Apartheid ~ Separation But Not Equal ~ Day 2

The Dutch East India Company established a supply depot in Cape Town in 1652. The indigenous people refused to work with the Dutch so they imported slaves from Madagascar, India, Ceylon, Malaya and Indonesia to deal with the colony’s chronic labor shortage. There was also a shortage of women in the colony; so European men exploited the female slaves for both labor and sex. In time, the slaves also mixed with the indigenous (Khosian) people. The offspring of these unions formed the basis of sections of today’s Cape population, and also helps explain the unique character of the city’s Cape Malay population. By the end of the 18th Century the Dutch East India Company was almost bankrupt, making Cape Town an easy target for the British imperialist interests in the region. The British gained control of the colony and then the Dutch got it back and once again the British re-gained control for a second time in 1814. The slave trade was abolished in 1808 and all slaves were emancipated in 1833.

As Barb’s tour started up the slopes of Signal Hill into the Malay Quarter of town, she entered the predominantly Muslim area of brightly painted houses and local mosques. Bo-Kaap is a unique part of old Cape Town. A number of architectural influences and styles (Cape Dutch and Georgian) can be seen in the area. Much of Bo-Kaap was built in the early 1780s as rental housing for immigrant artisans and craftsmen of European origin who worked in town.

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After emancipation of slaves in 1833, there was increased pressure for modest housing and many freed slaves moved into parts of Bo-Kaap. They took over houses from the immigrants, who had begun to move to the suburbs south of the city. Bo-Kaap developed as a mixed neighborhood and included a large number of Muslims.

By the end of the 19th century the city had grown so fast that workers struggled to find decent housing. Some workers lived in the backyards and basements of city buildings or in crowded houses in the poor neighborhoods around the city. Many rental houses were owned by slumlords that also happened to serve on the City Council. By the 1930s, as the business district expanded, the municipal council began to force black resident to move to specially built townships on the Cape Flats.

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In 1934, the Slums Act was passed, which empowered the City Council to expropriate homes. In a bid to remove poor people from Bo-Kaap, the government in 1938 decreed that, in the future, this area would be a white area.

Despite strong opposition from the mostly colored and black residents, who had lived together harmoniously with whites for many years, the Council began buying up ‘slum’ properties in Bo-Kaap (including many in good condition), with the intention of demolishing buildings and redeveloping the area. However, due to a lack of alternative housing, the Council ended up leasing rooms in the expropriated buildings.

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A few years later Dr. Abdullah Abdurahman, a prominent Cape Town physician, City Councilor and president of the African Political Organization, initiated the construction of the Cape Flats, a public housing project on the edge of town. Of the 400 units planned, only 198 were completed by the time of the outbreak of WWII.

A prerequisite for securing accommodation there was that you had to be a ‘Malay Muslim.’ This term was used to describe people of the Muslim faith descended from ‘free blacks’ and slaves from Asia. Because this new project could not keep up with the demand, many of the displaced and now homeless people ended up living in shacks and forming “townships” – a residential area without governmental boundaries or organization.

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Between 1950 and the 1970s, the Apartheid government moved most of the remaining black residents out of Cape Town. After 1950, Apartheid laws ensured that black people had very little access to the amenities and services that previous generations had enjoyed in Cape Town.

The tour bus stopped at the Bo-Kaap Museum, which is housed in one of the earliest (1768) houses built in the area. The house was declared a national monument in 1965 and underwent restoration in the 1970’s. The museum was established in 1978 and initially it was furnished as a house museum representing the lifestyle of a 19th-century Cape Malay Muslim family. Today it houses mostly black and white photographs of the area taken in the 1950s and history of the area with a few period pieces of furniture and household items.

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Bo-Kaap Museum

Barb spent most of her time in the museum and photographing the vividly painted, low-roofed houses strung up and down the narrow (some cobbled) streets and alleys. As usual she wandered off a bit from the group to take pictures and asked a gentleman for directions to Dorp Street, which he gave her along with the suggestion that it was not safe for her to be walking around this area alone and she should rejoin her group immediately. Some of the houses are well maintained and kept up, but others are in need of complete restoration. Pictures don’t tell the whole story.

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Before 1966, there were close community ties between the inner-city neighborhoods of Bo-Kaap and District Six. Her next stop was the District 6 Museum, which was housed in an old Methodist Church that had lost its congregation many years ago.

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Here she learned how 70,000 families between 1966 and the 1980s were forcibly removed from a once-vibrant suburb that included homes, hotels, cinemas, churches and schools. If, after receiving a notice to vacate a house was not obeyed within two weeks, the contents and inhabitants were forcibly removed and the building demolished.

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Some schools and churches were initially spared. A small part of the area has been reclaimed and re-built but the majority of it remains uninhabited and in disgraceful shape, still covered with building debris, with only a flock of guinea fowl living there. Most of the displaced people were moved to areas situated all over the Cape Flats – a sterile, non-fertile area at the base of Table Mountain.

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The photographs, displays, and writings within the District 6 Museum are poignant reminders of a community who still clings to these memories: of a time, a place, of the people and community they called home, and a way of life that is no more. Those people lost their identity, their families and friends, their culture, their livelihood, and many even lost their lives. That was a sobering experience to visit that museum.

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Next they drove out into the townships, specifically to Langa, the oldest existing black township on the Western Cape. Local community workers hosted them to lunch in this vibrant black community as numerous squatters set about building their own brick homes with the help of government grants. Some of the less fortunate are still living in plywood and corrugated metal lean-tos or shipping containers as you can in the pictures below.

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The townships govern themselves, with a sense of community. Many of the townships have communal cooking, laundry, and showering buildings. Each member is given a certain number of free services and then must pay an affordable fee for extra services. The parents and township leaders handle discipline issues.

Some of the townships are making strides to rebuild their communities and are slowly making progress towards more habitable homes for their families, with some townships even having their own elementary schools. Government loans are used to finance these projects.

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The people were friendly and the children darling. The restaurant was constructed from a number of vacant adjacent houses and two busloads of people were accommodated at one time.

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Restaurant Owner

The meal was very good and served buffet style. The restaurant owner had explained each of the dishes to us before we were served and Barb took a spoonful of most of the cooked ones and everything was very unfamiliar to her palate, flavorful, and edible. The combination of vegetables that were part of most dishes with different spices and sauces was mind-boggling. She thinks she will get a cookbook on South African cooking and be adventurous once she returns home.

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One Response to “Apartheid ~ Separation But Not Equal ~ Day 2”

  1. Probably thbe most interesting blog of the trip. Unbelievable.

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