Cape Town Street Crafts: Anyone who travels round the streets of the Mother City cannot fail to be moved by either the extreme beauty or the dire poverty that makes up much of Cape Town life. Each journey can be an emotional roller-coaster ride – joy, sadness, enchantment, anger, hope.
But for me one of the most powerful and recurring themes has been an absolute respect and admiration for the extraordinary craftsmanship and dazzling inventiveness of the street artists that ply their bead work, paintings and metal sculptures around a number of major intersection across town.
Wow! These guys are good, transforming all manner of bits of recycled plastic and tin into wonderfully imaginative gifts, recreating everything, from penguins to Harley Davidson’s, lamp shades to flying pigs in elaborate vibrant bead work, or painting lively and cheeky slices of township life onto the back of old cupboard doors, adding rows of tiny 3D shacks made from tin cans.
Two particular favourites of mine are the funky chickens made out of plastic bags, and the ingenious wind mills made from old aerosol cans.
One major advantage of a dashboard deal is that you can assure that all the money goes to the artist and their family, and it’s great to be able to put a face to your chosen piece. It is also worth noting that these street artisans take commissions, and will more than happily create your dream gift (a friend of mine ordered a flying dolphin mobile to hang above his unborn child’s crib).
And if something is a bit pricy, you are more than welcome to haggle. Some people get overwhelmed by the sheer passion with which these vendors sell their wares, and when two or three vendors approach you at once, trying to outdo each other. Street vendors are masters of the hard sell, so just look the products over and be firm about what you want.
There are a number of key locations around town, each with places to pull over, where the artists take advantage of the lights to parade their work. The junction between the M3 and Newlands Avenue is a particularly popular spot, as is the entrance to Constantia Village Shopping Centre, Constantia Road, (with breathtaking metal sculptures), and the corner of Rondebosch Common, close to the Silwood Shopping Centre.
One thing that you are bound to encounter whilst driving around town is ‘Funny Money’ an A4 flyer packed with cartoons and gags and witty proverbs, sold on a donation basis at many busy intersections, the product of a wonderful piece of reciprocal back scratching between Cape Town’s poor and a printing company called Topcopy.
There’s something for everyone – bazaar adverts, true stories, pseudo scientific nonsense such as ‘How you undress reveals your personality’, and even a ‘Let’s learn Xhosa’ section.
Also, keep a lookout for The Big Issue, also at major traffic lights (robots), which, since its inception, has given ‘a hand up, not a handout’ to over 10 000 people across South Africa. It costs, but feel free to give a little extra. So when driving around Cape Town, it’s always best to keep a pile of loose change handy.
Useful Cape Town Links