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CAPE TOWN: Our insider’s guide to Bo-Kaap

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It is one of the most culturally rich suburbs in the country rising from a painful past.

It is on the slopes of Signal Hill offering spectacular views and brightly painted houses on cobbled streets; a sought-after address close to the city centre

It’s the oldest residential neighbourhood in South Africa and has been known as the Malay Quarter or Schotcheskloof over the years, but the Bo-Kaap – as it is today – embodies one of the nation’s richest cultural heritages.

Set on the slopes of Signal Hill, with inspiring views over Cape Town CBD, the suburb with its steep cobbled streets lined with multi-coloured single-storey homes has become a favourite tourist destination. Local tour guides tell stories of bygone years and what interesting stories they are.

Development occurred place between 1760 and 1840 with the building of modest flat-roofedroofed single-storey rental accommodation, commonly referred to as huurhuisjes – hire houses.

The abolition of slavery in 1834 saw increased pressure for affordable housing for freed slaves; many moved into the area taking over from immigrants migrating to the suburbs. The Bo-Kaap developed as a mixed-race neighbourhood, anchored by Muslims: workers indentured as skilled labourers, mainly from Malaysia and Indonesia.

It was a quirk of the hated Group Areas Act of 1957 that saw the Bo-Kaap reserved for “Malay” residents. The same legislation saw many non-Malay, Christian coloured and African families forcibly relocated to the Cape Flats. The razing of District Six – a neighbourhood closely allied to Bo-Kaap – left a legacy of destruction.

Mosque Boorhaanol Islam on a cobbled street in the Bo-Kaap where cultures mix. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

What has been retained in the Bo-Kaap is a close sense of community; residents survived and flourished. Farieda Rylands has lived in Nederlands Lane for 40 years.

“I have seen so much change. Today the Bo-Kaap is one of the most sought-after addresses in the country. We are so close to the city, many homes have wonderful views over the harbour and we know one another.

“Food and community are an important parts of our lives. We are surrounded by some of the best eateries all within a short walk. And if you are up to cooking for yourself, there are shops that specialise in the ingredients that make the finest Malay-style food going.”

The Bo-Kaap is on the slopes of Signal Hill close to central Cape Town. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

The characteristics which make the Bo-Kaap so desirable for residents also make it attractive to investors. The quaint houses, cobbled streets and proximity to the city – all at relatively low prices – has seen an unwelcome gentrification of the precinct.

For families who have called the area home for centuries, the arrival of big-spending urban elite has caused an erosion of shared culture and loss of heritage. Last May the government declared 19 properties National Heritage Sites, followed by the City of Cape Town proclaiming the area a Heritage Protection Overlay Zone.

This provides for the preservation of the Bo-Kaap’s heritage, and is commitment that developments must comply with architectural guidelines. “The Bo-Kaap is a tight-knit community with an incredible heritage,” says Rawson Properties’ sales and letting agent Deborah Davis.

“Some older people are moving out, so we play an educational role in helping them value their properties.” According to Lightstone statistics, 65% of residents have remained in their homes for more than 11 years and while 76% of owners are older than 50, a significant 23% are under 35. In the past 12 months 19 freehold properties changed hands at an average price of R2.3 million while sectional title units averaged R884 000. Excluding the past year, the Bo-Kaap has seen uninterrupted property value growth since 2010.

“The Bo-Kaap is truly a unique community. It has architecture and a heritage dating way back. Signal Hill offers panoramic views and it’s a short gateway to Cape Town’s exciting amenities,” says Davis.

Farieda Rylands’ favourite things to do

Food and community are important parts of our lives. We are surrounded by some of the best eateries within a short walk. And if you are up to cooking for yourself, there are shops that specialise in the ingredients to make the finest Malay-style food. – Farieda Rylands, resident Picture: Supplied

1 Outdoors

It’s a short walk to many of Cape Town’s theatres – the Fugard and Labia are just two. The Company’s Garden is always a treat, art galleries abound; there’s always an exhibition worth attending and there are plenty of restaurants.

2 Eat

Harvest Café and Deli offers great views of Bo-Kaap and Table Mountain from its rooftop; 021 422 1199

3 Drink

Café Zor is just a walk away. In addition to great coffee they play vinyl LPs to ease patrons into the mood for relaxation; 082 997 3252

4 Shop

The quintessential spice store is Atlas Trading Company. Established in 1946, it sells spices and herbs from around the world. In addition to a range of readymade mixes – the leaf masala made up from 12 ingredients is a best seller – you can also make up your own custom blend; 021 423 4361. Across the road is Rocksole, a cobbler’s business – in the same family for almost 100 years; 021 424 3993 

Atlas Trading was established in 1946 and offers spices and herbs from around the world. The leaf masala has 12 ingredients and is a best seller. Picture: Supplied


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