South Africa in London
Words by Ntokozo Kunene. First published on Visit London blog
Ntokozo Kunene came to London to study Fashion Design, and is currently interning
at an African publication.
South Africa’s presence in London is immediately felt in the imposing architectural
space, on Trafalgar Square, which houses our High commission. Designed by Sir
Herbert Baker (the architect) behind Rhodes House in Oxford, and the rebuilt Bank of
England), it is also the home to our polar history – the target of protests against the
apartheid regime during the 1980s, to the place where Nelson Mandela stood to mark
the 7 th anniversary of the first democratic elections held after the end of apartheid.
The talk of South Africa is not complete without the mention of Nelson Mandela –
our symbol of reconciliation, and what it means to be South African – and London
has a couple of memorials dedicated in his favour. One of which, a bust, at the Royal
Festival Hall, was unveiled in 1985 by Oliver Tambo – another stalwart of the fight
against apartheid. In Parliament Square, you’ll find a life size statue of Mr. Mandela,
which he unveiled himself in 2007.
You can also find South Africans in the award winning - musical the Lion King
Brown Lindiwe Mkhize plays Rafiki, Andile Gumbi plays Simba, and which once
starred Sello Maaka Ka Ncube as Mufasa. South African musician and Grammy
Award winning artist Lebo M contributed to the soundtrack of both the original
animated film, and the theatre production ongoing at the Lyceum Theatre of London’s
West End. London is a favourite destination for South African musicians, and venues
such as the Barbican, the RichMix and even the V&A, have hosted the likes of
Grammy Award winning songstress Miriam Makeba, legendary trumpeter Hugh
Masekela, and younger artists, Shangaan Electro, Spoek Mathambo and the Blk Jks.
When I arrived in London I was happy to find that one of my favourite South African
restaurants back home, the Cape Town Fish Market (http://www.ctfm.com/home/)
also has a branch here, just behind Oxford Circus Station. The walls are decorated
with pictures, commissioned from various Capetonian museums, depicting the fishing
community of Cape Town. The menu is a mix between South African and Japanese
cuisine and caters to both meat and fish lovers. I thoroughly enjoy sitting around the
Teppenyaki grill table, and watching as your meal is being prepared. South Africa is a
diverse country of people of various origins and this is reflected in our food. Few
people know that the highly popular Nandos (http://www.nandos.co.uk/) (Portuguese
flamed grilled peri peri chicken), found on many street corners in London, is actually
a South African chain.
There are times when we miss the comforts of home, and when this happens we head
to the many Savannah stores (http://www.thesavanna.co.uk/), which stock South
African food and drink. This is a good place to purchase genuine biltong, a kind of
dried/cured meat that most South Africans cannot live without. You can also find
maize meal – corn that is ground to a fine powder and used to cook our one of our
staple starches called pap/meilipap. From South African cider and wine to our local
sweets and crisps, Savannah is like taking a trip to the country itself.
Just like London, South Africa is a smorgasbord of cultures as a result of our assorted
heritage. As a result South Africa in London lends itself to an assortment of
experiences in film, theatre, art, music and food.