Category Archives: Race and Ethnicity

Mango Groove and Matriculation

Kristenbosch Botanical Gardens

During a Thanksgiving celebration, I met some Capetonians who pointed me in the direction of a local tradition. In the summer, the Kristenbosch botanical gardens come alive. Every Sunday, people pour into the gardens for a picnic and a concert. This Sunday was no different, except my friend Hannah and I decided to join the crowd.

Hannah and I in the Mango Groove crowd

We made a day out of the event and arrived early for a picnic. Thanks to Hannah’s delicious contributions, we enjoyed a salad, fruit salad, and sandwiches containing salmon, cheese and avocadoes. To create space for our plethora of food, Hannnah and I (slightly awkwardly) sat in the middle of the meadow. After a time, people started sitting next to us. Finally, we noticed that random groups of people had created a line of picnics in front and behind of us. While surrounded, a group of concert-goers approached us as asked us which end was the beginning of the queue. Apparently, these South Africans did not know what to do with our random picnic placements and they just assumed that we had created the line for gate and crowded around us.

People awkwardly creating a line around us

Our unintentional picnic placement got us prime seats for the concert, allowing us to save room for nine other friends. After enjoying delicious food, incredible wine, and lovely company, we were finally able to enjoy the sounds of the classic South African band, Mango Groove. I don’t have much frame of reference to be able to describe their music, but what others told me is that they are a fusion of township jazz with Afrikaans vocals. Apart from their sound, the vibe of the band reminded me of a South African version of Wham.

Mango Groove

Mango Groove is only one of the many ways music pervades the South African culture. In many different communities, music is not only present, but also a central part of traditions and activities. On Tuesday, I joined Abe and Cindy, members of TSiBA’s Ignition Centre, to attend an Ekasi Academy matric (graduation) in Khayelitsha. The word “ekasi” translates from Xhosa[1] as “township,” identifying the Academy as a place of learning for township community members. Cindy is the TSiBA lecturer for accelerated classes at the Ekasi Academy and she teaches courses like Business Essentials, Business Plan Writing, and Financial Management. December 5 marked a significant day in the lives of several students as they crossed the graduation stage.

Ekasi Academy and Silulo Ulutho Technologies matriculation

The ceremony was far different than any graduation I have attended because the graduates, their friends, and their family all seemed to actually want to be there. Let me clarify by adding that most American students are glad to finally graduate and their loved ones almost always want to experience that moment with them; however, the ceremony itself is usually an event I would only take someone to if I wanted to punish them. Most graduations are long, drawn out occasions that mostly consist of attendees waiting for the 30 seconds of recognition the graduate receives by walking across the stage.

A former student speaking to the new matrics

The Ekasi Academy graduation was an entirely different matter. The ceremony was prolonged before and after each speaker when the graduates would burst into mighty unison of Xhosa melody, singing in honor of the guests. The sporadic singing continued throughout the program for the people the crowd recognized. Before my manager, Abe’s turn to speak, he leaned to Cindy and asked, “Who is going to sing for me?” Cindy replied, “Lindsey I guess,” then they both died laughing. They know me well.

True to their name, the Heavenly Quartet

After Abe’s motivational speech, a traditional Xhosa choir sang several pieces before a local band called the Heavenly Quartet came on stage. The four men sang with such soul, humor, and passion, that the crowd remained standing and danced along to the songs (not that the crowd did not do that most of the time anyways). After Cindy gave certificates to her graduates, we left the ceremony early since it was guaranteed to last for several hours longer. While making our clandestine exit, a couple people rushed us with muffins and cans of juice to take with us.

Traditional Xhosa Choir

Hospitality was also prevalent throughout the event while members from the community, Ekasi Academy, and Silulo Ulutho Technologies welcomed our Ignition Centre team. The entire event was coordinated by one of TSiBA’s key partners and facilitator of the Ekasi Academy, Silulo Ulutho Technologies. Luvuyo Rani, one of the organization’s founders, originally created the company to sell affordable computers to disadvantaged communities. After an unsuccessful trial, he realized that the venture needed to also educate the market about how to use the computers he was selling. This lead to the creation of e-cafes and computer training classes all over the Western Cape, later forming the large crowd of graduates I met on Tuesday. The graduation lasted for two days in order to properly recognize and appreciate each member of the graduation and their stakeholders.

Luvuyo Rani, a founder of Silulo Ulutho Technologies


[1] Xhosa is the language of the Xhosa people. During apartheid, almost all of the Xhosa people suffered horrific oppression, cruelty, and violence whether individuals passively accepted their degradation or if they fought for their rights and dignity. Townships, like Khayelitsha, are products of the inhumane, white supremacist government that displaced people in areas according to race. However, the continuation of townships post-apartheid remains a complex issue as many members choose to stay in informal settlements.

Initial Thoughts on Race and Wealth in Relation to Markets

If so inclined, a Capetonian could visit a food and craft market almost every day of the week. Each market has a slightly different ambiance reflecting its neighborhood or customers. However, I have found that the local markets that I hear about and visit are overwhelming white and hipster. From industrial Salt River to the winelands of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, I stumble upon similar vendors and hip consumers. Race and ethnicity issues are inescapable in every part of South African culture, but today the market culture is what causes me to pause and ponder. What follows are the questions:

Am I unobservant? Are minorities more present than I can detect? Are most of the white people at the markets South African? Would I be at different markets if I was of a different race, nationality, or ethnicity? Why are black, coloured, Indian, and other races/ethnicity/nationalities not represented as much as white South Africans at these markets? Is there a greater number of white South Africans living in the market neighborhood? Is race closely tied to ethnicity, generating different cultural preferences and/or is there a disparity of wealthy and disposable income between races and ethnicity?

