are so worth it.
- Shop and eat at the V&A Waterfront.
The V&A Waterfront has everything you could ask for and then more. With over 80 restaurants- from fine dining with candlelit tables to fast food like McDonald’s, it has it all. An indoor shopping center and entertainment venues are just the beginning. The waterfront is at the foot of Table Mountain and offers so much to do. While this is a very ‘touristy’ place to go, it’s safe, you can feel safe getting money from ATM’s here and you’re guaranteed a comfortable and enjoyable evening. Ferryman’s Tavern was our favorite for late night drinks and was a taste of the Irish pubs at home. I regret not doing the Ferris wheel!
- Road trip to Cape Point and stop at breathtaking sites on the way.
#1. Hout Bay Harbour- we ate at Wharfette Bistro, a local, fast-casual restaurant. I ate a yummy fish sandwich.
#3. Chapman’s Peak is the name of a mountain on the western side of the Cape Peninsula, about 15 km south of Cape Town, South Africa. It is opposite the inlet on which the town of Hout Bay is centered. Before we stopped here, we saw a whale! It was an incredible site and one I’ll never forget.
#4. Boulder’s Beach, you can see penguins! What other reason do you need to go?
#5. Cape of Good Hope- your breath will be taken away by these views.
- Wine tasting in Stellenbosch
You NEED to go to Stellenbosch and do wine tasting--it’s the best and you’ll get a deal since the dollar transfers really well. I think it cost around $19 total and I bought like around 5 bottles of wine. We went to Fairview Winery, CBC Brewery, Haute Cabriere Cellar and also did chocolate tasting was at De Villiers Artisan Chocolate–you’ll never be able to eat a Hershey’s bar again.
- Experience Long Street nightlife & eat at Mama Africa
MAMA AFRICA it’s pretty touristy but they have amazing African music and food!!! After dinner, go down Long Street and check out the bar and club scene. Be careful to keep your belongings very close to you–a friend of mine had their iPhone stolen!
- Great white shark cage-diving in False Bay
This cost around $157 and IT WAS SO WORTH IT!!! We were in the Indian Ocean and saw four large great white sharks and none of the other diving companies saw anything. We went to False Bay and went through Shark Diving Unlimited. Every celebrity known on earth has been here and the owner is a huge advocate and researcher to help sharks.
- Eat a fat cake in the townships and drink rooibos tea.
Rooibos tea is a South African herbal tea with many health benefits. It is primarily grown in South Africa.
Fat Cakes or Vetkoek (pronounced Fet-cook and literally meaning fat cake, fat cookie or fatty cake) is a traditional South African dish. Especially in townships, you will see corner stores baking fresh fat cakes just for you. It is bread dough deep-fried in oil. It can be eat just as it is, with butter and jam, or cheese but can be filled with anything you think would taste good. Here’s a RECIPE for Fat Cakes!
Eat at Mzoli’s in Gugulethu [Facebook Page]
Hierarchy in the past was determined by social class and Senegalese genealogy. Senegal is a democratic country but the reality is that it is not really united as one of the people. Bloodlines become everything especially depending on where you stand in the socioeconomic classes. Geer are the wealthy and well-off. Jom is meaning the honor of safeguarding the decency of the lineage, kersa—decency or good public speaking and behavior, yar—is good education and good values.
The bloodlines of the Tooroodoo—noble by descent, faith in Islam and usually are the imam (priest type of Islam). They want to distinguish themselves from the Deniankee—who are the fishermen, shoemakers, workers etc. Marriage between the two classes does not happen frequently because the Toroodoo do not want to mix bloodlines. Caste system is based on the purity of the bloodlines and your genealogy. People can renegotiate their bloodline to gain more prestige especially, if the Deniankee rise to political power or religious leadership. It is a very sensitive topic and people don’t like or want to talk about it. Leaders in Senegal want to seem like they are in power, very special and prestigious. This differs from the United States where the leaders want to seem like the average joe who you’d get a beer with—why the difference?
In Senegal, there are brotherhoods of Islam and are as follows:
- Tijaniyya- from Morocco, Wolof,Paul, largest group at 49% of Senegalese, they are divided by families so not as united as the Mourides
- Mourides- Bamba religious leaders, “Bamba Merci” is very special to Senegal and a sense of nationality, Wolof, while they are second largest group with 35% of Senegalese but they are more united than the
- Laayeeres- in Dakar, Wolof, lebou (fishermen) smaller Sufi order
- Qadiryya– oldest, founded in Baghdad, Iraq and northern Mali by the Sufi mystic Abdul Qadir al-Jilani
95% Muslims, 4% of Christians, 1% of Animists
19th century was a period of assimilation to the French culture. That was when the rise of Bamba and other political leaders. Islam was almost used as an opposition to the French because the French were Christians, Nasrani (Arabic). The first president in Senegal was Catholic because of the minority promotion done by the French—if you promote the minorities, they will be loyal to you. The majority of the population is a Wolof Muslim group of people. The political leaders realize the importance of religion in Senegal and will try to have the religious leaders and the general caliph promote them.
