Bo-Kaap

The Bo-Kaap, is al neighbourhood on the fringe of the Cape Town city center with steep narrow cobblestone streets and colorfully painted houses . The area lies on the slope of Signal Hill  and is bordered by the city center on one side and Tamboerskloof on the other. The mainly muslim community of the  Bo-kaap  shares a unique culture that dates back to the slave era, when the Dutch imported high ranking political prisoners who opposed colonisation in other territory whose descendants together with freed slaves settled on the slopes of Signal Hill. Slave owners did little to suppress Islam, and many slaves regarded it as the religion of freedom. This, together with the  presence of banished religious leaders in the Cape allowed the religion to prosper, and by 1824 there were two mosques, 5 prayer rooms and 4 madrassas in the Bo-Kaap.   Although only a proportion of small proportion of these descendants were of actual Malaysian origin, the colonial authorities and also the later Apartheid government branded Cape muslims in general Cape Malay, and the area became known as the Malay Quarter.

History

The first Muslims to arrive at the Cape and settled on the slopes of Signal Hill were servants of officials who worked for the Dutch East India Company. They were slaves, political prisoners and exiles from Bengal, the Malabar Coast and the Indonesian archipelago who under Dutch supervision, helped to establish the basic infrastructure of the colony. The Dutch especially imported slaves that were craftsmen and experts in carpentry, including fine art carvings, tailoring shoemaking, toolmaking, and confectionary, to serve the officials of the Dutch East India Company. As freed slaves permanently settled in the area, it  became an overcrowded slum and blocks of sub-economic flats were built in the adjacent Schotsche Kloof.  The brightly-coloured homes only started to appear after the City Council was obliged by provincial government to restore the area in the 1960s and 1970s. The only colour houses were not allowed to be painted in was white. Around this time the unique culture of the Bo-kaap consolidated when the Apartheid government granted the muslim elite privileges that was not extended to other people of color. When people of color were then forcibly removed from commercial hubs  such as Cape Town and surrounding areas, the Bo-kaap was declared a Malay Group Area and spared from destruction. Interestingly, the classification also prevented commercialisation of the area, allowing it to retain its unique character.

The Bo-kaap today

The rows of flat roofed houses painted in vivid colours, the assortment of crumbling and restored houses and mosques lining the cobblestone streets are visually captivating and a tourist magnet for those who are yearning for the simplicity of yesteryear. The area is rapidly changing however, due in part to rapid gentrification and a city whose developer friendly policies favor revenue generating mega projects.  The high properties prices are an incentive for many lower income earners to willingly move whilst others simply cannot afford the rising property taxes. In comparison -  the front doors of the houses opens up almost directly onto the pavement,  the neighbourhood felt like an extension of the home - residents had no shame in asking a neighbour for some coffee or sugar if short in the past. Some lingering customs that are tokens of a close community  on the other hand are often making “outsiders” feel uncomfortable, such as people milling around doorsteps and sidewalks.

Cape Malay Food

No discussion about the Bo- Kaap can be complete without a reference to Cape Malay cooking. No other aspect of Cape Culture has been exploited to such a magnitude and so enduringly, offered as an exotic delight, ethnicity as spice to liven up the dull palate of mainstream culture. The culinary roots of Cape Malay food stretches around the world, infused with the daily struggles of colonial slaves  who had to make do with what’s available locally, transform the scraps from the masters table or float with the intimate rhythm of life in the Bo-kaap, such as religious festivals and rites.  In her book What Is Slavery to Me? Postcolonial/Slave Memory in Post Apartheid South Africa (2010), Pumla Dineo Gqola argues that food was an essential way for the diverse groups that make up the Cape Malay identity to create a unified sense of self during and after the period of slavery in South Africa. Preparing and eating Cape Malay food is a way for descendants of colonial slaves to bridge a gap between their slave past and their South African present, providing a sense of belonging and acknowledgement of  where you come from.

 

The Cape Minstrels

The Cape Minstrels Carnival / Kaapse Klopse is a festival held annually in Cape Town that starts of in Rose Street in the Bo-Kaap and comes to a halt at the Grand Parade in front of the City Hall in Cape Town. The Parade has a competitive element to it , with rival troupes decked out in brilliant technicolor satin suits, painted faces and an assortment of ribbons. A section of each troupe traditionally  plays an array of musical instruments while other members mime, dance and march. The run -up to the festival sees an unlikely assortments of people come together in Klopse Kamers (Club Rooms ) gather to rehearse, from professional musicians, church choir members, children as young as two years to toothless old men.

The Noon Gun

One of Cape Town’s most enduring traditions, the noon was used as a time signal for ships anchored in Table Bay since 1802. The two black powder naval cannons, situated on Signal Hill,  are fired alternatively every day at noon. Even today every Capetonian knows that when the Noon Gun goes off, it’s exactly midday.

Read more abou the Noon Gun.

