‘Bo-Kaap is silently suffering’

“We put our colours on our houses and it’s attractive to millions of people. You see it on Instagram, you see it on Facebook, on all the social media how beautiful Cape Town is. They are very proud of Bo-Kaap. The people of Bo-Kaap are suffering …”

Gentrification in the Bo-Kaap was one of the main topics at a recent public meeting held to discuss the City of Cape Town’s Organisational Development and Transformation Plan (ODTP).

Mayco member for area north, Suzette Little, attended the meeting last Wednesday, as well as Stuart Diamond, Mayco member for assets and facilities management, Brandon Golding, councillor for Ward 77 which includes parts of the City Bowl and Bo-Kaap; and Dave Bryant, councillor for Ward 115, which includes Green Point, Paarden Eiland, parts of Woodstock and Salt River and the City Bowl.

The meeting formed part of the City of Cape Town’s roadshow to introduce the new plan to communities, which is aimed at reversing apartheid spatial planning as well as improving on delivering services. Commenting on the ODTP, resident Fowzia Achmat said: “It is fine to say that there have been changes in the City but we have been sitting and waiting for the past two years.

Ms Achmat added: “It is fine to say you are trying to prioritise but there is no consultation and there is no information coming to us. This is very frustrating. How do we believe all these stories when we can’t even get our Heritage Protection Overlay Zone that we submitted two years ago?

“Bo-Kaap is being totally ignored by the City. The City was not taking pride in holding up the heritage in Bo-Kaap and that is what is wrong. It is still apartheid spatial planning.”

Another resident, Noor Osman, said the community is having to go to court to defend its heritage. “That’s how serious it is. I think it is about time that somebody comes back to us with a firm answer. There is just no way that we can keep on asking the same question and getting the same reply. It is not acceptable. I think we are so gatvol and excuses don’t count with us anymore. That is the kind of feeling that permeates here. There is no concrete, tangible evidence of something that is happening. We are very, very frustrated with the City.”

Mr Osman said the matter of high rates goes to the core of gentrification and why people are moving out and cannot afford to stay in the area.

“ You hear it now coming from many more people who say suddenly their rates have gone up by 400%. Those are the issues that affect us as a community. The only people that benefit at this point in time is, in fact, the City. They benefit because there are tourists coming here in their thousands. We don’t get anything. We put our colours on our houses and it’s attractive to millions of people. You see it on Instagram, you see it on Facebook, on all the social media how beautiful Cape Town is. They are very proud of Bo-Kaap. The people of Bo-Kaap are suffering, we are silently suffering because of the indiscriminate policies that have been applied to us.”

Osman Shaboodien, chairperson of the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association, thanked Ms Little for being at the meeting.

“The last time a mayor came here was when Helen Zille came to tell us our rates had just gone up and is equal to the Atlantic Seaboard. I think the challenge that we all sit with, is we need to put some foundations to what we are discussing otherwise whatever we are doing here becomes totally useless. Over the last three, four years when we have objected, we don’t even get a reply. That is the frustration that is happening.”

Mr Diamond said the ODTP was a change of business and thinking. “There is a deep passionate commitment to try and turn things around and to drive positive change. There are a couple of issues in the Bo-Kaap that I sit with.”

One of these, he said, was rental unit stock. “One of the things we are going to be doing is to create a mobile education operation van that will roll from community to community. Part of the ODTP is that we are bringing our office to the community. We will be talking about how do we transfer ownership. The other issue is that we sit with special leases that are heritage buildings or cottages.”

He said the National Building Act does not allow the City to transfer ownership of these buildings in their current state. “We have identified 19 heritage or special lease properties that we need to work closely with heritage assessment. We’ve done phase one of the heritage assessment and we will now be fighting with the budget to fix those properties up so we can transfer the ownership to the residents who live in it. That is just the start of this and we will be investigating other properties of a similar nature,” said Mr Diamond.

Ms Little said four of the main issues that had been identified at the meeting were the heritage overlay plan, the upgrades of the 19 houses, the electricity depo as well as the Kraal. She added there had been various engagements with the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association in terms of what to do at the Kraal.

Ms Little said: “My great great-grandmother was from the Bo-Kaap so I have a great personal interest in the Bo-Kaap and I think heritage is important. I want to see the Bo-Kaap get its rightful place in the heritage of Cape Town. I’m not going to be able to do it alone.

Ms Shaboodien added: “I think the public participation is one thing that we would cherish. We need to form a partnership. We have to find out how we deal with the fundamentals and going forward together.”

Ms Little said the meeting that night was the first step and promised to come back to the community within 30 days. “I hear from a number of community members in the past that they struggle to get certain things done or to be heard about what you want. We don’t work that way anymore. I’m here to listen to what you want me to do.”

She said it was about making it a better community for everyone who lived in Bo-Kaap.

After the meeting, Ms Little told the Atlantic Sun, the fact that it was a heritage site meant that there must be some restitution value for people in the area. “There’s got to be a debate and I’m hoping I can champion that debate within council. We’ve got a community that’s been here for hundreds of years, there must be a way in which we can help poorer communities retain their family homes.

“This area of Bo-Kaap is a rich area for tourism. Why are the residents not involved? It’s their houses that we’re taking pictures of.”

She added that she supported the City’s announcement last week that they were committed to building affordable housing in the inner-city.

“It is the vision of the City to make sure that affordable housing is closer to where people are working.”