The South Africa National Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) and the Bo Kaap community met yesterday to discuss the process of declaring Bo Kaap a national heritage site. SAHRA, which is mandated to identify, declare and protect national heritage sites, said parallel to declaring Bo Kaap as a heritage site, a process is also underway to have the Tana Baru cemetery and Auwal masjid declared national heritage sites, as well as for the protection of Bo-Kaap as a living heritage site on a national level.
Both sites have immense historical value to the Muslim community of South Africa. The Tana Baru cemetery has a long, rich history dating back to the 18th century and consists of the graves of formidable pioneers of early Muslims of South Africa like Tuan Guru, Abubakr Effendi and others.
The first pioneer of the Cape, Imam Abdullah Kadi Abdus Salaam, known as Tuan Guru, wrote the entire Quran from memory and built the first mosque at the Cape, the Auwal Masjid in Dorp street.
The Auwal masjid has ever since its inception been a symbol of the struggle of Cape Muslims for the recognition of Islam and their freedom to worship.
SAHRA manager of the built environment unit Ben Mwasinga said the process of declaring Bo Kaap as a heritage site would be a simple process, however, because of certain challenges the process is taking a bit longer to conclude.
“It would be a straight forward process- if we just declared it a heritage site without input from the community, but because Bo Kaap is an urban site, we need to engage community organisations and as many residents as possible to ensure that all needs are met and all concerns are taken into consideration,” he said.
SAHRA is mandated to give a notice of 60 days before any action can be taking hence input from the community is of utmost importance.
“SAHRA is a government on its own. We are an agency of the department of arts and culture which gives us the ability to declare a site a national heritage site or not. However, with the protection of certain sites, we need to engage with all parties within Bo Kaap as families from different religious groups reside in the area with the majority being people living according to the Islamic religion. So we need to make sure that we understand the needs of all families to make the best possible choice,” he stated.
Sadiq Toffa, a heritage practitioner representing the Tana Baru Trust who attended the meeting yesterday said three formal meetings was held in total with great response from the community.
“At yesterday’s meeting it was established that by mid-March nominations for sites to be protected should be submitted,” Toffa said.
“The engagement from all parties and SAHRA including us in decisions makes the process a lot more bearable and so far, everyone is happy about the process leading to Bo Kaap being declared a national heritage site,” he said.
Meanwhile a public hearing for a planned Heritage Protection Overlay Zone for Bo Kaap took place over the weekend where residents were very clear that Bo-Kaap must have heritage status — in a sustainable way that benefits the community. VOC