Tourism in the Bo-Kaap

The Bo-Kaap steps in dutifully to provide an authentic cultural experience to fulfil  the need to revisit traditional cultures and their origins. The less conscientious visitor can easily imagine themselves in a traditional setting, untouched and untainted by the forces of urbanisation - without compromising on the comforts of the western lifestyle such as accommodation, food and transport.

On the other hand, the Bo-Kaap offers a poignant portrait of the evolution of South African society and all the elements it entails - slavery, a history of violent racial discrimination, the wholesale commodification of a manufactured identity, and also a community proudly forging their own identity and resilient in the face of their struggles.

Mishka Bassadien states in a 2017 study that, despite being a popular tourist area,  the majority of residents in the Bo-kaap feel alienated from control of tourism in the community and are unsure whether tourism in the area benefits locals at all. This may indicate that very few, if any avenues of responsible tourism exists that will allow visitors to have a truly authentic experience beyond joining a walking tour along the cobbled streets and through the colourful houses, topped of with a lunch of through the cobbled streets to see the colorful houses  dhaltjies and samoosas .

Architecture

The Bo-Kaap contains the largest concentration of pre-1850 architecture in the country and is the oldest surviving residential neighbourhood. To provide housing to immigrants and craftsmen of various nationalities, the town grid was expanded up the slopes of Signal hill, parallel with Buitengracht Street. Development consisted of modest “huurhuisjes” (rental housing) , which were typically rows of flat roofed, single story houses. After the emancipation of slaves, many freed slaves moved into the Bo-kaap and took over houses from immigrants, who moved to the Southern Suburbs. The narrow streetscapes are remarkably uniform , despite some subtle differences and  the rainbow pastels houses are painted in . The first houses in the area had parapets concealing flat roofs in the Cape Dutch, Victorian,  Georgian and Georgian styles. After 1860 many pitched roofed houses with verandahs and corrugated iron roofs  in the Georgian fashion appeared. Corner buildings at the corners of blocks were often used as shops, with the corner cut away at 45 degrees.

Things to do and see in the Bo-kaap

Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Kadi [Qadri] Abdus Salaam, known as Tuan Guru was an Indonesian prince brought to the as a "state prisoner". On his release he actively worked towards establishing a masjied and to better the conditions of muslims at the Cape. in 1794 he established the Auwal Masjid, the first in South Africa.

The Tana Baru Cemetery is a Muslim cemetery in the Bo-Kaap where some of the earliest and respected Muslim settlers of South Africa were buried, amongst whom Tuan Guru and Tuan Nuruman, who established the burial ground.

The Bo-Kaap Museum is housed in one of the oldest residential houses in the area. It was the first home of Abu Bakr Effendi, a Turkish Muslim scholar who was sent to the Cape by the Ottoman sultan at the request of Queen Victoria to teach and assist the Muslim community in 1862 It was established as a museum in 1978, giving a unique insight into the cultural history of the area.

The second oldest building of the Cape Colony was built in 1679, making it the second oldest existing building in what is Cape Town. The Slave Lodge housed the slaves who belonged to the Dutch East India Company . These slaves worked exclusively for the VOC and were never sold. Other then that very little is known about the erstwhile residents of the Slave Lodge.

The Bo-Kaap Kombuis is situated high on the slopes of Signal Hill with spectacular views of Table Mountain and the city basin. Here husband and wife team Yusuf and Nazli Larney serves traditional Cape Malay food such as bobotie, dhaltjies and fish curry.

Marco, chef and owner of Marco's African Place, is the first black restaurateur in Cape Town. In 1997 he opened Marco’s African Place, a   220 seater, fully licensed restaurant and bar in the Bo-Kaap. It has since become a popular venue for both locals and tourist to savor  African food and music.

The Bo-kaap is a place with two faces.

One that was moulded by the classificatory schemes of  apartheid statisticians and politicians and touted around like the “Hottentot Venus” Saartje Baartman by the Cape Town tourism industry. Behind the mask is an intimate, close knit community that is centered around the mosque, with islamic traditions that are unique to the area and  that spans decades, such as Thikrs, Moulood and Mugharram.

The Bo-kaap is unique in the sense that gentrification had a nominal effect on the community, even when it suffers the same pressures as similar inner city areas, evidence of a strong sense of solidarity amongst the people of the Bo-kaap. In December 2016 the people of the Bo-kaap celebrated the renaming of the area after successfully petitioning the government to get rid of colonial and apartheid era names such as Malay Quarter and Schotsche Kloof . Only the future will judge how well this community’s resilience will stand up against what UCT emeritus professor Fabio Todeschini describes as the Cape Town city council’s “crass development-at-all-costs culture”. bo kaap accommodation - bo kaap business accommodation - bo kaap self catering accommodation - bo kaap family accommodation - bo kaap bed and breakfast accommodation - bo kaap accommodation cape town, and Cape Town Accommodation