Mixed bag of views on tea room demolition

Heritage Western Cape have revealed that the building which housed the Noon Gun Tea Room before its closure, was once a safe house for those opposing apartheid.

After an application to demolish the building was lodged, the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association (BKCRA) set out to establish whether the venue had historical significance.

The application proposed to demolish the tea room to make way for a development comprising a six-bedroom guest house, as well as smaller cottages and houses on the erf behind the tea room. Landscaped gardens, a vegetable garden and terraces will surround the property.

The BKCRA objected to the demolition application and sent out a survey asking residents to provide the association with photos, stories and memories relating to the Noon Gun Tea Room in an attempt to establish its historical significance.

When Atlantic Sun did some asking around, chief executive officer for Heritage Western Cape, Mxolisi Dlamuka, confirmed the building did, in fact, have heritage significance as it had been built more than 60 years ago and had, in the 1980s, along with other Bo-Kaap homes, served as a hide-out for anti-apartheid activists.

“It was considered one of the many safe houses and in 1994, Zainie Misbach qualified as a tour guide and offered tourists an introduction to significant landmarks and activities in Bo-Kaap including entertaining the guests with refreshments in the family garden.

“The space was inadequate and so the front rooms and balcony were extended to accommodate up to 100 customers. This was the birth of the Noon Gun restaurant which ran for 18 years and eventually closed its doors in February 2013. The structure was since used as apartments,” said Mr Dlamuka.

He said the building had been altered and that much of the original structure had not been retained.

However, he said, because of its social significance the area should be commemorated and its history should be displayed on an information board or plaque.

But, there has been mixed reaction to the matter on the BKCRA Facebook page as some residents believe the venue has no historical value and urged the association to focus on other “more serious” matters.

Bo-Kaap resident, Ganief Galvaan, is one of them. He said the Misbach family closed the team room before the property was sold, and turned into separate apartments which were rented out.

“It was just another dilapidated house when it was sold. In fact, the property contains sections that were built illegally, even crossing its boundaries in places. How does this property constitute a Bo-Kaap heritage site?” he asked.

“How does this compare with what has been allowed to happen in Rose Street, Buitengracht Street, Wale Street, etc?

“I do believe Bo-Kaap has bigger threats that should get our attention. For example, the crime level in Bo-Kaap is spiralling out of control. The Kraal is a major drug den, and is attracting all the wrong characters into the area. Our history is not defined by buildings and material things, but by our lifestyle and culture,” said Mr Galvaan.

Bo-Kaap resident Fadia Moos added that the tea room had been mostly frequented by tourists but “never used by the community … so what memories has the community got to share?”

“In fact the tea room has never been long in existence and also it wasn’t part of the noon gun that is standing there for many, many years,” she said.

“There are seriously more important things in the community that needs attention.”

Prince Zaindeen echoed these sentiments, and pointed out that the BKCRA should turn its attention to objecting to the sale of properties in the area.

“Once property is sold, all heritage goes down the drain. My family lived in that house in Rose Street for over 50 years just for them to build a restaurant and completely change the face of the heritage of that block.”

BKCRA chairman, Osman Shaboodien said while he accepted that people had differing opinions, the organisation was trying to make sure all bases were covered and legal processes had been followed before the demolition was sanctioned.

“It’s our duty to find out all the facts, then we can make a decision. We stick to facts, people have their opinion, but we don’t get involved in mudslinging. A survey is being conducted (and) we’re hoping to gain some information out of this exercise on what took place years ago,” he said.

“There is no real written history in previously oppressed areas, only what people can say. Developers and experts look at one aspect of everything, they’re concerned about how fast they can erase the thing.

The project designer and shareholder, Gail Behr, said that the surrounding community had been welcoming towards the development and that the developers planned to rectify the previous owners’ encroachments onto Signal Hill, Parks Board land and Longmarket Street.

“My partners and I are extremely community-minded people. We are as opposed as other members of the Bo-Kaap community to greedy developments and do not wish to be tarred by the same brush as the development on Rose Street. We hope to be begin groundworks and repair and planting very soon and, weather permitting, we hope that (the development) will be completed by 2019,” said Ms Behr.

The period for public comment closes on Wednesday July 12. Residents who would like to have their say can email the BKCRA at bokaapcivic01@gmail.com