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My PROPERTY Story: Anti-gentrification and the Bo-Kaap

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Shakirah Dramat, 26, is one of the youths involved in the anti-gentrification movement in the Bo-Kaap. She is the spokesperson for Bo-Kaap Rise, one of many groups co-operating to retain Bo-Kaap’s heritage and prevent over-encroachment by development

“The sun rises. My mother wakes me around 7am to get ready for school, only about a five to 10 minute walk up the hill, past my neighbours. I dash downstairs, moody and as unready for Monday as one can be. A hearty bowl of oats awaits me. I quickly snap out of my sleepy state and realise that in just a short hour I’ll be playing with friends and seeing all my neighbour’s children, who are like my siblings, just living in another house. 

Dressed and out the door I go to meet my brothers and sisters along the walk. Down Chiapinni and up Church Street. At school the energy is like no other, the too familiar sounds of children playing, running up and down, screaming, laughing, singing. If one could bottle happiness, this would probably be the place. A bell rings and we gather in the courtyard, waiting for weekly assembly to be presented by our principal, who lives in the pink house close to the mosque. 

She arrives, we quieten. Respect for elders is a huge deal. That’s why when we’re walking up the hill, we’d better be sure to greet every single stoep-sitter with a pleasant “Assalamualaikum”. If you don’t greet, they’ll probably tell your granny, and no one wants that.

Read: Charm and location have created #Bo-Kaap’s unique problems

At about 1pm, the Athaan goes off, signalling time for prayer, calling the Muslim community to mosque. Since we’re still at school, we gather in the hall to pray as a collective. School’s out, but not over. Some children are gathering on the grassy slopes next to the building, carrying up any pieces of loose cardboard they can find. 
They’re about to play my favourite game, but I need to run and get ready for madrassa, Muslim school.

As I turn my back and walk down toward my house, I hear the gush of my “siblings” sliding down on their paper boards at the speed of light. I’m jealous, but I know I’ll be seeing them again later, probably playing a game of street cricket or “housey-housey”. I get home, scoff a sandwich, throw on my burka and to Muslim school we go. 

Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA

Once again, my mualima, or teacher, lives in the street just above my own and I’m being taught in the same mosque as were my great and great-great grandparents. 

Everyone in Bo-Kaap knows everyone. Good for community, but bad for when you’re trying to be naughty and pick a few loquats from a tree in someone’s yard. 
Growing up in the Bo-Kaap was something truly special. Not because we had great hills for board sliding and literally the sweetest tasting loquats you’ll ever find, but because of that intangible, indescribable and warm atmosphere. 

There was something about the way we greeted our elders, the way they reprimanded us and kept an eye on community children as if we were their own, the way we shared food during Ramadaan or walked to say “Slamat” to every single house on Eid, the way my neighbours were also my siblings. All this made this community one of a kind.

Bo-Kaap was a feeling; Bo-Kaap is a feeling. It’s the feeling of community and, ultimately, love. This community loves and feeds and gives and cares, but over the past 26 years of my life, I’ve felt that feeling dwindle. It seems as if the more high-rise buildings that go up and the more commercialised this area becomes, the more that Bo-Kaap feeling is disappearing.

Outsiders adore our community, and we adore each opportunity to show and teach them our culture, our religion and our quirks. But everyone wants a piece of our pie and we’ve been generous with sharing – sharing is our nature. But the pie is only so big and there’s almost nothing left for those who baked it. Development and property are part of life, especially in the CBD, but what the Bo-Kaap offers, what the Bo-Kaap offered, no amount of money will ever be able to replace. 

The people here are the culture, are the heritage, are the feeling, and that feeling is being sold out, a million rand at a time. And when that feeling has completely disappeared, will we still be left with the Bo-Kaap? Or will we just be yet another gentrified suburb?

A new generation does it differently: Young people have been demanding the attention of the city, the public, the media. We’ve done things in a way which demands stakeholders pay attention and realise we’re not going away until our voices are heard and grievances resolved. We’ve also taken the fight online winning us global support. Doing it digitally has made it relevant to the way things are done these days. – Shakirah Dramat Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA

I am Shakirah

I am a fourth-generation Bo-Kaap resident and a member of Bo-Kaap Rise. We have almost 30 members. We are one of several movements in the Bo-Kaap. While we are all working towards the same goal, our focus may be on different aspects of the movement. For example, some are extremely focused on affordable housing while we’re keen on access to information.

I became involved by chance. I went live on Facebook about four months ago, airing my frustrations for the community and what was happening with development. That video ended up going viral, which meant I got tons of media attention. People wanted to speak to me about what was going on. It kind of catapulted me into this mascot or spokesperson role. 

I’ve also founded a project named Stories of Bo-Kaap, which will document the oral history of the area in short, social media documentary style. We have already started filming. It will also translate into a tourism project which will hopefully help me put money into the hands of community members. Full-time, I’m an entrepreneur and founder of THAT Network, an agency-styled network which works towards empowering artists by providing creative and artistic services.

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