20 years on: Why Cape Town is better now

Western Cape

On Sunday, South Africa celebrates 20 years since democracy. In that time, the Mother City has seen major changes. Of course, not all have been good, and in some cases nothing has changed at all. But today we have chosen to focus on 20 of the most positive, although not perfect, changes that have altered the fabric of our society

It was a fragmented place, scattered with abandoned lots, derelict mills and overgrown gardens. But over the past 20 years, since the turn of democracy, monuments to the new South Africa have sprung up across Cape Town. Markets, shops and a world-renowned convention centre have become landmarks in their own right, as much a part of the natural fabric of the city as Table Mountain itself.

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Cape Town - 140424 - Pictured is Bradley Henry. Westridge Gardens situated in the residential part of Mitchells Plain, features a variety of botanically significant flora, including the indigenous Cape fynbos. There is a pathway for gentle walks, and the grassy areas provide ample space for picnics and taking wedding photographs. A skateboard ramp situated in the park attracts the younger section of the population, and is well frequented. Picture: David RitchieCape Town - 140424 - Truth is a steampunk themed coffee roastery centred on a vintage Probat coffee roaster named Colossus. Breakfasts and lunches served daily – and dinners when there is something on. Pictured is David Donde of Truth Coffee. Picture: David Ritchie

“This place is a melting pot of culture,” mused David Donde.

The coffee guru has been surfing the so-called third wave of the roasted bean. As the founder of both Origin and Truth Coffee Roasting, he is seen by many as one of the fathers of Cape Town’s now thriving coffee culture.

Around every corner are small coffee shops, their windows decorated with books and board games, rich aromas snaking from their doors and wrapping around newly built MyCiTi bus stops.

“In Cape Town you can’t get away with just style, or substance, you need both and even then that’s not enough,” said Donde, describing how the city had changed.

The rustic interior of the Truth Coffee Roasting shop on Buitenkant Street, which has been pieced together with new and old parts, is a common narrative across the city.

The Old Biscuit Mill, in Woodstock, which was once a derelict and abandoned factory is now a buzzing marketplace, home to restaurants and designer stores run and visited by people from all walks of life.

Robben Island, a prison under apartheid, has almost been frozen in time, preserving the atmosphere for countless tourists.

And in District Six, houses that were flattened during forced removals, are slowly being built up one brick at a time, trying to recreate the diverse neighbourhood.

Meanwhile in the CBD, life is being restored to what was once in danger of becoming a “ghost town”, says Tasso Evangelinos, the chief executive of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District.

“Now we are going onwards and upwards. We have no doubt the growth we have experienced in the CBD over the past 14 years in particular, places it on the map of the world’s best downtowns.”

At the heart of the city centre’s transformation is the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Hosting global events, from the Cape Town International Jazz Festival to medical conferences, the continuously expanding structure is a tangible full stop to the isolation of apartheid.

But while there have been other important introductions, such as the library in the renovated Drill Hall, and the Table Mountain National Park with its rotating cable car, Cape Town’s transformation is not limited to just the city.

In Gugulethu, Mzoli Ngcawuzele said he was enjoying his freedom. Since the turn of democracy, his butchery and braai spot, Mzoli’s, has become a quintessential part of visiting the city. It is something he could never have imagined under apartheid.

“These last years we have been able to pave our way to a new perception. This place has eliminated many of the fears of the township,” he said.

In the same vein, the introduction of the Gugulethu Mall – which hosts an annual wine festival – has created a place to mingle in a township which was founded with the purpose of segregating and isolating its people.

It is one of many communal spaces springing up in similarly underdeveloped areas; from the Velokhaya BMX track in Khayelitsha to the Liberty Promenade in Mitchells Plain, a vibrant place packed with designer stores and family-owned shops.

It is in the same area that a neglected park was turned into a buzzing garden. The Westridge Gardens, with its manicured lawns and terraced flower beds, is now a popular site for community concerts and weddings.

In the city centre, the lush Oranjezicht City Farm is spearheading the urban farming initiative.

And while the long-term success of the multimillion-rand Cape Town Stadium is in the balance, the Green Point Urban Park in the revamped stadium precinct has become a gathering-place for all the city’s citizens.

Everywhere new landmarks are rising up from previously forgotten pieces of land; from Century City and the Muizenberg beachfront to the N2 Gateway which has been pegged as the biggest housing project the country has ever seen. The landscape of Cape Town is changing, something which was initiated in 1994, when hundreds of closed doors were opened.

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Cape Argus

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