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Bo-Kaap: My home, my history

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Fourth generation Bo-Kaap resident Shakirah Dramat describes the area’s legacy after emotive heritage status victory

To understand why the award of heritage protection overlay zone (HPOZ) status to the Bo-Kaap – and the announcement of heritage status to 19 sites in the area this week – is such an emotional win for residents, one has to consider the relationship between land and culture.

The media often depicts the Bo Kaap as a suburb of convenience in the heart of the CBD, with beautiful coloured houses accompanied by amazing views of the city and Table Bay.

While this may be true, and particularly important to foreign investors or conglomerate property companies, the Bo Kaap land represents so much more than that.

In mid-2018, during the height of the Bo Kaap protests, I was asked why I, as a young resident, felt compelled to play an active role in fighting for the preservation of my community.

This simple question sent me on a deep soul-searching journey, one which forced me to examine what the Bo Kaap meant to me and why it was important for us to fight for it to get the recognition which it has now rightfully received. I realised that, for me at least, the answer was identity.

At a time so closely related to colonialism and mass displacement of people, matters of culture, tradition and heritage, identity and tribalism have become increasingly important.

History, together with identity, allows us to understand who we are in relation to this big world, and the land of the Bo Kaap did that for me. Being Cape Town’s oldest surviving residential neighbourhood, the Bo Kaap story has allowed me to feel grounded and at peace with my position within Africa.

In the early days of my activism, I was often confused about how a girl with olive skin, almond eyes and sleek hair ended up calling Africa home.

The realisation that my physical landscape didn’t match the Indonesian-inspired traditions, clothes, food and physical appearances that I grew up with, left me in a deep crisis – I felt lost and unwelcome in this place I called home, this place we call Africa.

But the land of the Bo Kaap, the land of my ancestors, the land of pain and suffering, gave me the freedom to feel at home in Africa. It gave me the freedom to express my uniquely blended culture of samoosas meets shisa nyama. It reminded me of the beauty that was born from slavery.

The strength that emanates from the streets of the Bo Kaap gives me the strength to keep living when life sometimes feels too hard to continue. This land reminds me of the bravery and the courage that came with the people who once lived here. It reminds me of the people, my people, who poured their hearts and souls into making this a community of love, so I could grow up as a part of this now beautifully integrated melting pot of cultures we call South Africa.

This land reminds me daily of the contribution my forefathers made to the foundation of this city.

The HPOZ status is important to me because it is an ode to them. It’s a public declaration that their history, our heritage, matters.


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