An anti-gentrification campaign is uniting Bo Kaap, a small, once homogeneous Cape-Malay Muslim neighbourhood in the centre of Cape Town in South Africa.
Some life-long residents, like Natheema Jacobs, see the economic potential of the changes taking place but lament the disharmony they have brought to this once close-knit community. She wants to protect her heritage, which she feels is under threat.
What "attracts a lot of white families into Bo Kaap is because they actually like the community... it's a lovely community to be a part of." says Natheema. Ironically, it is this desirability that threatens its survival.
It's not that simple, argues urbanist Edgar Pieterse. A professor at the University of Cape Town, Edgar grew up in the city too. Unlike Natheema, he grew up in the Cape Flats on the periphery of the city. His family was one of many mixed-race and black families forced out of the city centre during apartheid. "What Bo Kaap represents is the condition of exception created for some of the early slave communities and free slaves in particular (during the apartheid era)", he says. The city, its residents, and developers need to contend and deal with this history. To look at what's happening in Bo Kaap merely as gentrification simplifies an otherwise complex history and story. There are multiple other factors at play.
Could both Natheema and Edgar be right? This is the question we look at in episode one of The City Show.
(THEME MUSIC: OPEN)
Natheema Jacobs: SO AS YOU DRIVE YOU WILL SEE THIS LITTLE SUBURB THAT HAS LOTSA HILLS SO IT’S NOT A FLAT AREA… LIKE IT’S ON SIGNAL HILL….IT IS JUST ABOVE A VERY BUSY CITY…
Tau: Hello, I’m Tau Tavengwa. This is The City Show — a podcast series about the forces reshaping cities across the global South. Welcome
Dhashen: And I’m Dhashen Moodley. In our first episode, we visit Bo Kaap, a picturesque little neighbourhood of about 6 thousand people tucked against Cape Town’s Table Mountain in South Africa…
Natheema Jacobs: I DON’T THINK YOU’LL BE ABLE TO MISS BO KAAP BECAUSE YOU WILL HAVE BO KAAP ON EITHER YOUR LEFT OR RIGHT SIDE, DEPENDING ON WHETHER YOU’RE DRIVING TO THE SEA OR MOUNTAIN…
Dhashen: Bo Kaap is famous for its candy-coloured houses — perfect for instagram. BUT…things are changing.
Dhashen: It’s gentrifying... and for the last 15 years, new buildings have been popping up all over the neighbourhood...
Natheema Jacobs: AND WE NEVER SEE THE RESIDENTS.... IT’S AN APARTMENT BLOCK ... SO THEY DON'T ADD ANY VALUE
Tau: We are also going to speak to an expert to help us understand what is going ON?? What we find out in the process is pretty interesting
Dhashen: This is what we will do in each episode of The City Show. We’ll tell you a story you might already know, then pull at its edges a little to see what the fuller picture looks like. As we are learning... it's often complicated.
(BLEND ABOVE TRACK WITH CLIP)
Edgar Pieterse: YEAH, THAT'S FINE. SO THAT'S THE ONE QUESTION I WANTED TO SEE... IN THE ANSWERS…. YOU DON'T MIND.... SO, YOU WANT ME TO BE EXPANSIVE AND NOT BE….
Edgar Pieterse: YOU'RE NOT TRYING TO GET TWO MINUTES OF AUDIO, RIGHT?
Tau: IT”S A TRICKY THING I WAS JUST ABOUT TO SAY
Dhashen: Now, most stories about gentrifying neighbourhoods like Bo Kaap are about the original residents being forced out...and how it changes a community.
Natheema Jacobs: I DON'T THINK WE ACTUALLY REALISE JUST HOW PRECIOUS IT IS UNTIL WE'VE GOT PEOPLE FROM THE OUTSIDE MOVING IN SAYING, YOU KNOW WHAT, THIS IS REALLY NICE THAT YOU CAN HAVE THIS…. THIS CONNECTEDNESS…(FADE UNDER DM TRACK)... YOU WANNA KNOW HOW...
