Travel through the eyes of writer Palesa Kgasane

Cape Town is a city of many contrasts – much like resident Palesa Kgasane. She has a Sesotho first name; was born in the Mother City but raised in the Free State capital, Bloemfontein; is a writer, visual content creator and curator; and a lover of art, fashion and architecture.

There’s a beautiful synergy to the diverse intricacies of Kgasane whose creative content – shared on her website Mzansi Mood Board and Instagram – inspires a second take at the world. She told us how travel influences the interesting facets that contribute to who she is.

What were your early influences in terms of travel?

I was born in Cape Town but grew up in Bloemfontein. I’ve always loved fashion and art, and travel was a blessing because my dad is from the Free State and my mom is from the Western Cape. So growing up, we always travelled between the two. South Africa also has some amazing places. I mean, I fall in love with Cape Town every day. Growing up, my mom was always super amazing and quite “woke” – when I was about 16, she took my sister and I on a trip to Phuket, Thailand. That was my first trip abroad and while we may have been too young to fully appreciate it at the time (often thinking, “Gosh, we’re the only black people around!”), it was great to be immersed in a different culture so far away. That was really my first taste of the world. When I was 18, I signed up for a school tour to London, Florence, Italy and other world capitals. From then on, I told myself that if I could do more of this more regularly in 10 years’ time, I definitely would.

In terms of creative expression, what makes the young women of colour that you profile on Mzansi Mood Board unique compared to creatives abroad?

There’s something about South Africa’s rich cultural heritage ­– there’s a myriad of cultures and there are so many ways for people to express themselves, because even in your “Tswana-ness”, your “Sotho-ness” or your “Xhosa-ness”, there are variations. Cultures are so different, even among people who are the “same”. For instance, I grew up in Bloemfontein and I’m a Setswana-speaking girl, but I also went to Rhodes [university]. South Africans are also at a place where we’re rewriting our stories after such a painful history. I think we’re grasping more onto our cultures and the things that make us unique, and writing from our perspective, without wanting to copy the West or European content creators. Ultimately, there’s no similar South African story.

How have the places you’ve travelled to influenced your work and personal growth?

Travelling can really change your perspective. For instance, you see how the poor are treated differently, in light of the inequality in SA. Travel also makes you appreciate certain things more and you come to understand how culturally diverse and beautiful we really are. While I hate being exotified, being appreciated for looking different or being able to speak a different language, or even being able to do your hair a certain way, makes you realise how special we are. It’s also important to tap into the rest of the world because you learn so much more – we tend to get stuck in our little bubbles, and travel makes you realise that there’s so much more happening beyond your world, beyond the city, beyond the club. When it comes to my work, I’m able to cross-reference. If you’re going to create content only for South Africa and not think how it will reflect, you’re never going to grow. Solange Knowles is my idol for instance; she creates content that’s universal but is also unique to where she’s from. It’s great to look within but to also be able to look outward – when you’re able to do that, you’re able to create content that’s bigger than you.

What’s your best piece of travel advice?

I’ll give you three: always have a buddy; always be as present as you can because you can miss so much when you’re thinking of other things and not the place you’re in; and make sure you document! When I look back to pictures of places I visited years ago, they bring back so many memories and inspire things in me that I hadn’t thought about or realised.

Any must-see hidden gems that you’ve come across on your travels?

  1. Observatory, Cape Town

This is a little suburb that’s basically a small village within Cape Town, with some hidden gems that include eclectic coffee shops and restaurants. The upstairs area at Cafe Ganesh is like a backyard in a little village and I love the quirky artwork.

  1. Wine farms, Western Cape

I love how “deserted” the scenery is. The huts or houses on the road always look like they belong in a movie of sorts.

  1. The beaches, everywhere in SA

I love the ocean. There isn’t much I can say except that it represents untouched beauty in its best form.

  1. Maboneng, Johannesburg

I love this area of Joburg for its eccentricity and cool. The buildings are a great accent to the urban feel that makes Joburg what it is.

  1. Clarence, Free State

This small town is like a European village. I really love the little market where you can find anything from leather goods to vintage clothing.

  1. Phi Phi islands, Thailand

These islands have the most beautiful water and backdrop set against mountains. – literally pristine and “hidden”.

  1. Assisi, Italy

One of the most beautiful coastal places in Italy – I love the vibe and the people are really friendly.

For more, follow Palesa Kgasane on Instagram.

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