Cape Town is South Africa’s largest city and one of the country’s three capital cities. South Africa has three national capitals: Pretoria is the administrative capital (the site of the government buildings), Bloemfontein is the judicial capital (the country’s most important law courts are located there) and Cape Town is the legislative capital (the site of the Houses of Parliament). Cape Town is situated on Table Bay (part of the Atlantic Ocean), in the south-west of South Africa. About 2,967,000 people live in Cape Town and it is South Africa’s most popular tourist destination.
Several tall hills and mountains overlook the city. The most famous of these is Table Mountain, which rises to a height of 1,086 metres. From the summit there is a spectacular view of the city and the surrounding area. The summit can be reached by a cable car service (which takes about five minutes) or on foot (which takes between one and four hours).
Many fine, sandy beaches lie in the shadow of Table Mountain. Cape Town is famous for its warm, sunny climate and the sea around the city is popular for watersports. Activities include surfing, yachting, diving and fishing. Just to the south of the city is Boulders Beach, which is home to a large colony of jackass penguins.
PLACES TO VISIT
In the centre of Table Bay is a tiny rocky island called Robben Island, which is one of South Africa’s best-known tourist attractions. For nearly 400 years the island was used as a prison, and between 1962 and 1991 about 3,000 political prisoners were kept there. Among them was South Africa’s former president, Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 years there. The island is now a museum, and guided tours led by former prisoners are available.
On a road called Government Avenue are the grand buildings of the Houses of Parliament. Nearby is the 200-year-old Tuynhuys (this means “garden home” in Afrikaans), which is the official residence of the President of South Africa. The Company Gardens that surround the house were first laid out in the 1650s and feature rare and exotic plants and trees. The Castle of Good Hope is the oldest stone building in South Africa. It was started in 1665 and is shaped like a pentagon, with thick walls that are 10 metres high. Not far from the city centre is one of the country’s more modern visitor attractions—Ratanga Junction. It is Africa’s largest theme park and has more than 30 different rides, including roller coasters and log flumes.
CITY OF CONTRASTS
Cape Town was founded in 1652 by Dutch sailor Jan van Riebeeck. The settlement grew up around a supply station that served ships from the Dutch East India Trading Company. Cape Town was at the halfway point of the sea route around the tip of Africa between the Netherlands and East Asia. Van Riebeeck built a wooden fort on the site where the Castle of Good Hope still stands today, and he planted extensive gardens with fresh fruit and vegetables to supply the passing ships. He also planted vines and began the city’s long-standing reputation as an excellent wine-growing region.
Cape Town prospered as a port city and it remained under Dutch control until it was captured by British forces in 1795 during the Napoleonic Wars. The city briefly returned to Dutch control in 1803 and was again occupied by British troops in 1806. It became the capital of the British Cape Colony in 1814.
Some suburbs of Cape Town are less fortunate. An area of Cape Town known as Cape Flats has large shantytowns, where many people live in very poor conditions. This type of area is called a township. Townships are areas that were set aside under the former apartheid laws for black people to live in. Apartheid was a political system in South Africa that separated the different people living there according to their skin colour and gave special privileges to those who were white and of European origin. The houses in the Cape Flats township are ramshackle huts and have no running water or electricity.