What I am left with are generalizations, incomplete answers, and an absence of many other important questions I have yet to recognize. I have been a Cape Town resident for only two months and have not conducted or studied formal research to give me the authority to answer such questions, but I will give an unofficial, uninformed, and limited opinion from my initial observations, readings, and discussions with South Africans.

The segregation of races during apartheid left strong community bonds, leaving individuals with close ties to their ethnic heritage. Each of these cultures has different preferences and these preferences sometimes do not overlap with other communities. Also, similar to the oppression of racial minorities in the United States through slavery and segregation, the abolition of apartheid left the country with unresolved disparities of wealth between a significant ratio of affluent White South Africans and deprived black, coloured, and Indian South Africans. The country with the greatest disparity between the wealthy and the poor usually falls to either Brazil or South Africa and most of the wealth in South Africa lies in the hands of the racial minority—white South Africans.  Therefore, while the population of white South Africans is much smaller than other races, white South Africans are much more likely to have extensive disposable incomes.

However, there seems to be a shift. More communities are slowly integrating, and educational and professional institutions have started to fuse cultures. While there is not a majority of black, coloured, and Indian races at the markets I have attended, there is still at least a marginal mixture of races.

While vendors may slightly vary in relation to demographics and goods, what remain consistent are the five basic components: food, alcoholic beverage, clothing/accessories, home goods, and farmers’ market. These components are found at almost every market I have attended so far. The markets gain personalities, however, according to location. In Stellenbosh, I have visited a night market and a slow market. Both descriptions are fairly straight forward, but for those of you unfamiliar of the concept of a slow market or slow food, it is not literally slow. Instead, it is an attempt to buy goods local through ethical production and distribution. The night I visited the slow market it was actually Christmas and holiday themed, which seemed so odd during 70 degree weather. This market was mostly food, but my new friends Jen and Nthabi split a bottle of champagne with me as we explored the different booths.

I also indulged myself with a glass of sparkling wine filled with pomegranate pieces from the Old Biscuit Mill market in Salt River. The area is fairly industrial other than some residential streets far from grocery stores. I know that this area is nearly a food desert because another intern Rachel and I are looking for flats all over the city and ruled out Salt River due to its distance from restaurants and grocery stores. Old Biscuit Mill is a market in a literal old mill every Saturday morning, and it is full of trendy fedoras, mint lemonade sold in mason jars, and hay stacks to sit on. Every time we walk through the stores, Rachel points out the millions of clothes and jewelry that have hip birds designs, and she cites the Portlandia reference of “Put a Bird on It,” suggesting that you can up-sale anything to hipsters if the item has birds on it.

Apparently this Saturday, we missed the Champagne festival in Franschhoek, but luckily I had already visited the city and the market before. The quaint town lies in a valley between two magnificent mountain ranges, protecting it from the infamous wind of Cape Town. This creates a perfect habitat for wine farming. Other than the local wine, the village attracts an international crowd through its chocolate factory and Saturday market. This market had far more touristy goods including beaded animal figurines, animals made from aluminum cans, and wires constructed into the shapes of famous South Africans.

At a monthly Sunday market in Observatory, I also found similar food to what I had tasted at other markets. Cupcakes, fancy cheese, and curries are always easy to find at such ventures. However, this location seemed much more open and the crowd was possibly more of a laid back, local scene. It was also much more family oriented with a bounce house for children. I went to this market with a new local friend who moved to Cape Town from the US seven years ago. Ashley works in drug rehabilitation in the neighborhood and invited me to come with her friend Nicole. A girl named Penny also came with them. While exploring the market, Penny proposed one of the funniest protest ideas I had ever heard. While sitting at the market, Penny looks over to the golf course and says, “I think gold courses are the biggest waste of space. We should tear them all down and create more houses.” Ashley, Nicole, and I laughed at her dramatic idea. Ashley said, “What if the people who golf there are volunteer doctors who work in (the township) Khayelitsha, and need to let out their stress by golfing?” Penny said she did not care, she thought we should burn them down and the people from Khayelitsha should take their shacks and rebuild them on the golf course. While Penny raises a valid point about serious housing issues in townships, it was a very dramatic, random, humorous, and slightly misleading plan to burn golf courses to solve South Africa’s housing problems. It is unusual and obscure to hear someone finding golfers as the scapegoat to blame in complex, residential disputes.

The City Bowl Market at Hope Street is the only other market (of many others) that I have visited thus far. It is essentially a shrunken version of the Old Biscuit Mill market only closer and with more live, nineties music. Almost every Thursday night you can find a Connect 123 participant buying cupcakes from the popular gourmet cupcake vendor.

Other markets that are on my list to visit are Green Point, Hout Bay, Muizenberg, and St. George’s Mall organic fair. After hearing short descriptions of these places, maybe you can see how I have rarely had time to long for or miss the familiar Belmont hipster. It is a funny subculture that I cannot seem to escape or truly wish to. The international and South African trendy market-goers remind me of a version of home, and for that I have little to complain.