The Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum is one of the earliest homes built in the Bo-Kaap area, dating back to the mid-18th century. The museum, situated in the historic area that became home to many Muslims and freed slaves after the abolition of slavery, showcases local Islamic culture and heritage. The house was declared a National Monument in 1965 and restored in the 1970s.
The Museum was established in 1978 as a satellite of the SA Cultural History Museum. It was furnished as a house that depicts the lifestyle of a nineteenth-century Muslim family.
The Museum is managed by Iziko Museums, an amalgamation of five national museums that includes the SA Cultural History Museum and its satellites. The museum is a social history museum that tells the story of the local community within a national socio-political and cultural context. Originally furnished as a house, it depicted, in a picturesque and stereotypical way, the lifestyle of a nineteenth-century Cape Muslim family.
The Bo-Kaap itself is well worth a visit. Colourful houses, steep cobbled streets, the muezzin’s calls to prayer, and children traditionally dressed for Madrassa, add to this unique Cape experience.
Architecture of the Bo-Kaap museum
The façade, with its curvilinear Baroque parapet, is characteristic of early Cape Dutch architecture. The house has a small courtyard at the back, which is connected to the street by a narrow lane. Courtyards were usually paved with Kaapse klippe or stone sets of cobbles, and were often planted with trees or a vine.
The height of stoeps (verandas) in the Bo-Kaap vary according to the slope of the street. Most stoeps have solid seats at both ends, making the stoep a convenient gathering place for family and friends.
The flat roofs of this dwelling and others of its era were often disguised with decorative roof edging such as this to help cover the flat, sloping roof behind the decorative edging. In the 1700s roofs were typically “waterproofed” by mopping the roof with a mixture of whale oil and molasses, to prevent rain from leaking through the roof.
Another distinctive feature of the house is the front door, with a separate top and bottom panel known as a boenonder (above-and-below) door. The door has an additional upper panel, fitted with glass window panes, which slide down and rest on the bottom panel of the door, thus providing light in the entrance hall when the door is closed.
The sash-windows, fitted with teak shutters, are a typical feature of Cape Dutch architecture. When the house was restored in the mid-1970s, many alterations that had been made over the years were removed, to approximate the building’s original features. During the restoration, the width of the entrance hall was narrowed to its original width. Yellowwood floors and ceiling boarding were installed throughout the house, and the roof beams were given a layer of yellowwood, to simulate the old Cape Dutch beams. The original wrought iron fittings of this house were replaced with replicas, based on Cape Dutch patterns of the period.
The building was declared a National Monument in 1966. It was officially opened as a museum on 22 April 1978, by Mr Julius Tahija from Jakarta, Indonesia.
History of the Bo-Kaap museum
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 back to 1768.
The Bo-Kaap is a unique part of old Cape Town. It is situated above the central business district of the city. It is a small residential area, less than two kilometres in length and less than half a kilometre at its widest point.
Most of the Bo-Kaap was built between 1760 and 1840. It is comprised of four areas: the Malay Quarter, Stadzicht, Schotsche Kloof and Schoone Kloof. The precise boundaries of each area are unclear.
Prior to the 1760s, there was very little residential building development in the space that would later become known as the Bo-Kaap. In this period, there were just two blocks of erven and the market garden in Schotsche Kloof.
After 1780, the Cape settlement grew and the town grid was extended above Buitengracht Street. The occupation of the Cape by the British in 1795 resulted in further residential growth. Development of the area continued to be in the form of modest huurhuisjes (hire houses), which were typically flat-roofed and consisted of a single storey. Many huurhuisjes were let to immigrant artisans and craftsmen of European origin, who worked in town. However, the area was also home to free blacks and freed slaves.
After the emancipation of slaves in 1834, there was increased pressure for modest housing, and many freed slaves moved into the new parts of the Bo-Kaap. They took over houses from the immigrants, who had begun to move to suburbs south of the city.
The Bo-Kaap developed as a mixed neighbourhood, and included a characteristically large number of Muslims, with a small number of Africans.
