Go To All Newsletters
Cape Town: It's complicated

Cape Town: It’s Complicated

For the last two decades, the Bo Kaap, a small Cape-Malay Muslim community of about 4000 on the edge of Table Mountain in Cape Town, has felt under siege.

Extremely photogenic, this once homogeneous neighbourhood has experienced an influx of outsiders - a mix of foreign (primarily European) holiday-home owners, young white families, and young professionals attracted by its proximity to offices, bars, cafes and restaurants in the city’s vibrant central district. Property developers, too, have had an eye on the neighbourhood.

Like city officials, some Bo Kaap residents welcome these changes. After all, they argue, they are bringing needed investment to the neighbourhood and the city of Cape Town. This growing metropolitan area has become the centre of South Africa’s tourism and technology sectors, and its population is growing at an even faster rate than Johannesburg. Some, however, see things differently. They see the changes as a threat to the close-knit community.

As newcomers have settled in the area, some old residents have been pushed out - either voluntarily by selling their in-demand properties at high prices - or unwillingly due to their inability to keep up with rates and taxes increased due to the rise in property values.

Natheema Jacobs, a lifelong Bo Kaap resident, is determined to remain in the neighbourhood with her young family and grow the tourism business she runs with her husband, Rafiq. Their future, and that of their children, she says, lies in the neighbourhood. Despite this, Natheema still views some of the changes happening in the area as a threat to the sense of community she grew up with, the same sense of community she wishes her two young kids to have too.

Edgar Pieterse, an urban studies professor who grew up in Cape Town, disagrees. Unlike Natheema, Edgar grew up on the other end of the city - in the Cape Flats. Many mixed-race and black families were forcibly moved here by the apartheid government, leaving the city centre and its adjoining leafy neighbourhoods almost exclusively for white residents during apartheid. Bo Kaap remains an anomalous exception.

The pilot episode of The City Show dives into Natheema and Edgar’s love for the city and contrasting perspectives on what the changes Bo Kaap is experiencing mean, and what the city needs.

Natheema wants to defend her heritage and maintain the community that has been part of her entire life. Edgar on the other hand, urges pragmatism. Some of these changes are necessary, and should not be stopped. They are part of the transformation project Cape Town desperately needs, he argues.

Could they both be right?

Season One of The City Show 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.

Episode 1 Illustration by Blain Van Rooyen