Political system in Senegal
Politically, Senegal is praised with having one of the most stable political system in Africa. Organization is similar to the United States with an Executive Power branch—the president of the republic is in this branch. Legislative power—the Senegalese National Assembly has 150 MPs elected and 90 are elected by province and 60 elected nationally. Judiciary branch is made up of many courts.
The Republic of Senegal was established in 1960 through finally gaining independence. 1960-2000 there was the same political party who was in office until 2000 when a liberal candidate won, President Wade. The government is far from balanced—the President controls almost everything like electing their congress and controls all institutions and independent administrative bodies. He and other government leaders will leave their political party and become a “voice for all,” taking a pro-national position moving away from their own party; people in Senegal see this as Americans would—not standing to their beliefs and being wishy-washy which is not respected but it happens because those people want to gain power and stay in power.
The nation of Senegal has over 200 political parties that can range from 100,000 people to a family and neighbors together of 10 people and they will then create alliances with the bigger parties to see what they can offer them in exchange for their vote. The candidates are supposed to be secular from the religious parities but the religious leaders can promote. People of the brotherhoods of Islam used to listen intently to these leaders until the 1960s to 80s when Senegalese started becoming more educated able to decide to separate religion from the state. Any political party cannot affiliate with religion or ethnic group.
“Three schools of thought”— National Democratic Assembly
1. Social-democratic wing
2. The Liberal-democratic wing
3. Marxist-Leninist wing
[Info from lecture in Dakar, Senegal]
I started my day this morning waking up by killing a roach-type bug and seeing a mouse crawling out of the wall by my suitcase. I almost screamed but I didn’t want to alarm the family. Last night, we met our host family which has two mothers/wives, one father/husband, two daughters one is 22, and the other 21 and I don’t remember her name, two sons—one tries to communicate to me but I don’t speak French! Lastly, there’s a cute baby that I am in love with.
We ate in the main room on the floor on a mat around a bowl. With our hands. Our right hands. Let me repeat this… With our bare hands! The family was nice enough to supply us with forks on the side but wow what a difference from the US! The bowl is full of noodles, chicken and bread. Everyone grabs from the bowl with their right hand because the left hand is culturally frowned upon–traditionally is used for going to the bathroom.
Half of the house didn’t have a roof i.e. the kitchen was open. Our window faced the inside courtyard kitchen and our room was full of smoke and cooking smells.
I really liked what Yuting said to me today when I was commenting on our living situation. She said, “try to think of this as a not permanent learning situation where you will gain such a rich experience to tell people about and go back with gratitude.”
Not being able to speak French has put me in a very difficult situation. I rely completely on the other U of M student, Yuting, who is a junior and from China. She is very sweet and speaks Chinese, English, and a little French. She has become my translator and I am so thankful for her. A lot of the time I am asking Yuting what the family members are saying and she doesn’t even know. She tells me to smile and pretend we understand.
Back to the family life—the two sisters are very interested in talking to us and we talked to them a lot last night. Communication involved a lot of hand gestures and Frenglish. The 22-year-old, Mime, is married and her husband is living in France. The 21-year-old had her birthday so we celebrated with her by eating a very nice cake. The only people who came to celebrate her birthday in the living room was just one of the older women, Mime, and the father, Papa. That is how I know the father has two wives because the other women did not come celebrate—i.e. not her biological child.
The birthday celebration was very simple and minimal compared to the America way to celebrate birthdays—my birthday celebration has been a week-long celebration ever since I can remember. The birthday girl bought her own cake and lit her own candles. Yuting and I were the only ones in the room that were excitedly saying ‘Happy Birthday’ and singing to her; if it was my birthday and I had to buy my own cake with no one serving or honoring me, I would be appalled and even slightly angry because it was MY day and I DESERVED it.
I think that this cultural tradition clearly reflects specified cultural values; the USA values individualism, independence, and material things where, from what I have observed, Senegal values community unity, family, and is less, for lack-of-a-better-word, selfish or self involved.
Experiences like this make me want to continue exploring the world!