WATCH | Bo-Kaap's daily smoke signals over new 'forced removals'

02 June 2018 - 10:55
By Aron Hyman

For the past two weeks‚ sunsets in Cape Town’s traditional “Malay quarter” — Bo-Kaap — have been obscured by three pillars of black smoke.

Regular as clockwork‚ they rise in front of Signal Hill‚ obscuring the convoy of tour buses ascending to the top.

At their base‚ residents stand around burning tyres in the middle of Wale Street‚ the main artery into the neighbourhood. They defiantly face Buitengracht Street‚ the source of the construction trucks and tour buses they blame for their woes.

The cause of their anger‚ and the reason for their daily protest‚ is the fear of being pushed out of their neighbourhood by gentrification.

Their anxiety is compounded by the fact that most of the community of 5‚000 people with an age average of 58 can still remember the first forced removals of non-whites from District Six half a century ago.

“That is the neo-liberal way of forced removals‚” says Fowzia Achmat‚ who was a young woman when her family were removed from District Six.

“In District SIx it was legislated that we need to get people of colour out of town‚ but this is the new way‚ the economic way. If you can’t afford it‚ get out‚ just get them out.”

In front of the burning tyres children play touch rugby. Their try lines are the steps leading to a convenience store and the Hilton Hotel. A convoy of police vehicles at the main road completes the pitch.

Shakirah Dramat‚ a member of the youth organisation Bo-Kaap Rise‚ stands on the periphery of the protest. While she does not necessarily agree with this type of “expression”‚ she feels the same anxiety as the young men who started the fires.

“It’s the same geographic movement as 30 years ago but instead of a race thing‚ it’s a class thing‚” she says.

“Bo-Kaap is being bullied by the City of Cape Town‚ it’s being bullied by big developers‚ it’s being bullied by overseas investors. What’s going to happen in a few years’ time is people aren’t going to be able to afford to live here. People already can’t afford to live here any more.”

Muslims breaking their Ramadaan fast in Cape Town's Bo-Kaap celebrate iftar by laying out food on rolls of paper in Wale Street and inviting passers-by to join them.
Image: Esa Alexander Muslims breaking their Ramadaan fast in Cape Town's Bo-Kaap celebrate iftar by laying out food on rolls of paper in Wale Street and inviting passers-by to join them.

Most of Bo-Kaap’s community are either middle-class or working-class people‚ and Dramat says the expenses that come with living so close to the city are taking a toll.

“It’s already difficult to make it in South Africa‚ then it’s even more difficult to make it in Cape Town‚ and then it’s even more difficult to make it in a city area‚” she says.

“It’s ridiculously expensive‚ and a lot of people who live here are lower to middle class. They can’t afford this.”

The residents have sent the City of Cape Town a list of demands‚ including one for a “heritage protection overlay zone” agreement.

Bo-Kaap Civic Association chairman Osman Shaboodien says this will protect the area’s colourful houses from being demolished and developed.

Shaboodien speaks to TimesLIVE next to a new type of protest. An iftar feast had been laid out on two lengths of white paper rolled out in Wale Street. Hundreds of Muslim residents were inviting passing pedestrians to join them.

“There’s no more patience‚ we’ve been waiting far too long for small things to happen‚ and I think that is the culmination of what we’re seeing‚” says Shaboodien.

“Tonight again‚ it’s a question of a spiritual look at it. It emphasised the character of Bo-Kaap‚ and we do say we welcome everyone here. It might be a Muslim thing but we have Christians too that stay here. We respect that.

“The one thing is the question of housing‚ the second thing is development‚ the third thing is how we get about with the traffic. It’s a city problem but it also impacts on us. Gentrification is destroying our area step by step.

“Now we can argue that people are selling their homes‚ but if you entice poor people with your euros and your dollars‚ and you allow the rampant development in your area‚ it waters down the effect of people’s resistance.

“We can only resist so much‚ we can only take so many letters to the council.”

Muslims pray after breaking their Ramadaan fast in Cape Town's Bo-Kaap.
Image: Esa Alexander Muslims pray after breaking their Ramadaan fast in Cape Town's Bo-Kaap.

Shaboodien also draws parallels with protests around Cape Town and the rest of the country‚ saying the issues boil down to the same thing: “Housing‚ land‚ and the mere affordability of living‚ that’s a common denominator‚” he says.

The effects of a sputtering economy‚ uncertainty around land reform and rising prices are behind the recent explosion in protests‚ he believes.

“It is this type of culmination [of frustration]‚ not only in Bo-Kaap. We are witnessing it in the whole of South Africa‚ the whole of Cape Town. People are rising up and saying‚ enough is enough.

“The heritage protection of Bo-Kaap is paramount. Once you lose it‚ you’re not going to get it back.

“Heritage does not mean a building‚ heritage means living‚ it means your father and your grandfather stayed in the building and it means a lot to your family.

“It’s not a question of just a threat‚ it’s basically the whole existence of our history. The threat to Bo-Kaap is a threat to our identity‚ where we come from.”

Ward councillor Brandon Golding‚ says the city council is aware of the issues underlying protests in Bo-Kaap but believes a heritage protection overlay zone alone will not necessarily stop gentrification.

“[It] will protect the heritage in the structural sense‚ but we need to work more at protecting the heritage at the base cultural root‚ and that is something we look forward to working a bit closer with the community on and looking how that is recorded and how that is reinforced‚” he says.

“Gentrification is the selling-off of resources‚ other people moving in. Gentrification happens when money is offered to property owners and it’s a large sum and they’ll move out.”

Golding believes a solution to the problem is to enrich the people of Bo-Kaap‚ who have only seen a limited gain from the large number of tourists flocking to the vibrant community.

“Bo-Kaap’s benefit thus far from tourism has not been that large‚ it’s been on the periphery. What needs to happen is the activation properly of tourism in Bo-Kaap‚” he says.

“If residents in Bo-Kaap will make money from tourism‚ they won’t be selling their properties. It will be part of who they are‚ it will be part of their income stream.”