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Discovering Cape Town’s 1970s Charm through Spectacular Photographs

The 1970s were a turbulent and transformative decade for Cape Town. The city found itself at the epicenter of racial tension, socio-political upheaval, and economic shifts. The socio-political climate was dominated by the iron grip of the apartheid regime. In 1976, the Soweto Uprising in Johannesburg ignited widespread protests across South Africa, including Cape Town. This youth-led resistance, primarily against the forced introduction of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools, marked a significant turning point and resulted in global condemnation of the apartheid government.

Amid these tumultuous circumstances, District Six, a culturally diverse area within the city, underwent forced removals after the government’s declaration of it as a “white area”. The inhabitants of District Six, predominantly of colored and Indian origin, were forcibly relocated to the Cape Flats, forever altering both the cultural and physical landscape of the city.

Despite the oppressive climate, the 1970s in Cape Town also bore witness to remarkable displays of resistance and unity. Community organizations and anti-apartheid groups became increasingly vocal, asserting their rights and challenging the status quo. They conducted secret meetings, organized peaceful protests, and circulated underground literature, thereby keeping the spirit of resistance alive and vibrant.

The 1970s was also an era of vibrant cultural expression and creativity. Musicians, poets, writers, and visual artists used their art to critique and resist the oppressive regime. Jazz music, particularly Cape Jazz — a unique blend of American Jazz and indigenous South African rhythms — mirrored the city’s multicultural identity and the socio-political tensions of the time.

In the realm of education, the University of Cape Town continued to serve as a beacon of intellectual resistance. Student movements became stronger and more organized, leading peaceful protests and challenging the government’s racial policies. The university also remained a sanctuary for free thought and academic excellence amidst the pervasive oppression.

The decade also saw an interesting shift in Cape Town’s architectural landscape. Modernist architecture began to make its mark, with iconic structures like the Mutual Heights Building reflecting changing aesthetic sensibilities. While some of these developments echoed the regime’s aspirations, they also paved the way for a unique blend of architectural styles in Cape Town.

#7 Adderley street, 1971. Decorated for the 10th anniversary of the Republic.

#22 A view of Cape Town Bay, South Africa in the 1970’s.

#23 A panoramic view of Devil’s Peak, Cape Town, 1970s

#49 Parliament street, 1978. In the background the Golden Acre building is taking shape.

#54 The Original Crown Bar on the corner Adderley and Waterkant streets, 1971.

#59 Cafe district six on the corner of College and Cambridge Streets, 1970.

#60 Strand street, 1974. On the left, Electricity House where the Cape Sun Hotel is now.

#67 Schotsche Kloof, 1971. Play park bordered by Onder-Jordaan and Orphan streets.

#73 New car ad, 1977. The new Ford Granada in the Heerengracht during rush hour.

#74 Rotunda Hotel Camps Bay 1970. The Riviera Lounge was a popular venue in this hotel that has since been changed to the present day Bay Hotel.

#88 The Plein street area. The Hat Centre is having a sale, 1971

#94 City centre 1974. The Old Mutual Centre site being readied (between Woolworths and Garlicks) as well as Shell House on the site of the Metro cinema.

#108 14 Keerom Street and the one with the flagpoles is 16 Keerom Street which used to be the Netherlands Club now both are a restaurant.

#121 Breda Court, Mill street, 1972. This block of flats on the corner of Mill and Breda streets was possibly one of the first block of flats built in C.T. as Flats, not tenements.

#126 Adderley street, 1979. Entrance to the underground Mall.

#131 Putt-Putt 1974. At Green point next to the Round Table little Blue train.

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Written by Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark is a historian and writer who is passionate about sharing the stories and significance behind historical photos. He loves to explore hidden histories and cultural contexts behind the images, providing a unique insight into the past.

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