By 1885, the Bo-Kaap had taken on its current form (apart from the Schotsche Kloof Flats built in the late 1930s and a few new mosques). Social life in the area was vibrant and varied. Popular social events included sports, religious gatherings, picnics and Guy Fawkes, Christmas and New Year celebrations. Informal street performances by members of singing clubs – which were often allied to sports clubs – were common around New Years’ celebrations.
Before mid-1960, when the apartheid government razed District Six to the ground, there were close community ties between the inner-city neighbourhoods of District Six and the Bo-Kaap. In 1957, certain sections were reserved for Coloureds except for the Schotsche Kloof area where a separate ‘Malay’ identity was retained. Some ‘non-Malay’ and Christian coloured, Indian and African families were forcibly relocated to areas such as Gugulethu and Mitchell’s Plain, amongst others. Despite the protests of some residents, parts of the Bo-Kaap were declared a ‘Malay Group Area’ under the Group Areas Act.
The Group Areas Act profoundly dislocated peoples’ lives across South Africa. District Six was declared a ‘white area’ in 1966 and residents were forcibly removed to outlying areas such as Manenberg, Mitchell’s Plain and Hanover Park. By the end of the 1970s, it is estimated that 150 000 people were removed under the Group Areas Act in the Western Cape.
Resistance to apartheid and racial segregation continued in the Bo-Kaap and elsewhere, until the demise of apartheid in 1994. The City Council, which by this time owned the majority of properties in the area, was initially opposed to conserving the architecture in the Bo-Kaap, even demolishing several historic houses that had become dilapidated.
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 approximately half of the population in the area was Muslim.
The history of the Bo-Kaap reflects the political processes in South Africa during the Apartheid years. The area was declared an exclusively residential area 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.
History of the land and house
In 1755, Governor of the Cape, Ryk Tulbagh, granted the land on which the Museum is located to Alexander Coel, a member of the Council of Justice. Five years later, the land passed to landowner Jan de Waal. After De Waal’s death in 1768, the property was carved up into six portions. The property on which the Museum stands today was sold to Johannes Vermeulen in 1768. The deed of transfer states that the ‘house, erf and everything on the property lies in Table Valley – a part of Schotsche Kloof’. It remained the property of the Vermeulen family for 64 years, between 1768 and 1832. It then passed on to Bartholomeus Hendricus Eyberg, who owned the property for sixty-two years, until his estate was declared insolvent. Hadje Magmoet Effendi (a family member of the influential Imam Abu Bakr Effendi, who was dispatched to the Cape Colony in 1862) took possession of Eyberg’s land in 1894.
In 1911, Hadje Magmoet Effendi appealed to the City Council to pay for damages ‘to the walls, floors, carpets and furniture because the drain in the lane was blocked and after a severe storm the area flooded.’ This they refused, asserting that it was the owner’s responsibility (WCAR, KAB, 3/CT, 4/2/1/1/1/103, 481/11, 1911). With a lack of services from the City Council, maintaining the upkeep of this old property would have proved difficult for the Effendi family.
After Hadje Magmoet’s death in 1917, the estate was bequeathed to his children. Assistant chemist Mochamat Dervies Effendi (also referred to as Mr Dervies, Mr Derris, Mr Gamat Dervies Effendi, and Mochamet Dervies Effendi, in correspondence files) became the sole owner of 71 Wale Street, after a court settlement with his siblings.
The property today looks very different to what it looked like under Mochamat Dervies’ ownership. The house had many more rooms than it did before.
In 1928, Mr Dervies built extra rooms at the rear of the building, despite being cautioned about the risk of overcrowding by the Medical Officer of Health (Western Cape Archives Repository [WCAR], 3/CT, 4/2/1/3/34b, B1507). At this time, no. 71 Wale Street comprised a stoep (porch), four rooms and a kitchen, with ten rooms and three toilets in the backyard. The main building, according to the City Council, was occupied by a ‘respectable Malay family and the ten rooms in the courtyard by tenants, Boltman, Povie, Roultman, Maldie, Meyer, Jacobs, Williams, Van Ass and one whose name was unobtainable … total 27 adults and 10 children all sleeping in rough beds in the rooms in the yard.’
