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‘If they want to live here, they must adapt’

Published Nov 20, 2013


Cape Town - The call to prayer rings out in the Bo-Kaap at 1pm. But it’s business as usual for the tour operators who guide large groups through the streets of one of the oldest communities in the city.

In recent years, the Bo-Kaap has become a sought-after area, both for tourists and for those looking to buy houses within walking distance of the city centre.

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Property values have increased, tour groups stream into the area, and the profile of the predominantly Muslim community has changed. Now the fear is simple: gentrification.

Osman Shabodien, the chairman of the Bo-Kaap Civic Association, says the area is protected from an architectural point of view. However, it is the heritage and cultural aspects that must be protected.

“Gentrification is a direct result of the erosion of a community. We can protect the buildings… But it’s no use if we have houses without the people.”

Because of the increase in property values, the average rates bill is between R800 and R1100 a month.

For some, especially the elderly who have been part of the community all their lives, this makes living in the Bo-Kaap unaffordable, says Shabodien. The rates are comparable with areas like Vredehoek, he says, and he feels people who have lived in the area for more than 15 years should pay discounted rates.

Ismael Hartley, 80, the secretary of the Schotschekloof Ratepayers and Residents Association, says there is no meaningful development for the high rates paid.

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“There’s no clinic in the immediate vicinity, no centre for the elderly, no swimming pools for the children.”

Hartley says that given the history of the area, the changing profile is nothing new.

He was born in District Six but moved to Bo-Kaap when he married 63 years ago. From a home for affluent Dutch people to one for freed slaves, the area has had a history of change.

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What concerns Hartley is that inappropriate business developments, like bars and bottle stores, are creeping in and tourists, who often “exploit” his home, do not benefit the community in any way.

“The buses come with hundreds of people. They enter our private domain, taking their pictures. But the authorities won’t donate one pint of paint for maintenance.”

Resident and tour operator Shireen Narkedien has been in the tourism industry for 19 years. She agrees that the many visitors don’t benefit locals.

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“There’s big interest in the colourful houses (and) heritage and the Bo-Kaap is one of the oldest communities and only ‘Malay Quarter’ in South Africa,” she says.

But the problem is that bigger operators refuse to use site guides from the community.

“Locals don’t generate an income from the tourists. It doesn’t translate into rands and cents.”

Another second-generation resident, who asked not to be named, says there are more tour groups than ever before.

She recalls a time when residents were mocked for their colourful homes. “They called it koeksister mentality. They said it was Smartie town. Now it’s the ‘it’ place, and everyone wants to be here, and live here. Tour buses and posh cars are a normal scene now.”

Her parents were born there, as was she. She is raising her children there. “I’ll never sell. This our family home.”

Shabodien says he can only admire those who have not succumbed to the lure of money, and who refuse to sell their properties.

He says people are not averse to newcomers. But those who buy often don’t do research beforehand. The result is that people complain about the five daily calls to prayer. The first is at sunrise, then about 1pm, again at 4pm, at sunset, and about an hour after sunset.

During December, klopse bands start practising. This happens inside houses and on the streets. The children are used to playing soccer and cricket on the streets.

“Bo-Kaap is a noisy place,” says Shabodien.

These activities add to the character of the area, but it is exactly what the newcomers complain about.

Most cars have to be parked on the street and Mercedes-Benzes and SUVs have become commonplace. The newer residents don’t want children playing near their cars in case they damage them.

“Newcomers expect the Bo-Kaap to change to suit their way of life. We’re not creating an Orania. But if people want to stay, they must adapt to the Bo-Kaap.”

Narkedien says new residents become frustrated with the norms. They may spend money renovating, then resell at a profit. The next buyer does the same. This is how the prices are pushed up, making it difficult for long-time residents to carry on living there.


An exception to this rule is Ragmah Tofa, 84. Tofa has the kind of arrangement no buyer would be able to duplicate.

She pays R12 in rent to the City of Cape Town each month for her five-bedroom property on a rather trendy looking Dorp Street.

The property is nestled between freshly painted houses, some with very modern finishes.

At the back of her home, where she raised 17 children, is a large yard shared between three households – another luxury in the space-restricted community.

Tofa grew up in Caledon Street, in District Six. This is where she met her husband Allie Tofa. She was 15 and he was 17 when they married.

She and her family moved to Bo-Kaap 48 years ago, in 1965.

But Tofa, who has since been widowed, says she will never move. Under normal circumstances, the pensioner would not be able to afford private rents – which can cost around R9 000 – nor could she pay the R2 million price tag to buy a house there.

Cape Argus

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