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[OPINION] Bo-Kaap: The heart of you

Everyone is waiting for the muezzin to recite the call to prayer. It’s Ramadan, Muslims have fasted all day and they’re waiting for that signal to quench their thirst and line their tummies with dates, pies, samosas and other nourishing treats.

Ramadan has always been a time of giving – a kind of glue that comes around once a year to stick inhabitants together – not that they need a reason for unity.

Neighbours carrying food from one house to another is not an uncommon scene in Bo-Kaap. The month in this inner city area has long been cherished and celebrated. But this year, the togetherness takes on new meaning: To survive and celebrate not only the holy month, but to do the same for the place they call home.

Bo-Kaap: Where the spirit of history and heritage find their rightful place and meaning in the narrative of the city, and South Africa no less, is being threatened by gentrification. Bulldozers enter the streets and excavate centuries of memory from the ground.

Beauty is often in uprising. Uprising is often how beauty is preserved. Revolution does not always have to be synonymous with destruction and in fact, if nothing else, the organisations leading the Bo-Kaap protests are testimony to this.

Bo-Kaap Rise and Bo-Kaap Youth are the young heroes behind voices shouting for the area to be declared a heritage site. A fight started by their parents and in, some cases, their grandparents, yet still ongoing.

Every Friday evening in Bo-Kaap during Ramadan, white strips of paper line Wale and Rose streets; the stores are selling the last of their loose cigarettes and spices for the day before they shut down to join the rest of the community outside.

Men pray after hundreds of people celebrated Iftar, which is the evening meal which breaks the daily Ramadan fast for Muslim people, in the middle of Wale Street in Bo-Kaap, on 1 June 2018. Picture: AFP.

Men pray after hundreds of people celebrated Iftar, which is the evening meal which breaks the daily Ramadan fast for Muslim people, in the middle of Wale Street in Bo-Kaap, on 1 June 2018. Picture: AFP.

Boeka for Bo-Kaap is about peace. It’s protest in art and culture through the representation of a call heeded by an older generation who are listening to a younger one. “Everyone is welcome to come and break fast with us in Bo-Kaap. Don’t forget your prayer mats and food for you and the person next to you”. And so the scene is set. Muslims, non-Muslims and plenty of other people on the right side of history convene on the streets in support.

“We as Bo-Kaap Youth have unified with Bo-Kaap Rise to ensure that the fight continues, together we will not give up on our people, our right to heritage, culture, and ultimately the right to stay on the land our forefathers laid for us. We are fighting for one cause and in conjunction with your support, we believe we will succeed,” reads the pamphlet handed out during the Bo-Kaap streets as the sun is setting.

The organisations have already handed over a memorandum of demands to ward councillor Brandon Golding. The list, however, reads less like one of demands and more of one that just begs for human rights and common decency. It includes things like: government-owned property must be developed into affordable housing, Bo-Kaap must be zoned off for heritage protection status, tourist buses can only park or drive through demarcated areas and sports facilities must be upgraded.

Bo-Kaap is the birthplace of Islam in South Africa, it’s where the oldest mosque stands, but over and above the birth of a religion, it is the ground that laid itself before a three century long period of slavery.

It is the land from which buildings rose, constructed from the blood, sweat and tears of a removed people, an outcast people, a stolen people.

Bo-Kaap is home and it is history. And its rightful place in the story of South Africa is being threatened by the shadows of capitalism, tall buildings and a booming property market that seeks to wipe a culture off the face of the countries landscape with rates that keep climbing.

When I made my way down the Wale Street hill last week after Boeka for Bo-Kaap, a man walked up to my wife Rebecca, my cousin Zareena and myself and handed us polystyrene containers filled with aknee (a wholesome spicy rice dish made with lamb and potatoes). He didn’t know us, we didn’t know him.

We thanked him and as I looked around I noticed that he had made his way up and down that street. And everyone who stood around me, black, white, poor, rich – everyone had something to eat and that’s when it dawned on me: This place feeds.

It feeds the mouths and souls of those who live there and who have lived there. It feeds our history and stories. It feeds our feet when we walk its cobbled streets and it feeds our eyes when we search for a place of stillness in the midst of the Mother City.

So as a country, we need to ask ourselves, when something empty and cold supersedes it, which place will feed us then?

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.