Capetonians are notoriously cliquey. I was born in Johannesburg where I lived for seven years before moving to Cape Town. When I was 19 I headed for the big bad US of A where I spent a year in Philadelphia, Boston and New York collectively as well as two years in Texas. So, these being my only other points of reference I can safely conclude that yes, Cape Town is cliquey.

While travelling through America I discovered that its people are infinitely more open minded and inclusive when it comes to socializing. We generally stick within our circle of friends and very rarely venture out of our comfort zones.

I interviewed Charles John recently and he offered me an entirely different point of view.

I asked him if he thought Cape Town was cliquey, he replied:

“Yes and no. Yes in the sense that obviously people hang out in cliques, but no in the sense that you can’t really call it cliquey because it’s the nature of human kind to surround ourselves with people similar to us. It’s the process of natural selection. We stay in herds, we need to be around people that in case danger arises that we’re around people that we’re safe with, you know, you don’t want to be around people and 90% of those people run away from their comfort zone, and leave you stranded. So, being in a clique is negative in a social way, but in a human way it’s the most natural thing.”

I agree with what he says, and yes there is this innate human truth that is impossible to ignore, but somehow we take it to another level – especially white people. It’s as if each of our cliques live in separate villages, governed by unconscious social codes.

Cape Town is a lot more segregated than other cities in South Africa. Why is this so? What is it about us that makes us so damn exclusive within our tribes?

 ///          Why do Inner-City Hipsters never hang out with trance koppe? Why do the Rock-Chic avoid Irie-vibing Hippies like syphilis? Why do Constantia Boytjies spend so much time working on their abs? Why do Brasse vannie Flats never hit Long Street, even though they shmaak white chicks? Why do Southerners rarely venture past the Boerewors Gordyn?       ///

“In spite of our social progress over the past 20 years Cape Town remains a culturally divided city. Cultures and even subcultures remain insular and exclusive.”  – Wendy Moorcroft

Social and cultural groups remain separate. This applies to all groups: Cultural, ethnic, racial, religious and class. Now, these structures grip the entire world, not only Cape Town. We’ve been conditioned from birth to believe that we’re separate from each other. We’ve created film, media and music which has shaped stereotypes; religions have created vacuums of separation; money has built class structures; our skin colour creates illusions of separateness. These constructions are universal.

So then, it’s got to have something to do with the way Cape Town is laid out – the very mountain, the goddamn seventh wonder of the world which we all adore could just be the thing that has planted an imaginary barrier within our minds.

Segregation is usually always seen as a hindrance to societal advancement, but there is also a flip side to all of this. Creativity at its very core thrives on polarity; it thrives on the perpetual drive to transcend reality. The very fact that we are so cliquey is also a reason for why we’re known as The Creative Capital of the World. Jeez man, I love this city.

I’ll be running a bulldozer through our collective psyche to uncover, once and for all what makes Cape Town clique, and what makes Cape Town tick.

This is a party and everyone’s invited. Take a stab. Take a stance. Wys me. I invite you on my quest to discover what lives Under the Culture.



  1. Barclay,
    I’m not sure what makes CT so cliquey, but I do know that for a fact, it’s the cliquest place I’ve ever been (besides high school and middle school, of course). I think it might have something to do with the fact that people simply do not have to mingle if they don’t want to. In Jo’Burg, chances are you work with all sorts of different people and have to pass people on the street who are different from you but aren’t necessarily providing you a service. In Cape Town, that doesn’t happen very often. And I’m not talking only about skin color or class standing, there are so many strange bubbles — I’m american and I met other Americans that hung out with people from Constantia and UCT but because I didn’t go to UCT or hang out in Constantia, they treated me like I didn’t exist. It’s strange. I say this all with so much love for CT, I just hope this bit of the city changes.

    nice article!

  2. Yes, we’re show-offs. We’re cultural snobs. But who wouldn’t be? We live in one of the most insanely beautiful cities in the world. It’s hard not to let that go to your head. What I’ve observed over recent years is that cliques are moving away from working in isolation and finding the sweet spot of collaboration. It’s virtually impossible not to have these, often ground-breaking, cross -overs, when the city is just bursting with so much creativity. You can’t have merging and mixing without the individual pieces. It’s a Kaapse Bobotie.

  3. I think you have a point about the natural layout of Cape Town forcing lines of division among it’s citizens. It’s enclosed by mountains for a start. But I feel that the city is still physically divided along racial lines. We can’t talk about separateness and segregation in Cape Town without hauling out the big, ugly R word…Yes, there is racism here. We’re a pretty racist bunch compared to JHB, and my part of my rationale is that geography of JHB is far more inclusive, the infrastructure bridges those divides. It’s easier to get around and in and about. In CT, there is both a strong unnatural and natural divide that is apartheid’s legacy to Cape Town. The architects of apartheid changed the flow of rivers, e.g Black River (which wasn’t it’s original name. It was changed from Diep River to Black River around about the time of the Group Areas Act) and Salt River, to make sure that the black and coloured population had a hard time getting to those across the Liesbeek River. This is a whole blog post in it’s own and warrants a closer look. Thanks for a great post, Barclay. There is much lurking under the Table.

  4. Dear Isabel,

    I appreciate your insight. I get what you’re saying about Joburg vs Cape Town. People in Joburg don’t hesitate to drive an hour or more to a braai on the other side of town. This has a lot to do with the geography of the place. The frantic pace of life up there also means that people are constantly moving, and have not formed the same isolated pockets that Cape Town has.

    About UCT – I concur. There is elitism wherever we go in the world and UCT is no exception. With all due respect to one of the finest institutions in our country – but most students operate within a self-righteous aura of intellectual arrogance. This is probably due to the fact that the majority come from highly priveliged backgrounds and are forced to form alliances in order to deal with the enormous social pressures.

    You have inspired me to take a closer look at the class system which perpetuates segregation. Thank you.

    Racism is another beast that we are going to tackle, and I look forward to tearing it down.

    I hope you’re settling back into the big bad US of A. I look forward to chatting again soon.

    Stay connected.

  5. Dear Justforalark,

    Amen, some days I walk around this city and find myself blissing out for no apparent reason. It comes with the territory. We all deserve to experience this pride and joy. I too have experienced a wave of beautiful collaboration over the past few years. There is no doubt that we are blessed with some of the finest creative thinkers in the world.

    And now let’s take a look at RACISM: The word racism is currently so convoluted and misunderstood that we first need to dissect the word itself and get to the core of where it lies, and find solutions to transcend it. And yes, this deserves an entirely separate and focused blog post. I look forward to tackling this with you.

    I appreciate your brilliant observation, re: The architects of apartheid. Cape Town is plagued with these invisible and visible lines of racial segregation. We must find solutions to these geographical fuck ups. We need to dissect both the geographical segregation and the mental barriers. Collectively we must solve these issues. We need to make healing/catharsis possible in all aspects: physical/emotional/spiritual and mental. We are faced with a monumental task.

    Do you have any ideas/possible solutions for where we should begin?

    Perhaps one solution could be to create opportunities and inspire people to experience other cultures. We must begin to solve these issues on a micro level – within our own communities, while also addressing Cape Town as a whole. We are busy forming an alliance right now and I know that we’ll solve them together.

    Ultimately this blog is more than a platform for discussion, it is a place to dig deep into the heart of Cape Town. It is a source of insight, a place to form ideas and then TO TAKE ACTION. Together we are one tribe, working together to create the world we want to live in.

    I look forward to taking the journey with you.

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