Economically and socially the colony could be divided into three distinct areas: those living in De Kaap (later called Cape Town), the wine and wheat farming community of the rural Western Cape, and the stock farmers of the frontier beyond the first mountain ranges.Cape Town was a multiracial and multilingual city. A quarter to a third of all the burghers lived in Cape Town, engaging in commerce and petty trade. Life revolved around the Castle, which housed the Company’s headquarters and garrison, numerous taverns, and boarding houses that provided hospitality for visitors. The city was considered to be the centre of cultural and intellectual life, but in fact it was a backwater. Until the end of the Company period there was no high school, no theatre, no public hall of entertainment, no bookshop, and no newspaper. Most people did not read and public amusements were few. Dances in the wealthiest private houses, with slaves providing the music, were very popular.
While Cape Town’s natural beauty was widely hailed, not everyone was pleased with the town. In 1710 Johanna Maria van Riebeeck, a granddaughter of the founder and wife of the governor-general of Dutch India, was dismissive in her comments. ‘The governor’s house looks like a maze and the other houses resemble prisons. The [Khoikhoi] are ugly, stinking people, the Dutch keep their houses in a slovenly way . . . and the way of life is peculiar. The governor is a man with a certain courtly elegance, but everything is done in the [Khoikhoi] style. Nevertheless the food is better than in Batavia and so is the climate.’