The Jewish Report Editorial

Sushi on Muizenberg or partying with the jet set - Cape Town has it all

  • Vanessa
Cape Town, the beautiful Mother City, is slowly recovering from the weight of the holiday-making crowds as people return home to start the new year. This is nothing new. Cape Town and its surrounds have been a desired summer holiday destination for as long as anyone can remember. What is noticeable is that over the past five to 10 years, it has become a playground for an international jet set: Africa’s own St Tropez.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Jan 13, 2016

Offering a new hub for the advertising, modelling and film industries and the latest frontier for those who scour the world for new places to party, Cape Town and its restaurants, beaches and hotels reverberate, particularly in December, with the hum of a myriad international languages.

These visitors, seduced by the beauty and the favourable exchange rate, are staking their claim by snapping up properties along Cape Town’s beaches, mountains and winelands.

And highly visible amongst all the trendiness and desirability are South African Jewry. In fact, this year marks the 175th anniversary of the South African Jewish community and commemorates the very first official gathering for Yom Kippur services in a private home in Cape Town on September 26, 1841. The following week, these same worshippers established what later became known as the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation and the next year they bought land for a Jewish cemetery in Woodstock.  

The Jewish immigrants have come a long way since and have played a substantial role in the city’s evolution. Today, its 16 000 Jews are a force in all spheres of life with vibrant schools, shuls and other institutions.

Local Jewry aside, Jews from other cities and towns, for as long as they have called this country their home, have been coming to Cape Town on holiday. While some have opted for Uhmlanga, Plettenberg Bay or the Kruger Park, for those who come to the Cape, it has offered a smorgasbord of tourist delights.

From the mid-1900s, Muizenberg was a very popular seaside resort town. The “snake pit”, as it was called, a small triangular-shaped piece of the beach, was a major hub of socialising for Jewish singles who often met their future partners right there on the sandy shores.

Families would also bring their children for long days of warm Indian ocean swims and roast chicken picnics. Muizenberg’s golden era has sadly passed, but the odd, nostalgic Jewish family can still be spotted under an umbrella. These days they are more likely to be eating take-out sushi with their Australian-accented children than the much-loved chicken legs and boiled eggs of yesteryear.

Along the colder Atlantic Ocean shoreline, Clifton’s four beaches are also legendary in Jewish holiday folklore and their popularity continues. The apartments, bungalows and houses situated above these beaches and extending towards Bantry Bay, are among the most expensive in the country. Many are owned by South Africa’s Jewish moguls, both residents and those who have immigrated, who flock back in season.

The four beaches mirror the cycle of life: toddlers begin their journey on Fourth Beach, frolicking in the icy waters accompanied by parents; teenage and early adult years are spent on First and Second Beach and even Third; and one comes full circle, when as parents and grandparents, they head back to Fourth Beach, where it all started.

In the last 50 years, however and growing all the time, is a whole new demographic of Jewry that visits Cape Town in December: the former South Africans who return to visit family and their childhood memories. They come with their pale, British-accented children or their American spouses. Sit on any beach, take a walk along the beachfronts, go to a Cape Town shul or visit the supermarkets along Main Road, Sea Point, and you will hear them.

This group has evolved even further as the children of South African-born parents grow up and come on their own to holiday here, visiting grandparents or friends they have made over the years.

These former South Africans also bring their new American or Canadian family members, college mates or friends with them. And so this South African-connected population of visitors is increasing. When they leave and return to the cold and snow of the northern hemisphere, they sing the praises of their Cape Town summers loudly and widely.

In fact, the high demand for all that Cape Town has to offer has priced many holidaymakers seeking reasonable hotel or rental rates out of the market. And if one wants to eat at any of the popular restaurants or attend any of the hot New Year’s parties during the December season, bookings must be made months in advance - so be prepared.

Yes, we are all returning now to 2016’s realities of an economy heading for junk status, a currency sliding to new lows, and an angry student population, but our precious gem, our own little St Tropez, with its beauty, vibrancy and commerce, makes it easier to forget the painful realities - even if it’s just for a while.



  1. 3 asher 19 Jan
    Vanessa - the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet at Cape Agulhus.  Muizenberg is Atlantic Ocean, with  cold current.  But that is small stuff.  Your experience with South African Jews - may lead you to believe SA Jews are affluent, own property in Bantry Bay, that the economic downfall in SA means you may not be able to afford as many exotic vacations.  Vanessa - many of us never dreamed of owning property in Bantry Bay or imagined we were on the beach at St Tropez.
  2. 2 Choni 19 Jan
    Isn't it great to live in exile?
  3. 1 lynch dawson 20 Oct
    Excellent ideas!


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