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Cape Town city profile | city data
  • A diverse city, constantly on the cutting edge, Cape Town is steeped in history and heritage
  • South Africa’s oldest city ranks among the world’s top destinations to visit and has all the attributes that appeal to people looking for a great city in which to live, work, play and invest.
  • The city’s greatest asset: its four million inhabitants. As diverse as they are, they share the same hopes.

City data: Key facts

Geographical area: 2,461 sq. km

Total population: 3,740,026

A focal point of design and creativity on the African continent, Cape Town has a complex, layered and unique history. The city started out as a port refreshment station which was established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652 for Europeans sailing to the Far East. Cape Town quickly developed into a settlement surrounding the harbour, displacing the local/indigenous Khoikhoi pastoralists who used the area as grazing land. The discovery of precious resources in the mid-19th century prompted an economic and social boom which has laid the foundation for modern day South Africa.

Today Cape Town is recognised as a world-class city and melting-pot of people and cultures. The City is known for its unrivalled beauty, blue flag beaches and award-winning wineries. In addition, Cape Town offers excellent study, work and business opportunities.

The growth of the city’s regional economy is driven by tourism, finance, infrastructure, ICT and agriculture, as well as the creative industries, which have earned the city many accolades and global awards. Cape Town is notably recognised as a creative city for its local film, design, architecture, music, performance, art and craft sectors, which attract a range of local and international investment.

Despite these achievements, Cape Town is a city still coming to terms with its history, and is actively seeking to shape a shared present and future. In 2014, the City of Cape Town adopted its Arts, Culture and Creative Industries Policy (ACCIP) which is the same year the city held the World Design Capital title. The Policy aims to create mechanisms that improve shared understanding and coordination around arts, culture and the creative industries in the city. Amid resource constraints, the Policy puts people first and celebrates Cape Town’s cultural diversity, artistic excellence, creative capacity and rich history, for the benefit of inclusivity, social cohesion, quality of life and social and economic development.

The policy is based on a strong sense of place in order to encourage urban regeneration and adaptive reuse of cultural resources for cultural heritage tourism; develop vibrant and people-friendly city spaces including historic and cultural precincts of interest; provide authentic tourism sites and experiences that are people-centred, place based, narrative-rich and thereby contributing to heritage tourism.

The city has roughly 10 major annual design related events and many smaller design events throughout the year. The annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival is the largest in Africa and draws Jazz enthusiasts from across the country and abroad. Jazz is an important sector of the music industry in Cape Town, and Cape Jazz has is its own distinct local sound, blending Marabi music developed in the townships with other jazz inflections.

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), which opened its doors in September 2017, is now the biggest museum in Africa dedicated to contemporary art from the continent and its diaspora. The opening of the museum generated much debate and reflection by leaders in the local art scene about the museum’s impact on audience development and wider changes underway in the art market.

Cape Town continues to be committed to democratising design; strengthening the local and international design-ecosystem; embedding design-led innovation into the City administration; and using design as a problem-solving tool for urban challenges, to play a significant, positive role in shaping the lives of the people who call it home. Over 20 design education and research institutions offer a range of world class training opportunities which supply the local and international market with resources.

In 2017, Cape Town became a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, as a Design City. It is the intention that the designation acts as a catalyst for the creation of valuable partnerships; developing Cape Town’s design sector; sharing and creating knowledge, growing new markets and increasing Cape Town’s ability to achieve inclusive, urban sustainable development.