FEATURE | CAPE TOWN 

Battle over different visions for Bo-Kaap

Residents association wants market forces that are gentrifying the area to be replaced with co-operative housing

Photo of Bo-Kaap
One of the Bo-Kaap’s colourful streets. Photo: Kim Alvelius
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The historical Bo-Kaap area on the border of the Cape Town CBD is locked in a battle between residents and developers, who have competing visions for the area that is famous for its colourful houses and cobbled streets.

Two developments of over 15 storeys have already been approved. Up the road from one of these developments is the Strand Street Quarry, which is currently being bid on for a 30-year lease. Two streets down from the quarry is a piece of land that the City of Cape Town controversially sold on auction in June for R1.4 million, but is now on the market for nearly double that.

Other potential developments in the area are a hotel that would overlook the Bo-Kaap, the sale of the property on which St Monica’s Centre for the elderly is currently situated, as well as a gold refinery. GroundUp has also reported on residents of a Bo-Kaap community farm who face eviction.

The Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers Association’s (BKCRA) chairperson Osman Shaboodien believes that a number of City planning provisions have promoted negative development.

One of these is that the City allows developers extra floor space if they are building a mixed-use development that contains a certain percentage of flats. Another is that developers need not consult or notify their neighbours if the zoning allows for their development.

“They don’t [have to] look at their environment [or] the impact. They don’t need to ask any neighbour. They don’t have to consult anybody around that building,” said Shaboodien.

These developments have occurred despite the protection of the area by the South African Heritage Resource Agency under a “grade one resource status”. This means that it is a heritage resource of national significance and needs to be protected. The area is also currently in the process of being designated a Heritage Overlay Zone, which would increase its protection.

High rises and heritage sites

Set to take over almost an entire block between Buitengracht, Longmarket, Rose and Shortmarket streets, the 18-storey development by Vantage Property has been met with vehement opposition by residents in the Bo-Kaap who believe it is “inappropriate and insensitive”.

The Bridges Not Barriers campaign claims that “over 1,000 individual objections to the development were received by the City”. Despite this, the development has been given the go-ahead by City’s Municipal Planning Tribunal.

Another development that has also faced the wrath of residents is the 17-storey building on Strand Street that will house 117 apartments and is already being built, with most of the expensive flats already sold.

Just up the road from this block is Strand Street Quarry, the oldest known quarry in the country, which is open to bidders for a 30-year lease. The City states that the land is currently “underutilized and requires regular policing and maintenance at a cost to the City”.

Johan van der Merwe, the Acting Mayoral Committee Member for Finance insists that any use of the site will be “highly restricted in accordance with the applicable legislation, the National Heritage status and the cultural and religious significance of this site.”

Despite this, the BKCRA is concerned about what exactly will be built on the site and whether community interests will be considered when a private developer leases the site.

Adjacent to the quarry is the Kraal, which used to house a number of families, some in informal dwellings. Nearly all of these families have moved to Pelican Park.

Earlier this year, residents were also up in arms over a proposed construction of a gold refinery by Lueven Metals. Those opposing the refinery believe that it will be a health hazard.

Selling off the Bo-Kaap’s land

The sale of City-owned land in Rose Street has also angered some residents who believe that the property should have been used by the City to develop housing. The City sold the site for R1.4 million and then, just a few months later, it was on the market again for double that. This is despite auctioneer Joey Burke telling EWN that the sale was “way above market value”.

Van der Merwe said that the site was sold for “fair market value” and that as for the subsequent sale of the property, he said that “it would be pure speculation to comment on an advertised price as there is no indication whether this would be achieved or not”.

While the BKCRA appears to have a lot of support amongst families in Bo-Kaap who have been there for generations, this sale shows that not all residents agree with it. The land was in fact bought, and is now being resold by a Bo-Kaap resident. She describes herself as a “single mother of two children, coloured lady” who rents a property on Rose Street.

She says that she doesn’t understand what the “big fuss” is about. “I’ve been struggling for years to buy land in Bo-Kaap, because the Bo-Kaap residents are selling their properties for exorbitant prices, which makes it difficult for people like me to afford. Unless of course you are a foreign investor,” she said.

When asked about what he would say if it was a Bo-Kaap resident who had bought the land, Shaboodien said: “The biggest scoundrels that you find in history came from the very people that need to be protected. It doesn’t mean because they look like you [and] talk like you … that they think like you.”

Co-operative housing

The BKCRA’s wants “co-operative housing” in Bo-Kaap. Borrowing from concepts developed internationally, the idea is that this housing will be neither sold nor bought and that the community will do the building with the City contributing land and services. The houses would belong to the community rather than to an individual, with the ultimate plan being to build 200 homes in the Bo-Kaap.

The housing would be in the form of flats and would be built at various sites around the Bo-Kaap, which have already been identified.

The community is already meeting with the City, architects and engineers to make their dream a reality.

An aerial view of the Bo-Kaap
An aerial view of the Bo-Kaap showing some of the new developments in yellow.
Adapted from Google Maps by GroundUp.

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