Getting to know the Bo-Kaap
The sounds of Cape Town would not be complete without the beautiful call of the mosque that emanates from the colourful, characterful Bo-Kaap.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Situated at the foot of Signal Hill, on the fringe of the city centre, and formerly known as the Malay Quarter, the Bo-Kaap’s origins date back to the 1760s when numerous “huurhuisjes” (rental houses) were built and leased to slaves. These people were known as Cape Malays, and were brought from Malaysia, Indonesia and the rest of Africa to work in the Cape.
THOSE COLOURFUL HOUSES
To this day, the houses are a mix of Cape Dutch and Georgian architecture, in distinctive multi-coloured rows on steeply cobbled roads. The choice of colour is said to be attributed to the fact that while on lease, all the houses had to be white. When this rule was eventually lifted, and the slaves were allowed to buy the properties, all the houses were painted bright colours by their owners as an expression of their freedom.
Many of the families in the Bo-Kaap have been living there for generations. Today the Bo-Kaap community is a significant part of our cultural heritage.
WHAT TO SEE
The oldest building in the Bo-Kaap is in Wale Street and currently houses the Bo-Kaap Museum. This is the best place to discover the real history of the area and to get a glimpse into the life of a typical Malay family.
The first established Muslim mosque in South Africa, the Auwal Mosque, can also be found in the Bo-Kaap.
A five-minute walk from the city centre and De Waterkant and a 20-minute walk to the V&A Waterfront, the Bo-Kaap is best accessed by foot along Wale Street. Explore the Islamic “kramats” (shrines), mosques and food and craft markets, and discover the delicious Cape Malay cooking style.
A must-do is a traditional Cape Malay meal at one of the restaurants, or a quick Cape Malay cooking course with one of the expert locals. Recipes date back centuries and are a spicy mix of Middle Eastern and Dutch styles of cooking, usually consisting of fruit, spices, vegetables and meat.
You can also stop at a corner café and pick up a few snacks like samoosas (crispy triangle pastries), half-moons (crescent-shaped savoury snacks), daltjies (chilli bites), slangetjies and paaper bites (crisps), koesisters (spicy doughnuts) and boeber (a sweet sago and vermicelli drink).
South Africa’s native Afrikaans language was said to have developed in homes like those of the Bo-Kaap. The language was originally used by locals as a tool for communication across slave nationalities and their Dutch “masters”. The first written Afrikaans text is believed to have been produced by Muslim scholars.