Cape Town facts for kids
Kaapstad (in Afrikaans)
iKapa (in Xhosa)
From top, left to right: Cape Town at the foot of Table Mountain as seen from Bloubergstrand, Cape Town's City Bowl Skyline, Clifton beach, Strand, Port of Cape Town, Manenberg.
|Motto: Spes Bona (Latin for "Good Hope")|
|Municipality||City of Cape Town|
|• City||400.28 km2 (154.55 sq mi)|
|• Metro||2,461 km2 (950 sq mi)|
|Highest elevation||1,590.4 m (5,217.8 ft)|
|Lowest elevation||0 m (0 ft)|
|• Density||9,433.4/km2 (24,432/sq mi)|
|• Metro density||1,627.4/km2 (4,214.9/sq mi)|
|Racial makeup (2011)|
|• Black African||15.8%|
|First languages (2011)|
|Time zone||SAST (UTC+2)|
|Postal codes (street)||7400–8099|
|GDP per capita||US$19,656|
Cape Town is the third most populous city in South Africa after Johannesburg and Durban and also the legislative capital of South Africa. Colloquially named the Mother City, it is the largest city of the Western Cape province and forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality. The Parliament of South Africa sits in Cape Town. The other two capitals are located in Pretoria (the executive capital where the Presidency is based) and Bloemfontein (the judicial capital where the Supreme Court of Appeal is located). The city is known for its harbour, for its natural setting in the Cape Floristic Region, and for landmarks such as Table Mountain and Cape Point. Cape Town is home to 64% of the Western Cape's population. The city was named the World Design Capital for 2014 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design.
In 2014, Cape Town was named the best place in the world to visit by both The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph. Cape Town was one of the host cities of the tournaments of 1995 Rugby World Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Located on the shore of Table Bay, Cape Town, as the oldest urban area in South Africa, was developed by the United East India Company (VOC) as a supply station for Dutch ships sailing to East Africa, India, and the Far East. Jan van Riebeeck's arrival on 6 April 1652 established VOC Cape Colony, the first permanent European settlement in South Africa. Cape Town outgrew its original purpose as the first European outpost at the Castle of Good Hope, becoming the economic and cultural hub of the Cape Colony. Until the Witwatersrand Gold Rush and the development of Johannesburg, Cape Town was the largest city in South Africa.
The earliest known remnants in the region were found at Peers Cave in Fish Hoek and date to between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago. Little is known of the history of the region's first residents, since there is no written history from the area before it was first mentioned by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1488 who was the first European to reach the area and named it "Cape of Storms" (Cabo das Tormentas). It was later renamed by John II of Portugal as "Cape of Good Hope" (Cabo da Boa Esperança) because of the great optimism engendered by the opening of a sea route to India and the East. Vasco da Gama recorded a sighting of the Cape of Good Hope in 1497. In 1510, at the Battle of Salt River, Francisco de Almeida and fifty of his men were killed and his party were defeated by ox-mounted !Uriǁ’aekua ("Goringhaiqua" in Dutch approximate spelling), which was one of the so-called Khoekhoe clans of the area that also included the !Uriǁ’aeǀ’ona ("Goringhaicona" in Dutch approximate spelling, also known as "Strandlopers"), said to be the ancestors of the !Ora nation of today. In the late 16th century, Portuguese, French, Danish, Dutch and English but mainly Portuguese ships regularly continued to stop over in Table Bay en route to the Indies. They traded tobacco, copper and iron with the Khoekhoe-speaking clans of the region, in exchange for fresh meat.
In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck and other employees of the United East India Company (Dutch: Verenigde Oost-indische Compagnie, VOC) were sent to the Cape to establish a way-station for ships travelling to the Dutch East Indies, and the Fort de Goede Hoop (later replaced by the Castle of Good Hope). The settlement grew slowly during this period, as it was hard to find adequate labour. This labour shortage prompted the authorities to import slaves from Indonesia and Madagascar. Many of these became ancestors of the first Cape Coloured communities. Under Van Riebeeck and his successors as VOC commanders and later governors at the Cape, an impressive range of useful plants were introduced to the Cape – in the process changing the natural environment forever. Some of these, including grapes, cereals, ground nuts, potatoes, apples and citrus, had an important and lasting influence on the societies and economies of the region.
The Dutch Republic being transformed in Revolutionary France's vassal Batavian Republic, Great Britain moved to take control of its colonies. Britain captured Cape Town in 1795, but the Cape was returned to the Dutch by treaty in 1803. British forces occupied the Cape again in 1806 following the Battle of Blaauwberg. In the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814, Cape Town was permanently ceded to the United Kingdom. It became the capital of the newly formed Cape Colony, whose territory expanded very substantially through the 1800s. With expansion came calls for greater independence from the UK, with the Cape attaining its own parliament (1854) and a locally accountable Prime Minister (1872). Suffrage was established according to the non-racial, but sexist Cape Qualified Franchise.