Dhashen : Natheema Jacobs remembers playing on the cobblestone streets of Bo-Kaap as a child. Today, it’s filled with tourists. Some of these newcomers are even moving there, in search of something. Perhaps, it’s THAT feeling of belonging?
Natheema Jacobs: THAT IS... ...WHAT ATTRACTS A LOT OF NON-MUSLIM FAMILIES OR WHITE FAMILIES... IT ATTRACTS A LOT OF WHITE FAMILIES… SURPRISINGLY... BECAUSE IT'S A LOVELY COMMUNITY TO BE A PART OF. THEY CAN HAVE THE CHILDREN INTERACT AND SO ON. AND WE SEE IT OFTEN.
Dhashen: Natheema says it’s always been a small close-knit community...
Natheema Jacobs: EVERYBODY KNOWS EVERYONE LIKE YOU CAN JUST MENTION, OH, THIS PERSON, YOU KNOW, PASSED AWAY. OH, YEAH. I KNOW YOU FROM WHEN WE WENT TO SCHOOL TOGETHER.
Dhashen: Natheema is 47. She still lives in the Bo Kaap with her husband, Rafiq, and their two kids. Together, they run a small tourism business, hosting visitors who want to learn more about the city.
By the early 1800’s, the Dutch had successfully imported thousands of slaves from its colonies in the east to work on farms in the Cape. The majority of the slaves were Muslims from Malaysia, Indonesia and many parts of Africa --- they became known as the Cape Malay community. The dutch built and leased houses to them in an area called the Malay Quarter, which later became Bo Kaap. And, it’s those former slave houses that are in high demand today.
Natheema’s family can trace their origins all the way back to those first Cape Malay residents...
Natheema Jacobs: SO RAFIQ, HE'S ACTUALLY A DESCENDANT OF THE WOMAN WHO DONATED THE LAND FOR THE FIRST MOSQUE TO BE BUILT HERE IN SOUTH AFRICA. SO THE AWUL MOSQUE, WHICH IS IN DORP STREET, THE FIRST AND OLDEST MOSQUE IN SOUTH AFRICA, THE LAND WAS DONATED BY HIS GREAT GREAT GRANDMOTHER.. SO THERE'S OBVIOUSLY A CONNECTION AND AN INVESTMENT IN THIS COMMUNITY FROM HIS FAMILY SIDE…AND YOU KNOW WE JOKINGLY SAY TO EACH OTHER. OH, SO, YOU KNOW WHICH ONE OF OUR SONS IS GOING TO BE THE IMAM AT THE MOSQUE? IT’S PART OF THEIR HERITAGE
(FADE UNDER TRACK) YOU KNOW… SO>>>
Dhashen: BUT, she feels THAT entire heritage is on the verge of disappearing from Bo Kaap…
Natheema Jacobs: SO THE STORIES THAT I'VE HEARD MY DAD TELL OF THE PEOPLE, EXTREMELY SPIRITUAL PEOPLE THAT LIVED HERE AND THE SACRIFICES THEY MADE, IT MAKES IT SAD TO THINK THAT ALL OF THAT WILL GET REDUCED TO A MENTION IN A BOOK. AND, YOU KNOW, LIKE, YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU GO TO A MUSEUM AND SOMEONE SHOWS YOU “AND THAT USED TO BE WHAT THAT THE DINOSAURS USED TO LOOK”, IT'LL JUST BE AN EMPTY SHELL…
Dhashen: 2018 was a turning point for Bo Kaap.
Many residents were fed up, not just with the developers, and city officials, but they were also angry with their OWN community leaders for failing to stop further developments. Natheema’s street became a battleground of resistance...
