Cape Town - “All my life I’ve lived in this area… and this is where we’ve always been happy...”
This was what 83-year-old resident Gadija Davids said of her home in the Bo-Kaap where long-time residents are coming under increasing pressure from skyrocketing house prices and the resultant spike in property rates.
With its cobblestoned streets and colourful houses, the Bo-Kaap, once known as the Malay Quarter, rich in culture, history and tradition, has changed dramatically in recent years. The sought-after area on the edge of the Cape Town CBD has attracted new businesses and a new generation of home owners. The area now contains bars, clubs, guest houses, cafés and completely overhauled homes, which many say have taken away from the essence of the original community.
Davids, along with her family and numerous Bo-Kaap residents, feel they are being pushed out of the area they have lived in for generations as development continues at a frenetic pace in Cape Town.
The Cape Town Central Improvement District released a report on Friday which showed that there had been an estimated R2.5 billion in construction investment in the city centre in the past year with another R1.5bn in the pipeline.
The gentrification of Bo- Kaap and similar areas like Woodstock and Salt River has seen many long-time residents sell up and move – often at a handsome profit – but it has spelled doom for those residents who want to remain.
Standard semi-detached homes in the Bo-Kaap now sell for R2 million. But Davids and her family, who have resided in the area since 1973, have no desire to sell up and move. Her son and daughter, who live with her, know no other home.
“I’ve always liked this area… people are good here and everyone knew each other,” she said.
Her son, Nazeem, estimates about 40 percent of the original residents have moved out of the area.
As a pensioner, Davids receives a rebate on her property rates but it still added up to a 20 percent increase in her rates.
“It feels like we’re losing our heritage here… people pay R1 800 rates for a house smaller than ours (a three-bedroom home)… but I’d rather stay in a caravan than move to Manenberg or Mitchells Plain,” Nazeem Davids said.
Neighbour Gamidah Jacobs shares their reluctance to move despite the ever-increasing property taxes.
“Most of the people living here didn’t buy these properties for R1.5 million. Now the City comes in and tells you the house is R1.5 million and we must pay property rates for that… we don’t have money to pay these amounts.”
The 39-year-old, who lives with her husband and three daughters, said that local families were forced to “cope” with rate hikes because they simply refuse to move.
Jacobs also told how each home had been passed down from generation to generation, and reminisced over childhood memories of asking neighbours for milk and sugar.
“This is my home. I cannot imagine myself living any other place… and as people move, this will become another normal area,” she said, looking out over the colourful homes of her neighbours.
Jacobs, who said her property rates had increased by 300 percent, said she viewed this as a way of getting rid of poorer residents in the city.
Although there had been numerous complaints, Nazeem Davids said nothing had been done, leaving them to join the Schotsche Kloof Ratepayers’ Association. “It’s the only way to fight,” he added.
Ismael Hartley, secretary of the association, believed the people of Bo-Kaap were being “exploited” by the city.
“We pay these rates, but don’t enjoy any privileges they should afford us.
“There’s no facilities for the elderly, no youth facilities… we have two parks, and people who squat here.
“We have no institutions that the city provides for other wards.
“They allocate thousands to the coons… but not much is allocated to the improvement of this area.”
The city’s executive deputy mayor and mayoral committee member for finance, Ian Neilson, explained that properties were valued at a market price – established by gathering sales data of actual property sales, using this to calculate the value for the property – while property owners were provided with the opportunity to object to the property values, as published in the valuation roll during the official objection period.
“If the property owner has financial circumstances that make it difficult to pay the rates, they are encouraged to contact the city’s revenue department to make the appropriate arrangements.”
Davids, who was born in Bo- Kaap, told how – like most families in the area – she had strict parents and when it came to Muslim prayer times, all the children packed up their toys from the stoeps and stopped their games as they went inside to observe the holy time.
The area has become a tourist hot spot, but all the economic spin-offs have come at a price – residents now have to put up with film crews constantly on the move through the area and even on to their properties.
Hartley said he felt “hurt” by the city’s lack of care for an area he described as “the heart of Cape Town” and billed as a heritage site the world over.
He said the city aimed to increase residents rates by another 18 percent soon, effectively pushing more people out of the area.
“We won’t lose our heritage. We will lose our identity… who we are and what we are supposed to be.”