When glancing at photographs of the strikingly colourful suburb of Bo-Kaap in Cape Town, South Africa, you could be forgiven for thinking the images had been doctored in some way. But take a wander through the quaint cobblestone streets and you’ll discover the buildings are every bit as dazzling as they appear in the guide book.
Bo-Kaap was originally a township on the slopes of Signal Hill above central Cape Town, historically known as the Cape Malay Quarter. Once segregated under Apartheid, inhabitants can trace their roots to Indonesia, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), India and Malaysia, many of them arriving in Cape Town during the 18th and 19th centuries as slaves of the Dutch East India Company.
According to photographer Mervyn Hector, an estimated 63,000 slaves were imported into South Africa from places like Zanzibar, Madagascar, Angola and Mosambique. The Cape Malays and their religious leaders played an important role in the cultural development that persists in Bo-Kaap today, infused into a multicultural atmosphere that reflects the identity of the Muslim settlers.
The Nurul Islam Mosque, established in 1844, and Bo-Kaap Museum reflect the lives and work of the early settlers, many of whom were skilled builders, carpenters, tailors and shoemakers. Those attibutes, along with quaint cobblestone streets, unique architecture – a synthesis of Cape Dutch and Edwardian – and dazzlingly painted houses make Bo-Kaap one of Cape Town‘s most intriguing areas.
Perhaps not surprisingly – though ironic given the area’s history of enslavement – Bo-Kaap has become increasingly gentrified following the end of Apartheid, as wealthy outsiders have embraced its unique atmosphere and colourful architecture. The close-knit community is said to be facing a slow dissolution, and conflict has arisen over the sale of buildings that have seen the eviction of longterm residents.