<< PROTEST/STUN GRENADES (FX) SHOUTING: “BOO!! BOO!!! VIVA BO KAAP>>
Dhashen: Bo Kaap residents came out to protest against the construction of an upmarket apartment block called 40 on L - the L stands for Lion Street. It’s a stone’s throw away from Natheema’s house. The cheapest apartments cost over US$120,000. and, the average monthly household income in Cape Town is less than US$900. SO, that means, it would take the average resident 11 years, saving every cent, just to own an apartment here in 40 on L...one of several new developments.
<<PROTEST/STUN GRENADES (FX)>> PROTESTOR CHANTS “GOD IS GREAT”
Dhashen: Things got heated when a small group of protestors tried blocking a building crane from entering the construction site. The police stepped in.
<<PROTEST/STUN GRENADES (FX)>>
Tau: The thing is this is not unique to Bo Kaap. It’s happening in many places across the world. Good examples of this phenomenon are what’s happening in Bandra West, in Mumbai and in Centro, São Paulo. They are experiencing the same phenomenon... but what’s UNIQUE is each place has its flavour and its own way of handling things...
Edgar Pieterse: THAT IS A CORRECT OBSERVATION. I MEAN I'M AS AN URBANIST, I'M NOT NOSTALGIC...HAHA
Tau: That’s Edgar Pieterse // He is Director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town.
Edgar Pieterse: I THINK, YOU KNOW, THAT ONE PERSON'S HERITAGE IS ANOTHER PERSON'S SYMBOL OF EITHER EXCLUSION OR DENIGRATION…
Tau: Here / Edgar is talking about these old tensions that lie simmering just underneath the surface of everyday life in South Africa. for example, there's this apartheid era law that's called the Group Areas Act. And what it did was it created these neighbourhoods, these communities in which only people of a particular race could live. So blacks in one area, whites in THAT area, coloured people in another area, and so forth. Many neighbourhoods across the country are still defined by this law. So if we are to be honest, Bo Kaap remains a Cape Malay, Muslim neighbourhood. That is the reality of life in South Africa in 2021.
Edgar Pieterse: THERE'S NOTHING INHERENTLY VIRTUOUS JUST BECAUSE PEOPLE LIVE IN THE BO KAAP, OR ARE LONG TERM RESIDENTS OF THE COMMUNITY... JUST BECAUSE OF, YOU KNOW, BECAUSE OF THE FACT THAT THEY'VE ENDURED APARTHEID AND THEY'VE BEEN THERE FOR MORE THAN 150 YEARS AS SOME ARE VIRTUOUS. AND THAT'S NOT HELPFUL IN ANY FORM OF URBAN DEBATE.
TT: Back in Bo Kaap, lifelong resident Natheema sees it differently...
Natheema Jacobs: IT'S KIND OF A FORCED REMOVAL WITHOUT REALLY FORCING PEOPLE EXCEPT THROUGH THIS ECONOMIC STRATEGY….SO THAT'S THE CITY'S MEANS OF MOVING PEOPLE OUT OF THE CITY. UHM. AND I MUST SAY, THEY ARE WINNING THIS … THIS BATTLE. SO IT'S HARD FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE STRUGGLING TO MAKE ENDS MEET, TO HOLD ONTO THEIR PROPERTIES…. SO JAH...
<<BACK TO BACK AX>>
Edgar Pieterse: SO THAT'S THE ONE NARRATIVE. THE OTHER NARRATIVE IS THAT, YOU KNOW, YOU'VE GOT A COMMUNITY THAT IS NO LONGER WORKING CLASS, THAT HAS, IN FACT, TRANSITIONED TO MIDDLE CLASS, THAT WANTS TO RETAIN A SET OF PRIVILEGES FOR THEMSELVES. AND THEY'RE USING THE TROPE OF BEING VICTIMISED… BECAUSE THE FAMILIES WHO MANAGED TO REMAIN THERE DESPITE THE GROUP AREAS ACTS AND SO FORTH, THERE'S BEEN A MASSIVE INCREASE IN LAND VALUES AND THERE IS NO ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OR RECOGNITION THAT THAT WEALTH GENERATION, WHICH IS ABSOLUTELY IMPORTANT AND IT IS BRILLIANT THAT BLACK FAMILIES ARE ABLE TO BENEFIT FROM THAT. BUT THERE'S NO DEBATE ABOUT, YOU KNOW, WHETHER IT IS FAIR THAT FOR FATE OF HISTORY, THAT COMMUNITY HAS ACCESS TO IT. AND THE COMMUNITIES IN DISTRICT SIX DON'T?