In 1934, the City Council declared portions of the house a slum and made strenuous efforts to expropriate the property from Mr Dervies. The Council claimed that it wanted to purchase the property as ‘one of 41 properties comprising an area named the “Dorp Lane Area” which was to be cleared for a tenement scheme’. The City Engineer and the Medical Officer of Health were called in to investigate the site.
On inspection, the Acting City Engineer, Mr W.J. Houghton, maintained that ‘the walls are roughly plastered, woodwork defective, concrete floors and paving in the yard need to be hacked up and re-laid … the W.C. is defective and all woodwork etc. needs to be repainted.’ He questioned whether ‘repair is economic or whether the nuisance can only be removed by demolition’. (Report by W.J. Houghton, 28/10/1935 in KAB, 3/CT, 4/2/1/1/1327).
The final decision to repair or demolish became the task of the Medical Officer of Health, Mr Tom Shaddick Higgins. He was in support of Houghton, arguing that the property was:
‘..damp, paving broken, drains leaky; infested with bugs and rats. The premises are occupied by coloured people and natives for dwelling-house purposes as one five-room letting and ten single room lettings (31 occupants). Two rooms overcrowded, one room is used as a kitchen it is contact with one toilet. No kitchen in single-room lettings cooking is done in their sleeping rooms by oil stoves.’(sic) (Report by W.J. Houghton, 28/10/1935 in WCAR, KAB, 3/CT, 4/2/1/1/1327)
Three months later, Mr Dervies was summoned to court and the rear part of the building was declared a slum. However, the City Council was still not satisfied and, a few months later, proposed to acquire the land by agreement or expropriation. In March 1937, an agreement was reached and a new Deed of Transfer was issued. Demolition of the rear part of the building was only completed in 1940. The Effendi family continued to live on the property, even though the City Council owned the property. When Mr Gamat Dervies Effendi died on 28 July 1940, his wife and children continued to reside there, until it was declared a National Monument in the late 1960s. Restoration of the house started in the 1970s.
Social and religious life in the Bo-Kaap
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, slave owners at the Cape did little to encourage slaves to embrace Christianity and Islam, increasingly, was regarded by slaves as a religion of freedom. After the Batavian government granted religious freedom in 1804, the influence of Imams grew in Cape Town and the number of Muslim slaves also rose significantly. By 1824, there were two mosques, five prayer rooms and four madressas (Muslim schools) in the Bo-Kaap. Mosques originally looked like ordinary buildings, and minarets were only added in the mid-1800s.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, St Paul’s Church in Bree Street and St Stephen’s Church on Riebeeck Square served the Bo-Kaap community. However, the idea of a Cape Malay culture was actively promoted by the Nationalist Party government. In the mid-1960s, the implementation of the Group Areas Act by the apartheid government, in an attempt to create a Cape Malay enclave, expelled many Christians from the area. The category ‘Malay’, as used by the apartheid government, was not synonymous with ‘Muslim’ and excluded, for instance, South African Indians who arrived later.
The St Paul’s Anglican Church and its primary school today remain a strong presence in the Bo-Kaap community.
For many Muslim residents today, daily life and social relationships are organised around prayer and the mosque. Mosques perform a spiritual function and also provide spaces for community and social interaction.
Under the Dutch East India Company, Muslims were not allowed their own places of worship, so prayer meetings were held in private homes.
Auwal Mosque was the first mosque that came into existence, in 1798, during the time of the first British Occupation. The land was donated by Saartjie van die Kaap ‘als een Mohamedaansche Kerk’, securing a home for Islam and a base from which it could spread. There are seven mosques in the Bo-Kaap today. However, residents consider the Palm Tree and Hanafee mosques, located in Long Street, as well as the Quawatul Islam Mosque, located in Loop Street.
