The City of Cape Town shrugged off an online petition with 1 200 objections and gave the thumbs-up last week to a 19-storey block of flats on the edge of the historically sensitive Bo-Kaap neighbourhood.
The move comes at a time when many people in the predominately Muslim community are fasting during the month of Ramadaan.
Residents say they fear their very way of life, along with the area’s rich heritage, is threatened by gentrification orchestrated by the City and developers working together.
Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association chairman, Osman Shaboodien, said they would appeal the approval of the building because if it went ahead, it would not only ruin the look of the area, but also rip out its soul.
He claimed the decision by the Municipal Planning Tribunal on Tuesday June 7 had been biased in favour of the developers.
“We will appeal to the mayor, not to stop development, but to make sure development fits in with the fabric of the community.”
The R1 billion development with a 5 000 square metre footprint is a mixed-use building with 249 flats, a supermarket at the bottom and 324 parking bays, accessed off Shortmarket Street. The development will be 60m high on Buitengracht Street and 38m high on Rose Street.
“My reaction was total disgust because there was no consideration given to the community that is affected,” said resident Ishmail Achmat.
“I was at the tribunal, and I found it to be a farce because their minds were already made up.”
He said the City had largely ignored the community and that the current zoning system had been reworked in 2013 to favour big business.
“As a community, we were protected and this was meant to be a heritage area. But, unfortunately, this city council does not have any respect for communal life.”
He works as an artist from his home in the area and is worried his light will be taken away.
“They want to build almost 300 flats. Those people visiting them, where are they going to park?”
He is also worried that a fancy new development would push up rates.
“I appealed against the rates, even though I am a pensioner and I don’t pay. My children will be inheriting this.”
Yusuf Johaar lives on Longmarket Street, around the corner from the proposed development.
“Whatever new development comes up in Bo-Kaap, we can’t afford it. That means my children will never be able to buy a house here with their kids. We are not gaining anything. They don’t tell us what they are going to develop, they just do it.”
His daughter, Sumayya Johaar, is holding onto hope that the appeal will stop the development.
“Within 21 days, everyone who has objected this development will get a notice about an appeal,” she said.
Ms Johaar said some of the people who had added their names to the petition of 1 200 objectors came from as far away as America and the UK.
Resident Zaki Harris, said: “Bo-Kaap gentrification is something very different to any gentrification process around the world. This is the only community in the world where Islam is practised the way it is.
“We talk about heritage like it is buildings and street, but it is a way of life and a culture.
“Our way of life is being threatened by the onslaught of development. This is the birth place of Islam in South Africa and the reason we have a densely populated area with 11 mosques.
“We were given a piece of South Africa where we could call home and practise our tradition and culture. That has been respected up until now. We all know that there is an urbanisation plan which extends to the CBD and includes the surrounding areas.
“I don’t think that it is a coincidence that this happened on the first day of Ramadaan. This heritage status is a farce and not something that actually protects us. They are trying to test our resistance and ability to stand together as a community.
“We will not let the way of life that we have practised for 200 years be threatened by someone’s greed.
“They know that during Ramadaan we will be less responsive as a community and completely unequipped to submit a response that would give a clear indication of the size of our voice.”
Another resident, Zainie Misbach, said the City had failed to consider how much money tourism brings into the area.
“Do they not see that there is a bottleneck so narrow for people to leave. Do they not take any statistics on the traffic? This is the gateway to the rest of our history. I wish that other communities will join us in this fight. We are not going to stop fighting.”
Ms Misbach, who has been in the tourism industry for more than 30 years, said tourism was the main income for Cape Town and the Bo-Kaap was an important part of that.
“If government doesn’t come to the party we will have to stop the tourism in Bo-Kaap and that is how far we will go.”
Ward councillor Dave Bryant said he had asked at the tribunal meeting for the matter to be deferred for further consultation.
“The Bo-Kaap is a Mecca for tourists who flock to the area for the cobbled streets, Georgian-style architecture and colourful houses and this unique built environment helps create jobs for locals along with many other Capetonians working in the creative industries.”
Developer Jose Rodrigues said: “The development is planned for an under-utilised area that is currently a light industrial zone, and will replace the nondescript concrete edifice that mainly occupies the site with a modern and attractive multi-use building that promises to become a valuable asset to the city and the neighbouring community.
“Any significant development invariably attracts a level of concern and objections, but our team has achieved a fine balance in designing a building that is both respectful of the cultural heritage of the area and meets the economic demands of an ever-growing, world class city.”
Johan van der Merwe, the City’s mayoral committee member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, said the City had carefully considered all submitted applications.
“With this specific application, due process was followed, which included a public participation process.
“The comments and objections submitted by the public during this period were considered during the decision-making process.”