Tau: So right now, Bo kaap is just not the same place… it’s changed, and it’s changed in really fundamental ways that need to be taken into account
Edgar Pieterse: I THINK THAT THE COMMUNITY HAS, IN ANY CASE, TRANSFORMED VERY SIGNIFICANTLY OVER THE LAST TWENTY FIVE YEARS. SO TO PRETEND THAT IT HAS BEEN ABLE TO HOLD ON TO A CHARACTER AND IDENTITY AND A FABRIC UP AS IT WAS SORT OF BY THE END OF BY THE BEGINNING OF THE 1990S, I THINK IS IS IS IS A FALLACY. AND I THINK THAT ISN'T HELPFUL.
<<FX: UP AZAAN>>
Dhashen: Two sounds are daily reminders about the complicated history of this city. The Azaan --- the call to prayer which echoes through the streets... Five times a day, from the eleven mosques around Bo Kaap.
And then, at midday...
<<COUNTDOWN TO BANG…. 5...4….3...2...1….>>
...an 18-pound English gun firing from the top of Signal Hill which overlooks Bo Kaap and the inner city.
<<BRING UP AZAAN AGAIN>>
For over 200 years, the Cape Malay community has survived through colonialism, slavery, apartheid, and forced segration. And now, surrounded by white neighbourhoods in the heart of a white city, Bo Kaap has taken on very distinctive features.
Edgar Pieterse: AND BECAUSE OF THIS...IT'S GOT A VERY UNIQUE CHARACTER, BOTH IN TERMS OF ITS ARCHITECTURAL FORM AND SPATIAL LAYOUT. IT IS EFFECTIVELY SORT OF GOT A COLONIAL SENSIBILITY SIMILAR TO WHAT YOU'D SEE IN AN INNER CITY OF A LATIN AMERICAN CITY. COBBLED STREETS, FAIRLY DENSE HOUSING ARRANGEMENTS AND SO FORTH, WHICH IS UNLIKE THE REST OF THE CITY'S FABRIC.
Dhashen: And Bo Kaap residents want the neighborhood to retain this character… Natheema has a word for new developments like 40 on L
Natheema Jacobs: OH YEAH. THAT”S THE OTHER UGLY BUILDING ON OUR STREET... IT LOOKS GROTESQUE ACTUALLY….
Edgar Pieterse: OBVIOUSLY THE DESIGN HAS TO BE SENSITIVE TO ITS CONTEXT. AND IF IT'S NOT, IT'S BAD DESIGN. RIGHT. I MEAN, SO I THINK THAT FROM A SORT OF PURE DESIGN AND ARCHITECTURAL PERSPECTIVE, THAT'S A TOTALLY FAIR AND APPROPRIATE CRITICISM TO MAKE.
Tau: But there’s this other really interesting part to this, which is often just slightly out of the picture: it’s about how real estate is the biggest business there is in the world, right? So wherever real estate money lands, especially this global real estate investment money….that’s coming into all these cities. It has this insidious, often unacknowledged effect on what’s built? and where is it built? ….We never really consider that.
Edgar Pieterse: AND WHAT THAT DOES IS IT DRIVES UP THE PRICES OF PROPERTIES AND EXISTING STOCK
Dhashen: This is happening in cities where there are widespread housing shortages...In Cape Town, there are 300,000 people waiting to get government-subsidised housing. And when people get a house, it’s likely far from the city center.
