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.