Cape Town’s Famous Bo-Kaap Under Threat from Development

The historic Bo-Kaap – with its colourful architecture and community life – is shockingly under threat as developers put up high-rise modern conveniences… and don’t even try to respect and fit in with one of South Africa’s most photographed areas! Tonight on Carte Blanche, the investigative programme asks: Who will win the battle for the soul of the Bo-Kaap?

As presenter Claire Mawisa says, the Bo-Kaap is a photographer’s dream, a tourist hub, and a blogger’s paradise… but, she reports, “developers want to come into the area, and exploit it for commercial gain. At what cost?”

Developers want to exploit the Bo-Kaap. At what cost?

On one hand, she says are “developers who bring tourists and their money to the city”, on the other “homes lived in and loved for generations”… and sought out to photograph by local and international travellers.

Author and SAPeople contributor Ted Botha recently took a walk through the Bo-Kaap. He said:

“How often is something right in front of you and you don’t see it? For years I have wandered through the Bo-Kaap, formerly the Malay Quarter, and been captivated by it.

“For anyone who has never moseyed through its streets, up those cobbled alleys, past the old Auwal Masjid, there is something very special about the architecture, the vibe, the quietness, the people.

“There’s almost a village quality to it, despite being in the heart of the city.

“Conversations start up randomly as you pass through, and every corner has a grocer, Moosa’s or Salim’s, painted in the striking colours the neighborhood is so famous for.

“About a year ago I noticed a most horrendous structure going up in the middle of several buildings that date back more than a century.

horrendous structure going up in the middle of several buildings that date back more than a century.

“It would have looked fine in Clifton or Malibu but the BoKaap? And it just kept going up, with no respect for its neighbors or neighborhood.

“Gone were the views for all those people behind it for the next two streets. The designers are Team Architects, who now seem to have offices there.

“One can hate them for what they’ve done, but they are not alone. A controversial hotel went up several years ago on Wale St and a massive building is going up on Strand.

“What it’s taken me this long to blindly miss is that this area, so full of incredible history, culture, architecture, has never been declared a heritage site. How was that possible?

“Now that locals have heightened their voices and countless old buildings have erected posters demanding heritage status, it seems that it is finally on its way.

“And not a moment too soon.

“Now get there and savour the place. It’s a national treasure. (And maybe throw some dog poo at 236 Buitengracht Street, the big beige building in the pictures.)”

It’s been rumoured that former mayor Patricia de Lille turned a blind eye to several such developments. According to neighbours, they tried complaining at the time the building began, but they couldn’t get anyone to listen.

In December, the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee resolved to support the designation of the Bo-Kaap as a Heritage Protection Overlay Zone, and has recommended public participation process for the proposal at its next meeting.

Hopefully, Carte Blanche’s focus tonight on the plight of the Bo-Kaap will help raise much-needed awareness and support for the heritage status to be quickly granted to one of South Africa’s most famous and photogenic suburbs.

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