Edgar Pieterse: THE CITY OF CAPE TOWN HAS NOT PROVIDED A SINGLE SOCIAL HOUSING OPPORTUNITY IN THE INNER CITY OF CAPE TOWN SINCE 1994, NOT ONE.
Dhashen: In the last decade, a million more people have moved to the city. The big question is, how will city authorities respond?
Edgar Pieterse: I PERSONALLY THINK THAT CAPE TOWN IS SUCH A SMALL CBD FOR A FOUR MILLION CITY THAT YOU DO NEED TO ENCOURAGE MUCH MORE DENSIFICATION AND DIVERSIFICATION IT CAN CERTAINLY COPE WITH THAT INCREASE IN PEOPLE
Dhashen: And the residents of Bo Kaap need to deal with this reality, and rising tensions that develop in the community
Natheema Jacobs: THERE”S LOTS OF LITTLE FACTIONS WITHIN BO KAAP BUT THEY'RE NOT OPENLY ANTAGONISTIC TOWARDS EACH OTHER NECESSARILY. FOR EXAMPLE, THE CIVIC ASSOCIATION IS A BIG PLAYER IN BO KAAP AND FOR SOME OTHER REASON, THEY WIELD SO MUCH POWER.
Edgar Pieterse: TO THINK OF THE BO KAAP AS DEVOID OF A DARK SIDE, I THINK IT’S A MISTAKE TO FUNDAMENTALLY MISUNDERSTAND THE COMPLEXITY OF THE MUSLIM COMMUNITIES IN CAPE TOWN. COMPLEXITIES IN TERMS OF CLASS, COMPLEXITIES IN TERMS OF INTERNAL RACIALIZED POLITICS, IN TERMS OF, MALAY MUSLIM IDENTITIES VERSUS INDIAN MUSLIM IDENTITIES, VERSUS AFRICAN MUSLIM IDENTITIES. AND THESE CONFLICTS AND TENSIONS ALL MANIFEST THEMSELVES IN DIFFERENT WAYS WITHIN BO KAAP. SO IT IS NOT A HOMOGENOUS COMMUNITY BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION.
Dhashen: Tensions between residents and the city go FAR BEYOND just housing or land issues… Cape Town’s failure to recognise the role of Bo Kaap in South Africa’s history has only made things worse.
Edgar Pieterse: YOU KNOW, OF COURSE, COMMUNITIES WHO’VE BEEN SUBJECTED TO LONG TERM HISTORIES OF OF EITHER MARGINALISATION OR VIOLENCE OR REDLINING, THEY'RE GOING TO FEEL PRETTY BITTER AND SORE IF THERE'S THIS THING THAT, OH, DON'T BE NOSTALGIC. LET'S JUST MOVE ON AND LET'S LET THE CITY ATTRACT INVESTMENT, YOU KNOW? THEY WANT RECOGNITION. THEY WANT ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF WHAT IT TOOK TO REMAIN THERE AND TO BE THERE INTER GENERATIONALLY AND THE KIND OF DEPTH OF CULTURAL REPERTOIRES THAT HAVE BEEN BUILT UP. AND, OF COURSE, YOU KNOW, ANY CITY WORTH ITS SALT SHOULD DO THOSE THINGS. THAT'S JUST THE APPROPRIATE THING TO DO.
Tau: So here is something we can all agree on: Cities DO need to attract investment, that's how they repair roads, that's how they maintain street lights and provide these essential services that we all need. They also have to accommodate this endless flow of new arrivals... residents on the other hand though, they need their neighbourhoods to remain their neighbourhoods. The answer is perhaps about how you handle these two tensions. And these are just two of many many other tensions. It's about managing trade-offs and creating spaces for negotiations and sometimes even confronting some really difficult questions.
