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February 24, 2011

The Cape Flats – gritty, energetic, authentic Cape Town

Mzoli's meat

Mzoli’s meat. Photo courtesy yosoynuts

Don’t let the name fool you – the Cape Flats, the low-lying area just to the north of Cape Town, is one of the city’s most edgy, colourful and creative places. As living jazz legend Abdullah Ibrahim proclaimed in his 1974 anthem Mannenberg, this “is where it’s happening”.

Let it happen for you by starting with a jazz safari. Reputable local operators Coffeebeans Routes and Andulela Experience run a tour praised by The New York Times for its “gritty authenticity”, taking you right into the homes of profoundly talented local performers, who tell you of their soulful practice. Expect a personal rapport with these musicians you couldn’t get at any large music festival – and riffing rapture.

Then tap into a hive of creative, entrepreneurial spirit at the Guga S’Thebe Arts and Crafts Centre, a community centre in Langa where you can find that unique art piece you’re after and support the local community while doing so, or the Khayelitsha Craft Market, which emphasises poverty alleviation through entrepreneurship in a township 2-million strong.

February saw the celebration of World Wetlands Day, and you’d do well to visit the critical conservation area of the Edith Stephens Wetland Park in Philippi. Wetlands help limit soil erosion and absorb flood impact in flood-prone areas like the Cape Flats. The park is home to 37 bird species and a variety of reptiles, but its star, really, is its “living fossil”, the 200-million-year-old Isoetes plant.

And as you’re adventuring with a local guide, eat like a local too: Grab a Gatsby – a long roll stuffed with meat of your choosing, steaming chips and lashings of tomato sauce – or meet at Mzoli’s Place, Gugulethu’s local shisa nyama (which means “burn the meat” in isiZulu), where you can bring your own beer, pick your own cut of meat and get it grilled right in front of you while taking in the live music and local revelry.

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