By Wardah Wilkinson
With a mass street iftaar planned for Friday evening, Bo-Kaap residents have vowed to continue their demonstrations until the government addresses their plight. Scores of Bo-Kaap residents, mainly youth, took to the streets every night this week to draw attention to the problems facing the community. Residents closed off Wale Street between Buitengracht and Rose streets with burning tyres. They are calling on the City of Cape Town to stop selling land and properties in the area to private developers, to address the issue of gentrification and to look at ways of curbing the influx of tourists into the historical area.
The predominantly Muslim community whose residents are mainly elderly, is seeing an uprising of youth, who are frustrated with the level of suffering faced by their parents and grandparents. For y 17-years residents has been protesting against the developments and gentrification in the area which many believe has no benefit to the original inhabitants of the community.
The chairperson of the Bo-Kaap Rates Payers and Civic Association Osman Shabodien said the community has been protesting for more than a decade and have had enough with the City of Cape Town and provincial government failing the community.
“The Bo-Kaap community demand that no more land is sold off to developers, and that the land should to be used to address the housing shortage in the area. We also want the City to declare the area a heritage site and to not sell off the land in which the St Monica’s home is situated,” said Shabodien.
Bo-Kaap is one of the city’s top tourism destinations given its rich religious and cultural heritage, but the incessant tourists have left residents at their wits end. Residents do not want the tourist buses to go through the area without the community’s permission as residents feel they are being hampered from daily life. The other argument is that the community is not benefiting economically from the tourist hub and the privacy and dignity of residents is being stripped away by incessant tourist photographers.
Residents are also demanding that the area’s sporting facility is upgraded, that steep water tariffs be scraped and no new water meters be installed.
“We are demanding an implementation of a traffic plan and pedestrian crossing for our children, and the MyCiti should come to Bo-Kaap. We want the gentrification and the high rates to stop, as we not leaving Bo-Kaap,” Shabodien told demonstrators.
The ward councillor Brandon Golding accepted a letter of demand from residents. He said that he was not aware of the protesting happening in the areas and was only informed after VOC asked him to comment.
Golding said he was regularly in the area and is working with the community on a plan to address their issues. Yet he cannot explain who he is working with or any details of the action plan.
The residents demanded they receive a reply by next week from the City or they will take further action.
Human rights lawyer and activist, Sehaam Samaai, also a Bo-Kaap resident, said that the one of the biggest challenges is housing and the City of Cape Town has never made Bo-Kaap an inclusive place. She believes the protest is long overdue and there is major frustration in the area over the high rise buildings being constructed by the developers in the area.
“To take the City of Cape Town to court is challenging for a community like Bo-Kaap and therefore I hope that government will take note of their demands. The youth of Bo-Kaap will never be able to afford living in the area they are from. Then we have the older people who cannot afford their homes and are forced to sell due to the gentrification over the years,” said Samaai.
Community members feel the City is not listening to their concerns and have turned a deaf ear on declaring the area a heritage site. The community claims that the land that was offered for affordable housing was sold off to private developers.
A resident who has lived in the area for many years said his parents are suffering due to the high municipal rates.
“My parents are going into retirement. Why at this age should they be burdened with these high rates. It’s ridiculous…” he said.
Bo-Kaap resident and activist Shakirah Dramat said the community’s religious and cultural heritage is being eroded through gentrification.
“Tours and film companies have no respect for the Bo-Kaap’s culture and heritage. They are buying our properties and erecting tall building developments that do nothing for this community,” said Dramat.
“New developments are being put up all over the place but we do not benefit. We have about 40 busses parked in our roads daily. All these developments are being put up before the heritage protection zoning is applied,” added another resident living in the area his entire life.
Meanwhile, residents are being mobilised to a mass iftaar in Wale street on Friday night, where speeches will be delivered by members of the community and other activists.