Edgar Pieterese: CLEARLY QUESTIONS OF “WHAT DOES RESTITUTION MEAN? WHAT WOULD REPARATIONS MEAN? HOW DO YOU RESOLVE THE LAND QUESTION IN THE 20TH AND 21ST CENTURY AGAINST THE BACKGROUND OF AN EXISTING CITY FABRIC EXISTING PLANNING FRAMEWORKS AND SO ON?” AND WITHIN THAT, IT WILL MEAN THAT ONE WOULD HAVE TO AGREE ON CERTAIN GOALS. AND I THINK THE GOALS THAT ARE COMMON TO THE COMPETING INTEREST IN THE CITY IS THAT YOU WANT INVESTMENT, THAT YOU WANT FORMS OF DEVELOPMENT THAT RECOGNISES COMPLEXITY, DIVERSITY THAT IS ABLE TO HOLD DIFFERENCE IN THE SAME SPACE. AND YOU WANT TO DO THAT IN A WAY THAT EVERYONE'S INTEREST IN SOME WAYS IS ATTENDED TO.
Tau: BUT there are no easy solutions to gentrification…
Edgar Pieterse: “THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT EVERYONE WILL GET WEALTHY OR EVERYONE WILL HAVE THEIR INTERESTS MET COMPLETELY, BUT IT MEANS YOU CAN CREATE A FRAMEWORK WITHIN WHICH THERE'S AN AGREEMENT ON WHAT IT IS THAT YOU'RE ASPIRING TO AND WHAT. AND THE KEY THING IS TO AGREE ON WHAT ARE THE TRADE-OFFS THAT HAS TO BE MADE. IF ONE IS GOING TO MOVE IN A CERTAIN DIRECTION, THE WORST OF ALL WORLDS IS THAT YOU HAVE JUST A COMPLETE IMPASSE. NOTHING GETS DONE. THERE'S NO INVESTMENTS. THERE'S NO GROWTH. THERE'S NO EVOLUTION. JUST A PERMANENT STANDOFF”
Tau: ...but things could always get worse during a standoff, and Natheema realises this. She says Bo Kaap needs to become better organized as a community. Only then, she argues, will the community be able to sit at the table with the city and developers who are interested in their neighbourhood.
Natheema Jacobs: IT’S THE COMMUNITY ITSELF. WE DO OURSELVES A DISSERVICE BECAUSE WE HAVEN'T BOTHERED TO TO FIND OUT, TO EDUCATE OURSELVES, TO JUST DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY. YOU KNOW, THIS FEAR OF CHANGE IS SO OVERWHELMING. SO WE STICK WITH THE SAME KIND OF LEADERSHIP, EVEN THOUGH THIS LEADERSHIP DOES NOTHING FOR US. BUT BECAUSE WE IT'S BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW THAN THE DEVIL YOU DON'T. BUT ACTUALLY, IT'S NOT, BECAUSE MAYBE IF YOU GET TO KNOW THE DEVIL THAT YOU DON'T. YOU MIGHT ACTUALLY FIND THAT THAT'S ACTUALLY A BETTER OPTION.
Dhashen: So, as we have heard, there are no easy answers when it comes to gentrifying cities. Balancing the need for investment, increasing diversity while preserving the character and vibrancy of small communities like Bo Kaap is a massive challenge. They don’t need to be in conflict.
[THEME MUSIC: CLOSE]
Tau: The QUESTION is, what does a middle ground — something that speaks to Natheema’s concerns — AND Edgar’s pragmatism look like? Perhaps we’ll find out as this series develops. I’m Tau Tavengwa.
Dhashen: I’m Dhashen Moodley
<<< CREDITS >>>
Season One of The City Show will take listeners to Cape Town, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Beirut, Tijuana, and Lagos. The season is funded by Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity (MPI-MMG) with support from African Centre for Cities (ACC). Our production partner is The Radio Workshop. Season 1 is part of the CompleXities / DataRama project.