During the 1850s and 1860s additional plant species were introduced from Australia by the British authorities. Notably rooikrans to stabilise the sand of the Cape Flats to allow for a road connecting the peninsula with the rest of the African continent and eucalyptus to drain marshes so as to help to eliminate malaria. The discovery of diamonds in Griqualand West in 1867, and the Witwatersrand Gold Rush in 1886, prompted a flood of immigrants to South Africa. Conflicts between the Boer republics in the interior and the British colonial government resulted in the Second Boer War of 1899–1902, which Britain won.
South African period
In 1910, Britain established the Union of South Africa, which unified the Cape Colony with the two defeated Boer Republics and the British colony of Natal. Cape Town became the legislative capital of the Union, and later of the Republic of South Africa.
Prior to the mid-twentieth century the Cape Town was arguably the most racially integrated city in the South Africa. In the 1948 national elections, the National Party won on a platform of apartheid (racial segregation) under the slogan of "swart gevaar". This led to the erosion and eventual abolition of the Cape's multiracial franchise, as well as to the Group Areas Act, which classified all areas according to race. Formerly multi-racial suburbs of Cape Town were either purged of residents deemed unlawful by apartheid legislation or demolished. The most infamous example of this in Cape Town was District Six. After it was declared a whites-only region in 1965, all housing there was demolished and over 60,000 residents were forcibly removed. Many of these residents were relocated to the Cape Flats and Lavender Hill. Under apartheid, the Cape was considered a "Coloured labour preference area", to the exclusion of "Bantus", i.e. Africans. The implementation of this policy was widely opposed by trade unions, civil society and opposition parties. It is notable that this policy was not advocated for by any coloured person, and its implementation was a unilateral decision by the apartheid government.
School students from Langa, Gugulethu and Nyanga in Cape Town reacted to the news of protests against Bantu Education in Soweto in June 1976 and organised gatherings and marches, which were met with resistance from the police. A number of school buildings were burnt down.
Cape Town was home to many leaders of the anti-apartheid movement. On Robben Island, a former penitentiary island 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the city, many famous political prisoners were held for years. In one of the most famous moments marking the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela made his first public speech since his imprisonment, from the balcony of Cape Town City Hall hours after being released on 11 February 1990. His speech heralded the beginning of a new era for the country, and the first democratic election, was held four years later, on 27 April 1994. Nobel Square in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront features statues of South Africa's four Nobel Peace Prize winners: Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.
Cape Town is located at latitude 33.55° S (approx. the same as Sydney and Buenos Aires and equivalent to Casablanca and Los Angeles in the northern hemisphere) and longitude 18.25° E. Table Mountain, with its near vertical cliffs and flat-topped summit over 1,000 m (3,300 ft) high, and with Devil's Peak and Lion's Head on either side, together form a dramatic mountainous backdrop enclosing the central area of Cape Town, the so-called City Bowl. A thin strip of cloud, known colloquially as the "tablecloth", sometimes forms on top of the mountain. To the immediate south, the Cape Peninsula is a scenic mountainous spine jutting 40 kilometres (25 mi) southwards into the Atlantic Ocean and terminating at Cape Point. There are over 70 peaks above 300 m (980 ft) within Cape Town's official city limits. Many of the city's suburbs lie on the large plain called the Cape Flats, which extends over 50 kilometres (30 mi) to the east and joins the peninsula to the mainland. The Cape Town region is characterised by an extensive coastline, rugged mountain ranges, coastal plains, inland valleys and semi-desert fringes.
UNESCO declared Robben Island in the Western Cape a World Heritage Site in 1999. Robben Island is located in Table Bay, some 6 km (3.7 mi) west of Bloubergstrand in Cape Town, and stands some 30m above sea level. Robben Island has been used as a prison where people were isolated, banished and exiled to for nearly 400 years. It was also used as a leper colony, a post office, a grazing ground, a mental hospital, and an outpost.
Currently visitors can only access the island via the Robben Island Museum boat service, which runs three times daily until the beginning of the peak season (1 September). The ferries depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront.
