the mother city and me

In Notes on 3 February, 2012 at 2:21 am

“it’s like somebody cut out a piece of europe and stuck it at the bottom of africa.”

too many people describe cape town using variations of that painful sentence.

my love of the city that raised me from aspirant academic to anthropologist-activist writes. my words may be infused with a little nostalgia.


to the people who misunderstand and misjudge the mother city: i understand where you are coming from. there are remnants of european architecture in many parts of cape town. there are some people that valorise “europeanness” and some places that consciously aim to create a continental atmosphere. even so, the question remains, what does it mean to be european? and why do you deem cape town to be un-african?

how much of cape town did you see? did you drive from the airport to your hotel, from your hotel to the waterfront, from waterfront to green point, from green point to camps bay and then back to your hotel? some people choose to have a sanitary experience of the city. it’s possible.


or…did you get lost in the eclectic environment of the CBD? did you greet car guards on long street? did you get a feel for bo kaap? did you rush from A to B among traders and commuters at the technicolour taxi deck? did you notice the graffiti?



did you see – i mean more-than-see – the cape flats? if you gazed from your car window, you may have missed the sense of ubuntu amidst its gritty grind. did you experience any shisa nyamas? (not just mzoli’s because the guide book said so.) did you explore the side streets of woodstock or salt river? did you see children learning to surf in muizenberg? did you travel by train? did you drive along main road with a gaartjie shouting “wyyyynbe’g! mowbray-claaaa’mon’-wyyyyyyyynbe’g! wyyyynbe’g ‘allo!?



cape town adds a little flavour and spice to what it means to be african. which begs another question – what does it mean to be “african”? maybe i can relate to the mother city because i, too, am misjudged as un-african.


born and raised in malawi, bred in swaziland, enlightened in south africa, made in ghana. but because of the shade of my skin, the sheen of my hair, my inability to wax lyrical in a local dialect – because i may not fit in your “this is africa” box – i am often pronounced un-african.


as much as i am writing about cape town, i am writing about me. cape town is african because she exists in africa. she is african because she feels that she is african. if you get to know her, you might feel the same.


  1. Mona I think this is one of the most beautiful blogs I’ve ever read! I’ve bookmarked it for future reference. ❤ love you

  2. I agree with you mona and literally cringe everytime i hear people say that CT is like a ‘little europe’…or…even worse when people say that CT is ‘not real africa’. What is ‘real africa’ then? Only where elephants and lions roam?

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