Struggle for Heritage Protection

by Sadiq Toffa

The earliest protest and legal action for the protection of the Bo-Kaap dates from 1886 at the Tana Baru Burial Ground. The Muslim cemetery uprising saw 3,000 Muslims march from the city to the cemetery in protest at the City Council’s closure of the burial ground. The Tana Baru Trust was established to manage and protect the Tana Baru.

The 1994 new political dispensation saw the beginning of a series of public interventions to conserve the heritage of the Bo-Kaap. However, attempts to do so failed and the succeeding years saw many historically inappropriate developments threaten the scale and culture of the area.

The mixed-income and predominantly working-class character of the Bo-Kaap has also been threatened by increased gentrification that accelerated after the forced removal of the last remaining informal settlement in the central city, known as ‘the Kraal’, in early 2016.

In 2016 the Bo-Kaap was nominated by University of Cape Town to the World Monuments Fund, which recognised it as a threatened and globally significant cultural heritage landscape.

In early 2019, after widespread protest, rivalry between competing community groups, and controversial political delays, the entirety of the Bo-Kaap was officially gazetted as a municipal Heritage Protection Overlay Zone (HPOZ) by the City Council.

The greatest heritage victory for the Bo-Kaap occurred on 30 April 2019, when 19 Sites in the Bo-Kaap were simultaneously gazetted as National Heritage Sites. They include six mosques, five landscape features, three schools, the Bo-Kaap Museum and the Tana Baru.