Protected forever: Bo-Kaap wins heritage status after four-year fight

28 March 2019 - 16:40 By DAVE CHAMBERS
The huurhuise of the Bo-Kaap are safe after the Cape Town council approved heritage status for the city's oldest surviving residential neighbourhood.
The huurhuise of the Bo-Kaap are safe after the Cape Town council approved heritage status for the city's oldest surviving residential neighbourhood.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Cape Town city centre's historic Muslim neighbourhood, the Bo-Kaap, has succeeded in winning protection from rapacious developers.

Thursday's decision by the city council to approve a heritage overlay protection zone for the city's oldest surviving residential neighbourhood will affect new developments, restorations, and the maintenance and alteration of properties.

Mayor Dan Plato said it was a pivotal moment. "Today, the city has officially committed to conserving the unique historical landscape and way of life in the Bo-Kaap by managing development in a sustainable and considered manner," he said.

Plato thanked community members for sustaining a four-year fight for heritage status. "The Bo-Kaap is entering a new chapter where residents and land owners can actively promote it as a heritage tourist destination to the benefit of the local community, as well as the broader Cape Town," he said.

A month-long public participation process on the heritage proposal attracted 2,298 comments, only 27 of which were against the idea.

Marian Nieuwoudt, the mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said some of the objectives of the new heritage status were:

  • to conserve the Bo-Kaap by encouraging owners to retain and rehabilitate existing residential buildings;
  • to protect streetscapes;
  • to ensure that new developments and alterations to existing buildings complement the historic urban landscape; and
  • to promote the social and cultural traditions and practices where people live outwardly, on the stoeps and sidewalks.

Nieuwoudt said most properties in the Bo-Kaap were graded as conservation-worthy. "Key among these are the bright coloured terrace houses that are iconic and characteristic of the Bo-Kaap.

"These houses, known as huurhuise, give visitors a glimpse of city living where boundary walls are mostly absent and neighbours and children are still mingling in the street."

More than 600 privately owned properties in the Bo-Kaap will be within the new heritage zone, and Nieuwoudt said council heritage professionals would be available to offer owners free advice on adhering to the regulations governing the zone.

"The zone will not prevent new development. However, it sets additional development rules over and above the provisions of the base zoning for land units in the Bo-Kaap," she said.

"Development applications for properties within the Bo-Kaap will be assessed more critically, with additional focus on the impact that the development proposal will have on the heritage value of the building and site, and the area."

City planners would be able to impose conditions on developments and require plans to be altered to comply with the area's protected status.

Applications predating the heritage status would be processed in terms of the legislation at the time of acceptance.

"A land owner who has already obtained additional development rights and still needs to use the land in accordance with those rights doesn't need to apply for approval in terms of the heritage protection overlay zone," said Nieuwoudt.