Cape Flats - Cape Town Region

The term Cape Flats refers to a flat, sandy stretch of land that is located on the outskirts of the city of Cape Town. It is here that people of colour were relocated to, in terms of the infamous Group Areas Act.

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The contents of this page was sourced with kind permission from http://www.capeflats.org.za/. Copyright belongs to the author, Vincent Williams. If you wish to copy/make use of any part of this page, please  email vincent(@)capeflats.org.za for permission. This is a compilation of extracted text. Visit his page for the full Cape Flats experience.

The Cape Flats

The term Cape Flats refers to well, a flat, sandy stretch of land that is located on the outskirts of the city of Cape Town. It has been accurately (I think) described as the "dumping ground of apartheid" and it is here that people of colour were relocated to, in terms of the infamous Group Areas Act.

Despite the way in which the Cape Flats was created and the harsh conditions under which people have to struggle for survival, there is a vibe that is unique to the Cape Flats - a vibe that has emerged as new communities were forged and as people learnt to "make the best of a bad situation".

For me, the single most important characteristic of the Cape Flats is its people. Visitors to the Flats often talk about the "Cape sense of humour" - the ability of the people who live on the Flats to see the funny side of every situation. Of course, this is part of a defence mechanism - what the American activist and poet, Maya Angelou, calls "the mask". However, it is this mask that has sustained the people of the Cape Flats, despite the odds against them.

But who are the people of the Cape Flats?

If you are expecting me to give you a comprehensive and concise answer to this question, I'm afraid that you will be disappointed. In essence, the people of the Cape Flats defy any concise description - it is precisely this inability to pin down, to put in a neat box, that I find so exciting and challenging. My neighbour and I may live next to each other; yet at the same time, we are worlds apart. What we have in common though, is that we are from the Cape Flats, or as we would say - vannie Toun.

Language of the Cape Flats

In the context of South Africa having 11 official languages, three would be applicable in Cape Town; namely, English, Afrikaans and Xhosa. However, most people on the Cape Flats, while regarded as Afrikaans speakers, in fact speak what is commonly called "Kapie-taal". It is predominantly Afrikaans, but includes English and a few Xhosa words as well - amongst older people it is also not uncommon to find a few Dutch words. The problem is that the way in which these languages are corrupted and combined to make up Kapie-taal means that in the end, what is spoken bears very little resemblance to the original languages.

The exciting thing about the language of the Cape Flats is that it is dynamic and is forever in a process of change, as new experiences and situations are incorporated into it. It is also a very expressive language in which the words used often seem to have no direct bearing on the subject of discussion, but illustrates the point being made in a way which is unimaginable in the English language. An example of this is saying that a small child, who does not want to walk but will gladly drive anywhere, "wil net voetjies hang". Literally translated, the child just "wants to let his feet hang". The correlation between driving in a car and "voetjies hang"? A small child's feet will not reach the floor when sitting in a car, but will hang in the air…

Below are some peculiar expressions that people use on the Cape Flats. Many of them are quite crude, but I make no apologies for this - it is typical of the way people speak on the Cape Flats and is not considered unusual at all.

Some of these expressions cannot be translated into English and often, it is quite difficult to explain what they actually mean, because they mean different things, depending on the context in which they are used-- but I will do my best to make sense of them.

EXPRESSION LITERAL TRANSLATION TRANSLATED FROM THE VERNACULAR INTENDED MEANING
Slat my dood met 'n pap snoek Hit me with a soft snoek (snoek=fish) As in English I am overwhelmed (surprised / shocked)
Moet my nie vir 'n pop vattie Don't take me for a doll Don't think I'm dumb or stupid I'm not easily fooled
Hy't hom stukkend gelag He laughed himself broken He laughed so much that he broke down He collapsed with laughter
Kryp in jou moer, man Crawl into your mother's womb, man Go back to where you came from Piss Off
Sy's (Hy's) lekker poenankies ? ? She's (he's) cute (mostly refers to babies)

Music of the Cape Flats

The diversity of the music, which I collectively call the "Music of the Cape Flats", is reflected in the types of music and styles of the artists that have emerged. Ranging from the traditional sounds of Amampondo, to the more Western soul/R&B music of Vicky Sampson and the combination of opera and traditional songs of soprano Sibongile Khumalo, the Cape Flats has been blessed with a wealth of musical talent. Not to mention the numerous jazz artists like Basil Coetzee, Winston Mankunku, Ezra Ngcukana and Robbie Jansen, who have all contributed to the development of what is uniquely, South African jazz.

Townships of the Cape Flats

The Cape Flats consists of a vast number of townships where the majority of coloured and African people live. As is consistent with the composition of the population, most of the townships are coloured townships and only four are home to Africans.

Even with exotic sounding names like Bishop Lavis, Steenberg, Hanover Park, Bonteheuwel, Manenberg, Elsies River, Langa (Sun), Nyanga (Moon), Gugulethu (Our pride), Khayelitsha (Our new home) and many others, living in the townships is not for the faint-hearted. For the most parts, the townships are dreary places, bordering on qualifying for the description of "urban ghettoes". Houses are usually tiny and overcrowded, and in most townships, there are blocks upon blocks of flats that are equally tiny and serve as a breeding ground for gang and other unsavoury activities.

Having said the above, you would probably expect me to be all negative and condemnatory of the townships... yes, I am, because I believe that everyone has the right to decent shelter. But at the same time - the township is a lekker place to be.

If you would like to join the author on a tour around the Cape Flats, and learn more about its unique people, language and vibe, please go to http://www.capeflats.org.za/. Quoted from his website:

"These pages are dedicated to the people of the Cape Flats - all of them. I am a product of the Cape Flats. I have, however, been one of the few who have had the opportunity to be exposed to a much larger experience. Yet, I cannot forget, and I do not want to forget where I came from. This is my way of paying tribute to all the people of the Cape Flats, without whom I would have just been an 'ordinary' South African."
Vincent Williams