Bo Kaap & Anti-Gentrification Activism

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I have been living in a home stay in the suburb of Cape Town known as “Bo Kaap”. This area is a prime location located in basically what is the downtown of the city. It is surrounded within a 10-minute radius of homes on cliffs, high-rise lofts, big businesses, the city square, museums, beaches, and so-forth. Having all this has made the area a prime location for gentrification. The once tight Muslim community has been experiencing an influx of white foreigners and investors as one of the activists of the community has told me.

As the history of the area, as it has been told to me, was once a place declared a slum shortly after the end of Apartheid in South Africa. Once riddled with gangs, buffer zones, and poverty, Bo Kaap is now home to predominantly low to middle income Muslims. The colorful homes that people come to see are apart of the history of a religious minority and long time thriving community. The Muslims here are well aware of their identity and how their ancestors have occupied the region for hundreds of years based on looking after one another and engaging in a shared identity that is not prominent in the region of South Africa. The mosques located in the Bo Kaap community are revered for their timeless role in the community that have been built hundreds of years ago. There are murals of the history of Bo Kaap hidden between the colorful homes and local businesses that have become prime spots for tourists travelling to Cape Town. This is nothing that the community is not used to, but it doesn’t mean they are not angered by it. People complain that random entitled tourist roam their community taking pictures of their homes without permission. Which is insult to a long list of other injuries that people here believe that they are enduring.

I was told by a local activist in Bo Kaap that within a short time span of fifteen years that the entire community has seen a transformation destined to suppress the community interests in favor of things like airbnbs, coffee shops, yoga spots, and other establishments not meant to serve the people already living there. To make matter worse, even though Bo Kaap is separated from town with a high open gate, people still feel entitled to free parking there. Some will even fight residents within Bo Kaap for occupying space. All of this has increased the values of homes to a level in which has resulted in crowding community members’ families into cramped apartments and homes. Obviously, the residents don’t think this is fair and they reside there despite all forces acting against them which want them out. These forces include the government, who have failed to clean the streets as they would another any other suburb.

In response to this treatment, activists of Bo Kaap have protested everyday, blocking the main road leading into Bo Kaap by lighting anything they can into the form of a blockade. Many community members have expressed that they feel powerless the in face of the capitalism monster raging in as gentrification. Along with this, an expression of the inevitable fear of take over of a community enriched with hundreds of years of muslim history seems to be prominent. Bo Kaap is where the first Quran was brought to South Africa and where a woman established the first mosque there. Given all of this it is important to preserve the history of the area.

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