Cape Town has a warm Mediterranean climate (Köppen "Csb"), with mild, moderately wet winters and dry, warm summers. Winter, which lasts from the beginning of June to the end of August, may see large cold fronts entering for limited periods from the Atlantic Ocean with significant precipitation and strong north-westerly winds. Winter months in the city average a maximum of 18 °C (64 °F) and minimum of 8.5 °C (47 °F) Total annual rainfall in the city averages 515 millimetres (20.3 in) although in the southern suburbs, close to the mountains, rainfall is significantly higher and averages closer to 1000 millimetres (40 in). Summer, which lasts from December to March, is warm and dry with an average maximum of 26 °C (79 °F) and minimum of 16 °C (61 °F). The region can get uncomfortably hot when the Berg Wind, meaning "mountain wind", blows from the Karoo interior for a couple of weeks in February or March. Spring and summer generally feature a strong wind from the south-east, known locally as the south-easter or the Cape Doctor, so called because it blows air pollution away. This wind is caused by a high-pressure system which sits in the South Atlantic to the west of Cape Town, known as the South Atlantic High. Cape Town receives 3,100 hours of sunshine per year.
Flora and fauna
Located in a CI Biodiversity hotspot as well as the unique Cape Floristic Region, the city of Cape Town has one of the highest levels of biodiversity of any equivalent area in the world. These protected areas are a World Heritage Site, and an estimated 2,200 species of plants are confined to Table Mountain – more than exist in the whole of the United Kingdom which has 1200 plant species and 67 endemic plant species. Many of these species, including a great many types of proteas, are endemic to the mountain and can be found nowhere else.
It is home to a total of 19 different vegetation types, of which several are endemic to the city and occur nowhere else in the world. It is also the only habitat of hundreds of endemic species, and hundreds of others which are severely restricted or threatened. This enormous species diversity is mainly because the city is uniquely located at the convergence point of several different soil types and micro-climates.
Table Mountain has an unusually rich biodiversity. Its vegetation consists predominantly of several different types of the unique and rich Cape Fynbos. The main vegetation type is endangered Peninsula Sandstone Fynbos, but critically endangered Peninsula Granite Fynbos, Peninsula Shale Renosterveld and Afromontane forest occur in smaller portions on the mountain.
Unfortunately, rapid population growth and urban sprawl has covered much of these ecosystems with development. Consequently, Cape Town now has over 300 threatened plant species and 13 which are now extinct. The Cape Peninsula, which lies entirely within the city of Cape Town, has the highest concentration of threatened species of any continental area of equivalent size in the world. Tiny remnant populations of critically endangered or near extinct plants sometimes survive on road sides, pavements and sports fields. The remaining ecosystems are partially protected through a system of over 30 nature reserves – including the massive Table Mountain National Park.
Cape Town reached first place in the 2019 iNaturalist City Nature Challenge in two out of the three categories: Most Observations, and Most Species. This was the first entry by Capetonians in this annual competition to observe and record the local biodiversity over a four-day long weekend during what is considered the worst time of the year for local observations. However, a worldwide survey showed that the extinction rate of endemic plants from the City of Cape Town is one of the highest in the world, at roughly three per year since 1900 - partly a consequence of the very small and localised habitats and high endemicity.
Cape Town is noted for its architectural heritage, with the highest density of Cape Dutch style buildings in the world. Cape Dutch style, which combines the architectural traditions of the Netherlands, Germany, France and Indonesia, is most visible in Constantia, the old government buildings in the Central Business District, and along Long Street. The annual Cape Town Minstrel Carnival, also known by its Afrikaans name of Kaapse Klopse, is a large minstrel festival held annually on 2 January or "Tweede Nuwe Jaar" (Afrikaans: Second New Year). Competing teams of minstrels parade in brightly coloured costumes, performing Cape Jazz, either carrying colourful umbrellas or playing an array of musical instruments. The Artscape Theatre Centre is the largest performing arts venue in Cape Town.
The city also encloses the 36 hectare Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden that contains protected natural forest and fynbos along with a variety of animals and birds. There are over 7,000 species in cultivation at Kirstenbosch, including many rare and threatened species of the Cape Floristic Region. In 2004 this Region, including Kirstenbosch, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cape Town's transport system links it to the rest of South Africa; it serves as the gateway to other destinations within the province. The Cape Winelands and in particular the towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek are popular day trips from the city for sightseeing and wine tasting. Whale watching is popular amongst tourists: southern right whales and humpback whales are seen off the coast during the breeding season (August to November) and Bryde's whales and killer whale can be seen any time of the year. The nearby town of Hermanus is known for its Whale Festival, but whales can also be seen in False Bay. Heaviside's dolphins are endemic to the area and can be seen from the coast north of Cape Town; dusky dolphins live along the same coast and can occasionally be seen from the ferry to Robben Island.
The only complete windmill in South Africa is Mostert's Mill, Mowbray. It was built in 1796 and restored in 1935 and again in 1995.
Images for kids
Cross of Vasco da Gama
Cape Town's "City Bowl" viewed from Table Mountain in May (late autumn)
Cape Town CBD skyline as seen from a rooftop in De Waterkant.
University of Cape Town's main campus
Panoramic view across the Victoria Basin at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, with Table Mountain in the background
Table Mountain from the harbour
Cape Town Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.