Cape Town Day 2: Bo Kaap

Bo-Kaap is a place that was on the top on my list during my visit to Cape Town. I was dying to find out why it is called Cape Malay.

bokaap houses

watercolor on watercolor paper

The distance from Waterfront to Bo-Kaap is about 20 minutes by foot, but I told my husband that I was too lazy to walk (or probably tired from exploring Robben Island earlier in the day), so we took a taxi instead. Cost us about R45. We wanted to go the Bo-Kaap Museum, but the taxi driver did not know where it was, so we requested him to just drop us off somewhere uphill at Yusuf Drive. I like the sound of it. Yusuf is one of the most common Muslim names besides Muhammad. There are also street names like Astana and Tana Baru – words that are familiar to us.


Me on Yusuf Drive, on the background is Cape Town.

Anyway, Bo-Kaap (meaning ‘Upper Cape’) is nestled at the foot of Signal Hill on central Cape Town’s western perimeter. The houses here are unique. They are characterised by narrow streets and cobbled lanes with charming and colourful rows of houses. I love the green ones…and the pink ones…and the turquoise ones…oh, I love all of them!

As we were mesmerised by the houses and buildings in the area, we missed the museum. Anyway, I visited the Bo-Kaap Museum online and found some interesting facts about the history of Bo-Kaap.

According to the museum, Bo-Kaap today is comprised of four areas: the Malay Quarter, Stadzicht, Schotsche Kloof and Schoone Kloof. Although the Bo-Kaap has over centuries, been home to people of various origins and religions, the area is closely associated with the Muslim community of the Cape.  The ancestors of the majority of the Muslims in the Cape arrived from 1658 onwards as slaves, political exiles and convicts from East Africa and South East Asia (India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka).

The first mosque at the Cape, the Auwal Mosque, was built in the neighbourhood in 1804 and is still in use, although much altered over years. By the beginning of the twentieth century, roughly half the population in the area was Muslim.

From some of the websites on the Internet and also from the Hop-On Hop-Off bus commentary, I found out that Bo Kaap is incorrectly branded as Cape Malay. I’m not sure what the fuss is all about, but I think the fact from history (that goes back to 1658) where most slaves came from Indonesia (who were from Malay descendants) must be why. In my opinion, it is not incorrectly branded, but word-of-mouth rules and the word ‘Malay’ has been carried from generation to generation.

my drawing

watercolor on watercolor paper

From the Bo-Kaap Museum online, I also found out that in 1943, recognising that the unique character and historic value of the area was being eroded, several prominent citizens formed the “Group for the Preservation of the Malay Quarter,’ headed by Dr E G Jansen and included amongst others Dr I D du Plessis and Mr William Fehr. As a result of their lobbying, 15 houses and a mosque in the block between Chiappini, Shortmarket, Rose and Longmarket Streets were restored in 1951.

Despite the protests of many residents, Bo-Kaap was declared a ‘Malay Group Area’ under the Group Areas Act n 1957. In 1966, under pressure from the public, the Historical Monuments Commission (later the National Monuments Council) and the Department of Community Development, the houses between Rose and Chiappini and Longmarket and Wale Streets were declared a national monument.

Ons is honger (we were hungry in Afrikaans). So, after taking pictures and a walk in the Bo-Kaap area, my husband and I got hungry. It was 5 pm and the weather was getting colder. We went to the nearby Biesmillah Restaurant. We went in, waited almost 10 minutes but there was nobody to serve us (probably busy in the kitchen), so we just walked out.

biesmillah restaurant

Biesmillah Restaurant at Waal Street.

We walked further down Wale Street and took a turn at Bree Street and found a restaurant, called Simply Good Food just below EC Cape Town English Language School. We had tuna sandwiches and coffee.

Later we just walked along Church Street that leads to St Georges Mall.  I found a lot of interesting shops along the streets, but as they were already closing, we just headed straight back to the hotel. We noticed that shops were closing early, as early as 5 pm. Maybe it was due to the winter weather.

Here are some pictures of Bo Kaap houses and buildings:



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