I can fully admit that in every single trip that I have taken, I have not always been the most informed traveler in the art of not causing cultural offense. The first time I visited the African continent as a 19 year old, I was far to comfortable in my own neo-colonial way of thinking. Thankfully, spending time among people in Tanzania shook some of that out of me. Not all. It took more time, more understanding, more maturing on my part. On my first trip to South Africa, I learned more. This trip, I learned even more. Sometimes, with more learning comes more questions that I cannot answer, but I can consider. I don’t want to be a neo-colonial tourist or a poverty tourist. I certainly don’t want to be Taylor Swift and I am smart enough to realize that videos like this in 2015 are offensive. The African continent and its inhabitants, both human and non-human don’t exist to be your props, Taylor. Also, there are people there too. UGh. Taylor Swift is still the worst.
Anyway, back on point, I try, with every effort I can, to be as well-informed as a traveler as I possibly can be. That doesn’t mean I am anything close to perfect, but I feel like as a person who has tremendous privilege (including the privilege to travel), I owe something to the people whose country I visit to try to be as thoughtful and responsible as I can be.
On this trip to South Africa, David and I were privileged even more by the dollar to rand exchange rate. While we were there, the dollar kept hitting an all-time high against the rand. Sure, this is great news for the American traveler, but I know that it means something different for South Africans. Certainly, the fate of the South African rand is tied heavily to the Chinese economy, as the Chinese are the largest trading partner of South Africans. The dip in the Chinese economy has meant that the large mining conglomerates in South Africa (which account for the largest part of South African exports) aren’t getting the business they once were, affecting the lives of people. I heard a story on the BBC that something like for every one person employed by the South African mining sector, something like 10 people depend on that person’s income. And mining wages in South Africa are not always fair wages and not always living wages. This is serious for people in South Africa as large mining companies, in years of plenty, have mega profits, none of which trickle down to mining workers, who instead literally have been killed for asking for higher wages. Marikana. That happened three years ago from a day I happened to be in South Africa.
I am not in the market for any precious metals, nor would I want to give my money directly too large mining conglomerates. However, I did want to try to ensure that the money I spent in South Africa stayed in South Africa. Last time we were in South Africa, I commented that it was amazing how much we were able to buy that was locally made. On this trip, that was even more true. As a South African, you really could buy everything that you needed as things produced in South Africa. Even the main tourist shopping area, the Victoria & Albert Waterfront has loads of locally made choices. The recently opened, beautifully renovated Watershed has some really amazing local craftsmen and women producing truly unique and beautiful things. We went to Woodstock too, the gentrified old warehouse, industrial district that now houses many of Cape Town’s artists. Beautiful, beautiful things abounded. The lovely thing is that for many of these artists and artisans, you don’t have to go to South Africa to buy their stuff. You can get it via the WWW. Here were some of our favorites:
IMISO: Distinctive Clay Art: At the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock
Our favorite restaurant where we ate had this interesting salt and pepper shaker that looked like eggs and sat in a ceramic egg carton. It came from this place, and when we walked in, we were wowed by some of the other amazing pieces by Andile Dyalvane and Zizipho Poswa.
Flip Flop Sculptures: At the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront
Davis Ndungu employees women working along the Durban coast to find old flip flips washed up on the shoreline. They collect them and he turns them into amazing things, like little sculptures of safari animals. They are colorful and each one is unique. We got a little menagerie of animals for the boys. You can follow in Instagram or Facebook.
JK Millinery: at the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront
My obsession with hats is a well-known character flaw, but if I can’t control myself buying them, then the least I can do is buy unique one-of-a-kind ones from the milliner’s shop. I felt so lucky to find this place, as I found a beautiful hat that I will treasure forever. Cape Town and its environs have a thriving textile industry, so not only was my hat hand crafted, but it used all local materials as well.
Original T-Bag Designs: at the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront
Hout Bay is troubled. It is one of the few places on the Cape Peninsula where you can see enormous wealth and enormous poverty side-by-side next to each other in the same view. While we were there, Hout Bay was in the papers daily because of unrest associated with government efforts to relocate people. But this little company is one bright spot in Hout Bay. A transplant from England employed local people from the Imizamo Yethu township to make functional art out of recycled t-bags. And they make beautiful things that you would never guess used to be tea bags. I bought two handbags for my sisters as well as some beautiful artwork for Grammy.
Township: at the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront
I learned about this company because they designed the conference bags for the WLIC. It is the only conference bag that I have ever kept, and I really, really love it. It too takes advantage of the local textile industry to employ women from local townships to make beautiful things. Like the Original T-Bag Designs, you can buy many of their products online and they make beautiful gifts. If I ever am in any position where I am organizing a conference and get to choose conference swag, you better believe I would be ordering their conference bags over any vendor supplied garbage.
Africology Skin Care
Pregnancy, nursing, associated other hormones, and sleep deprivation have done a number on my skin. This has coincided with me not wanting to spend hundreds of dollars on my skincare routine, because I could better use that money elsewhere. Also, because my skin has changed, I haven’t had the time or energy to figure out what products I should be using. I had a lovely facial when I was in South Africa and it was all using the Africology products. The line uses basic, natural ingredients and has helped to restore some moisture and radiance to my deprived skin. It is reasonably priced and you can order everything online. My favorites include the cleanser, moisturizer, and the renewing facial therapy serum. Everything is made in South Africa.
These are but a few of the places we found and loved. We found lots of great children’s clothing all made in South Africa. I once again took advantage of the South African Pringle of Scotland retail location, because what they sell there is also made in South Africa (I got a dress that is the most beautiful, perfect fall dress that I cannot wait to wear). I have heard some people say that South Africa is a shopping mad country, but with such beautiful things coming from local artisans, I can understand why.
Here are some pictures of us loitering around these shopping locales: