Tana Baru cemetery File photo: INLSA
Precious land in the Bo-Kaap community has come under severe threat. And residents were agitated for good reason. Recent protests in the area have turned the spotlight on social conditions, including the gentrification of its living spaces.

A piece of land that includes the renowned Tana Baru cemetery in the area has recently been put up for sale. Residents lobbied for the impending sale to be stopped. Claremont Auctioneers, under intense pressure, has now cancelled the sale.

If the sale went ahead, the commercial property barons would have been responsible for humiliation and destruction in a community with proud historical roots in the city.

The property auction company concerned employed deception tactics in its attempt to auction off this precious land. Why was this land, part of which is a historical cemetery, placed in the commercial properties section of newspapers. Why was the property described as a “rare development opportunity, with city and harbour views in a trendy location”?

The way the land was placed on the market, and now withdrawn, is part of a trend that is destroying this community’s sacred heritage. The Bo-Kaap has been a target for the questionable urban renewal. Selling sacred land is part of a larger project of property commercialisation in the city.

Echoing the sentiments of Bo-Kaap citizens, I believe the Tana Baru cemetery must be declared a heritage site. This will protect the area from further development that is out of sync with the local environment, in addition to neglecting the housing needs of its poorer inhabitants.

The people of the Bo-Kaap have been suffering humiliation associated with gentrification. Many homes are being bought by wealthy people, forcing locals to take up residence elsewhere.

The area has been turned into a tourist zoo, with busloads of people traipsing through its environments to observe the “natives”. This is obscene behaviour which is enraging residents.

Attempts to rezone spaces on the lower edges of the Bo-Kaap are ongoing, many high-rise buildings have gone up, and more are pending.

The City Council is complicit in awarding such rezoning agreements for commercial and property developments that are out of character with the local architecture and culture.

Auctioning off a section of a heritage cemetery is part of an attempt to change the spatial character of the city, drive up rates and housing prices, and destroy the local culture of its original inhabitants.

Such malicious developments are actively resisted by the community, in its effort to stop the sale of the cemetery land intended for auctioning. The community views this as a necessary step in reclaiming the Bo-Kaap as a viable and sustainable living space for local citizens.

* Fataar is a Professor at Stellenbosch University in the Department of Education Policy Studies