Make the Circle Bigger?

So this post follows on from the previous post about Cape Town’s cliquey nature. This post responds to some comments you gave, chat about the existence of clique-ness within groups, and then talks about what people have done to survive in spite of the social exclusion.


Cliques can form within similar groups. A friend explained that as Blacks who experience upward economic and social mobility, in an effort to ‘belong’ in Cape Town, they push closer to elites, e.g. they have to move to urban areas. This creates a divide between themselves and their family and friends who haven’t ‘moved up’.
A friend shared, “back in our home towns, we are in the struggle/hustle together, but progressing to this bigger place displaces us. We are out of touch in terms of what other Blacks go through in this city…”
Another dimension that a friend offered is that Cape Town hosts people from all over Africa – Southern African Development Community, East African community, West Africa, etc.. Each of these groups tend to stick together as a community as a means of survival. “Cape Town is so foreign to us who migrate this side that we need some norm in our lives. We are scared to connect and know other cultures/people who are very different from us.” A friend from Malawi said she struggled to mingle with Black South Africans when she came to UCT. She added that this was contrary to her Malawian peers at University of Pretoria who mingled with South Africans. So she made friends with other international students at UCT.

A colleague posits that within same racial groups in South Africa, people want to connect according to education levels, socioeconomic status, etc. This is due to the legacy of apartheid of dividing and conquering. “As a displaced people (speaking very generally for Black South Africans here), there exists an obsession with where people come from, their tribe, ancestors, home language, etc., which is super divisive.” This might explain why some of my non-South African friends said they felt left out in Cape Town as they don’t speak IsiXhosa or Afrikaans.

I can’t speak for the Indian community but I received parallel responses in relation to the Indian caste system. I heard comments like people who are Hindu won’t mingle with the Gujarati’s, for example. Apparently similar phenomena occur in other racial groups too. I won’t go further on this but a friend said she has experienced clique-ness more at church than anywhere else.

Maybe the general Cape Town environment makes genuine connection harder such that Blacks themselves perpetrate this clique-ness within their own cultural, racial, political and religious groups. On the other hand, people might be bringing these separatist tendencies from their home towns to Cape Town, thus perpetuating a clique-ness they already hold.

I got some perspective from a married parent on her experience when she moved to Cape Town with her family: “People who have been here for a while don’t want extra effort of building among new people. Especially those married with kids already have their tribe. People want a good return on investment on their relationships so they prefer to keep the circle small and efficient. As understandable as this argument is, the new people suffer. We could gain so much from more fluid communities.”

Cape Cliques A Myth
Based on personal experience (and probably their personality as well) some friends reckon that the clique thing is just a myth. Some friends say that it’s like any other city in South Africa. “People see Capetonians socialize and immediately assume that it’s cliquey because certain people constantly hang out together, but the same happens in non-White spaces too.” A friend who grew up in Cape Town states, “People hanging out with who they can relate to is natural…”
Others have entirely unique experiences of groups. A friend shared, “As a Black non-South African, people expect you to be one thing and you surprise them, so you navigate various circles in your own way. I learned to feel comfortable in a White space from a young age. I learned to code switch – vernacular, accent, colloquial terms – according to the different crowds. Similarly, another friend had no trouble finding a circle: “I don’t fit into any particular group so don’t see or experience any clique-ness.”

*Johannesburg (JHB) is used as the counterfactual in the discussion, not only because it’s another major city in Cape Town, but also because most people have experienced JHB either before moving to Cape Town or after leaving Cape Town.

Other friends don’t deem Cape Town to be a unique case in terms of how circles form; they deem other cities to be no different. Groups generally self-select around activities and shared personal interests. “We have different interests, and we’re not being malicious by keeping to the same crowds… Cliques are just a way of the world!”
Perhaps then cliques are not unique to Cape Town, but feel more defined because this city in and of itself has a lot of segregation-related issues.

Someone else mentioned they just prefer to move with people who share similar values. “Particularly at a certain age, there’s less room to experiment with other types of people.” One friend posited that perhaps we don’t want to co-mingle across social and colour lines because maybe deep down inside we know that this is possible and a world like that scares us. What do you think?

Apparently in JHB there is more of a defined mould of the ‘average’ Black person. “Within different races then, the factors that drive clique-ness may differ.” Amongst blacks for example, Living Standard measures (LSM’s) might play a role. Moreover, whilst most migrants to Cape Town feel they can never feel at home here because of the stark divisions, those who have lived in JHB feel that they could actually settle there and call it home. A friend offers that clique-ness is a psychological phenomenon: “People come to Cape Town with the expectation of clique-ness (CT is cliquey, JHB is friendlier) so they make less effort making friends than they would in another city; thus making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Similar to organizational culture, employees come in and bend to the culture of the company.”

Another friend adds that deep social divisions historically inculcated a social norm of being guarded and selective in social interactions. Furthermore, the city in and of itself fails to drive integration as a policy objective.

Making Friends in Cape Town

Here’s an interesting story: Some of my friends are honest by saying that they were so lonely when they first moved to Cape Town that that got romantics partners to deal!

Cape Town Magazine actually wrote a piece called How to Make Friends in Cape Town which is interesting.  They recommend platforms like Mingle and Meetup, and Coffee Meets Bagel as a way to meet new people and make friends.

So what’s the way forward?

A wise friend shared that, “Where there exists comparison, cliques will always form. The only way cliques will disappear is if we have a society of brother and sisterhood: love and care that is not dependent on what you can get from the person or how they look.” Yes, this sounds, very idealistic, but I resonate with the sentiment…

Readers, I do want to say here that being part of a clique does not make you a bad person. We all want to be part of groups where we really belong… My analysis of cliques is an opportunity to understand better how circles form, and how some people can feel excluded as a result. I still think we miss out on meeting very interesting people by always hanging out with the same crowd…

I hope these two posts have given you some interesting perspectives which will offer you something to chat about over the dinner table with your loved ones.

Another thought that came to mind as I wrote on this topic is what happens when people in your clique move away to other cities or countries? What happens if there is a disagreement between members of a clique? Do people try to make new friends outside the circle in this case? Is that process easy?

Please comment below if you have an idea/opinion.


4 thoughts

  1. The friends I have now are a basically the people I knew from primary school. I gravitated towards them in first year because I knew them and I was just comfortable around them. The additions that came into my current friendship circle are all people I share a home language with. Re ba Tswana ro rotlhe. And it honestly just feels comfortable knowing that at least once every 2 months (cos they all work now) we can come together as friends and just connect with one another in a very special way which I can’t describe.
    I do also have other friendship circles who are neither Tswana nor South African, and I learn so much from these international friends of mine. I value that interaction just as much as I do with my other group of friends; it brings new perspective in my life and I value that. And I hope my plain self has had the same impact on both circles of friends.

    I think that the clique thing varies from person to person. I mean people are free to associate with whoever they feel most comfortable with. However, I have come to learn that there is much to learn and experience outside of your comfort zone.

    So yeah, I guess stay in your cliques but no ‘Mean Girls’ please lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is so good!
      I’m with you on having a safety circle, and then hanging out with other peeps too and learning from them.
      So yes, mean girls/exclusionary groups MUST FALL!
      Thanks for commenting 🙂


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