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Insight & Analysis - 3 weeks ago

Have You Seen the Most Colourful Neighbourhood in Africa?

South Africa is home to one of the most visually stunning neighbourhoods on the continent. Once known as the Malay Quarter, Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap is renowned for its cobblestone walkways and vividly coloured residences. 

About 56.9% of the inhabitants in the traditionally cosmopolitan neighbourhood self-identifies as Muslim.

The region is the oldest surviving residential neighbourhood in Cape Town and is home to the country’s highest concentration of pre-1850 buildings, according to the South African Heritage Resources Agency.

Properties in the Bo-Kaap is in high demand right now, and it’s easy to see why.

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A brief history of Africa’s most colourful neighbourhood, Bo-Kaap

Source: Ulama South Africa

The Bo-Kaap, is located at the base of Signal Hill, it was first settled in the 1760s when a large number of “huurhuisjes” (rental homes) were constructed and leased to slaves.

These workers, known as Cape Malays, came to the Cape from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Africa.

The decision of making the neighbourhood a colorful location in Africa was because while the buildings were on lease they were all white. All the homes were painted when this restriction was eventually repealed and the slaves were permitted to purchase the premises.

Even today, the homes are a unique combination of Dutch and Georgian style from the eighteenth century, arranged in brightly coloured rows on sloping cobblestone streets.

Families have been residing in the Bo-Kaap for many centuries. The Bo-Kaap neighbourhood today makes up a sizable portion of the cultural legacy.

Oldest building in Bo-Kaap

The oldest house in the region that is surviving in its original shape is the museum, whose structure dates to the 1760s. It emphasises the cultural contribution made by early Muslim immigrants, many of them were accomplished carpenters, builders, shoemakers, and tailors.

A magnificent Cape drop-leaf dining table, chairs in the Cape Regency style, and a bridal chamber designed to match the bride’s gown are among the 19th century furnishings found there.

Source: Bo-Kaap

The voorstoep, a type of front terrace with benches at each end emphasising the divisive component of Cape Muslim culture, is what makes the museum stand out.

The museum features black-and-white images of local life as well as the way of life of a rich Cape Muslim family in the 19th century.

Gentrification

Bo-Kaap, one of Cape Town’s oldest neighbourhoods, faces the possibility of social transformation due to tourism.

Bo-Kaap in Cape Town is one of 50 sites in 36 countries that the World Monuments Fund has identified as being at risk from natural disasters and the effects of social, political, and economic change.

It is reported that the investors are the largest obstacle are those who are purchasing local real estate and turning it into vacation houses, which he claims has a negative effect on the neighbourhood since it divides neighbours.

National Heritage status

The South African Minister of Arts and Culture named 19 locations in the Bo-Kaap region National Heritage sites in May 2019.

The declaration came after the City of Cape Town council approved the Bo-Kaap neighborhood’s inclusion in a Heritage Protection Overlay Zone (HPOZ), which will include some 600 privately owned homes, in March 2019.

Over 2,000 letters from the public were sent to the city, and the vast majority of them endorsed the establishment of the new Heritage Zone. 

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