History of the area

The Bo-Kaap Museum is situated in one of the oldest urban residential areas in Cape Town. The earliest development of the Bo-Kaap area, which became known as Waalendorp, was undertaken by Jan de Waal in the 1760s. The house that today incorporates the museum building is the only one built by him that retains its original form. It dates to 1768.

Although the Bo-Kaap has over centuries been home to people of various origins and religions, the area is closely associated with the Muslim community of the Cape. The ancestors of the majority of the Muslims in the Cape arrived from 1658 onwards as slaves, political exiles and convicts from East Africa and South East Asia (India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka). The first mosque at the Cape, the Auwal Mosque, was built in the neighbourhood in 1804 and is still in use, although much altered over years. By the beginning of the twentieth century roughly half the population in the area was Muslim.

The history of the Bo-Kaap reflects the political processes in South Africa under the Apartheid years. The area was declared an exclusive residential areas for Cape Muslims under the Group Areas Act of 1950 and people of other religions and ethnicity were forced to leave. At the same time, the neighbourhood is atypical. It is one of the few neighbourhoods with a predominantly working class population that continued to exist near a city centre. In the mid-twentieth century, most working class people in South Africa were moved to the periphery of the cities under the Slum Clearance Act and neighbourhood improvement programmes.

Over the years the Bo-Kaap has been known as the Malay Quarter, the Slamse Buurt or Schotcheskloof.