World Monuments Watch
Cape Town, South Africa

2016 World Monuments Watch

The Bo-Kaap neighborhood of Cape Town, on the slopes of Signal Hill, dates from the establishment of a Dutch colony on the Cape of Good Hope in the seventeenth century. From the very beginning, Bo-Kaap was a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual community, made up of people from South and Southeast Asian nations who had been forcibly relocated to supply skilled labor for the expanding Cape Colony. Throughout the centuries that followed, Bo-Kaap’s residents have sustained a community that preserves a rich legacy of tangible and intangible heritage. Enforced segregation of the community under the Apartheid regime strengthened the identity of Bo-Kaap, even as the racially-motivated policy represented an assault on the human rights of the community.

Today, Bo-Kaap is recognized for its distinctive vernacular architecture and its enduring Muslim culture. The district preserves the largest collection of pre-1850 architecture in South Africa, as well as the nation’s oldest mosques. The rows of brightly-colored homes, with outdoor living spaces in front, have always promoted a life of propinquity for the community’s residents and continue to strengthen social bonds. But the forces of gentrification are also at play, as Bo-Kaap has become a fashionable suburb that attracts newcomers, causing a rapid increase in land values. While residents welcome new investment, Bo-Kaap’s intangible heritage is placed at risk: oral history and popular memory, time-honored skills and techniques, as well as traditions and other knowledge are slowly being eroded. The 2016 World Monuments Watch supports local initiatives to create an informed and inclusive conservation management plan for Bo-Kaap. Such a plan would enhance local knowledge and promote awareness through research and documentation, including architectural surveys and oral history.

Watch Day

In December, the very active residents of Bo-Kaap held a “name giving event” to commemorate the official recognition of the neighborhood as Bo-Kaap. Activities included group walks and tours along the borders of the neighborhood, unveiling of new signage, speeches by community leaders and government officials, and cultural entertainment.

Since the Watch

During the summer of 2016, the Cape Town municipal government authorized the construction of two new multistory buildings in the area, against opposition from members of the community. In October 2016, the Department of Arts and Culture approved a request from the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association to adopt Bo-Kaap as the official name of the area, which used to be called by its Dutch name, Schotschekloof. The decision included a redefinition of the boundaries of the Bo-Kaap Grade 1 National Heritage Area.

Last updated: May 2017.

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