More than two years of work and planning culminated in a very special naming ceremony for the Bo-Kaap community at the weekend.
On Saturday, the area was officially named Bo-Kaap, shedding its Dutch names of the past. Although it has been known as Bo-Kaap to its residents, officially different parts of the area were referred to as Schotschekloof, Stadzicht and Schoone Kloof.
When, on Monday October 10, the Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, gazetted the name change, it was the result of a community-driven process.
The Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association first lodged an application 18 months ago with the Western Cape Provincial Geographical Names Committee to officially rename the area (“It’s almost officially Bo-Kaap,” Atlantic Sun, November 19 2015; and “Minister makes Bo-Kaap name official,”Atlantic Sun, October 20).
In addition to the name, the new boundaries of the area were also officially recognised by national government. The civic association said the renaming was about reclaiming its home and preserving its identity.
On the day there were speeches from various people in the community as well as government officials. There was also traditional entertainment provided by the Seven Step Minstrel Group and the Cape Malay Choir as well as a symbolic 4km walk around the historic neighbourhood at the Bo-Kaap Doekmal event.
A doekmaal (also referred to as doepmal) is a Muslim naming ceremony.
Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said the area symbolised something special in the history of the country. “There are a number of things that make it a very important tourism site, but the historical importance goes far beyond that. This is where the slaves who came here more than 300 years ago lived, and this is where families continue to live through tumultuous changes such as the Group Areas Act. It embodies the rich history in our country and the cultural diversity of the country.”
He said it was a special place in the history of the country and that it was “becoming a special tourism site because it tells an important story”.
Mr Hanekom said the people who were least spoken about in the country were the ones who suffered the most and did not choose to migrate.
“We often think about the slaves that were taken out of Africa to other parts of the world, but we don’t sufficiently remember the people that came to South Africa as slaves and the hardships that they went through.”
He said the renaming event was about moving from a past that you could not change and remembering where the people were asserting their identity as part of a bigger South Africa.
Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel, who also attended the event on Saturday, said that the Bo-Kaap had a very rich and deep history. “Bo-Kaap also has existing challenges, and the renaming was about claiming ownership of the area and of its future. It has the potential of tourism based on its location, but there is also the threat of gentrification.
“We’ve seen it across the world, where people with money essentially buy up properties and destroy a culture and a way of life.”
Mr Patel added that they hoped to marry the imperatives of economic development with the opportunities of maintaining the cultural richness of the area.
Nkosikhulule Nyembezi, who is a member of the Western Cape Provincial Geographical Naming Committee, said the renaming process had been inclusive and that several meetings had been held with the community.
“It was not an easy process. Not everyone agreed, but, as committee members, to be listening to the views and seeing how the community reached consensus has been an exemplary process. We can take this example to other communities who are doing the same process of name changes. A name is very important in restoring dignity.”
Osman Shaboodien, chairman of the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association said the official renaming of the area was very significant to the area’s residents. “We are here for values that we have stood for for 300 years.
“The name Bo-Kaap is not accidental. This name came from the soul and it came from our hearts. Our parents and their parents before them called it Bo-Kaap. What we are doing now is not only reclaiming our home but our name. We did not want to have a slave name.”
Mr Shaboodien said that Bo-Kaap was fighting a battle to survive as a community.
“Not only are we lured out every day by offers for our homes, we also have a City policy that encourages development.”
Mohammed Groenewald, who is also a member of the civic sssociation, said the name change and new boundaries were very significant. “Bo-Kaap was known by three or four names. We chose the name Bo-Kaap and it is after 300 years that we have lost our slave name.
“We chose a name that we, as a community, are passionate about, and it was always the name that our forefathers referred to it by.
“When we walk on these cobbled streets, we must know that each street has a story to tell. It was a story of hardship.”
Mr Groenewald said the threat of gentrification and making sure the local community benefited from the tourism and film industries were some of the challenges that lay ahead.