The Tana Baru and Kramats
An important spiritual space in the Bo-Kaap is the Tana Baru (‘new ground’) which refers to the Muslim cemetery at the top of Longmarket Street. It is comprised of three burial grounds. These were the first burial grounds for Cape Muslims and were granted to Frans van Bengalen on 2 October 1805 by the Batavian Republic, after religious freedom was declared. Some of the earliest and most respected Muslim settlers of South Africa are buried there.
The Tana Baru has always been regarded as the most hallowed of the Muslim cemeteries in Cape Town. On 15 January 1886, as a result of the application of the Public Health Act of 1883, the Tana Baru was closed. Although the administration of this act curtailed people’s religious rites, this did not go uncontested. On 17 January 1886, in defiance of the act, a 3 000-strong funeral procession, led by Abdul Burns, marched to the Tana Baru and buried the child of Amaldien Rhode.
In addition to being spaces for worship, madressa, or Muslim school is conducted in some mosques. Madressa takes place in the afternoon, after secular school. Here children, and sometimes adults, learn about Islam, and Qu’ranic readings are held. There are several informal madressas held in private homes throughout the Bo-Kaap. Madressa and evening classes are also held for members of the community, ranging from marriage classes and Hajj classes to Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and Arabic classes. After completing madressa, scholars graduate in a ceremony called tamat.
This was a significant example of civil disobedience in nineteenth-century Cape Town. Since then, the site has been under threat on various occasions. In the 1960s, there were attempts to declare it a ‘white area’, under apartheid, and, more recently, the threat has been posed by property developers who consider it to be prime property. Fortunately, the Tana Baru is protected by the National Heritage Resources Act and the Muslim Judicial Council has declared a fatwa (Islamic decree) on the development of the land.
Cultural life and celebrations
Food is a key marker of identity and is intimately connected to daily life, religious festivals, rites of passage and celebrations. Ramadan and Eid are two of many religious traditions practised in the Bo-Kaap community and in Muslim societies generally. Food and celebration are central to many other social traditions in Cape Town, including the minstrel (klopse) New Year Carnival and Christmas celebrations.
New Year Carnival in Cape Town is an old tradition, which officially started in 1907, and the klopse have become synonymous with the New Year celebrations. Crowds of performers and spectators gather on the streets of the city, to participate in the parade on Tweede Nuwe Jaar (2 January). The traditional route of the Carnival began in District Six, wound its way up Wale Street and ended at Green Point Track. This demonstrated the strong link between the Bo-Kaap and District Six.
Christmas bands open Carnival season on Christmas Eve. Christmas and New Year are the culmination of months of preparation and rehearsing in klopskamers (club houses) of the klopse, Christmas bands and nagtroepe (Malay choirs).
Some klopse troupes were associated with sports clubs and often performed at matches. In the Bo-Kaap, sport has always been a popular pastime. Under apartheid, there was a lack of adequate sporting facilities, such as rugby grounds and cricket pitches. Nevertheless, the sporting community in the Bo-Kaap persevered and triumphed. Sporting legends such as Yusaf Zahier, his son Zahier Ryland, and Faghmie Solomons, as well as cricketer Basil D’ Oliveira, all hailed from the Bo-Kaap.
Traditionally, there was no need to travel outside of the area for daily needs. Most retail outlets in the Bo-Kaap are passed down from generation to generation, making them family businesses. Examples are Biesmiellah Café, Rose Corner Café, Atlas Trading Centre and Rocksole. Similarly, trades such as tailoring and cooking were also passed along generational lines.
An important feature of everyday life in the Bo-Kaap is the corner shops, which provide households with goods and also act as meeting places. A popular gathering place for people in the 1950s was the corner of Rose and Wale Streets. Even today, residents of the Bo-Kaap use the streets as a communal space to meet, to play and to socialise. Streets are also viewed as safe spaces, where children play freely. This is true for the Bo-Kaap’s early history and its more recent history, as the two images indicate.
Traffic is controlled by sharp corners, steep inclines and cobbled surfaces. Colourful single and double-storey houses line the streets. A number of architectural influences and styles (Cape Dutch and Georgian) can be seen in the area.