Kate +27 (0)72 377 8014
Street art thriving during Covid but its history is long and not always understood

Street art thriving during Covid but its history is long and not always understood

Throughout the ages, humans have had the urge to make marks. Public art, as it is now called, is enjoying a resurgence in these Covid times. But it is a very ancient art form.

There is rock art on about every continent. In South Africa it is sometimes called Bushman art because it was mostly created by the San who painted people and animals. It is difficult to say why; some archaeologists think it was to bring good fortune to a hunt as a kind of spiritual exercise. It could be that they painted things they liked. Some of the rock art at the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, a World Heritage Site, is about 3 000 years old. Some scholars believe the depictions in Egypt’s pyramids were influenced by figures created on rocks further south of this continent.

A whistle stop history

78 BC: graffiti found in Roman empire cities like Pompeii is crudely explicit: ‘I screwed the barmaid’. mundane ‘On April 19 I made bread’ and political.

Jumping to Cape Town, prisoners during the British occupation in the Cape colony ie 19th Century “etched” on the outer prison wall.

20th century

1940s: ‘Kilroy was here’ became a symbol of the US Super-GI during WWII and the Korean War. It showed up worldwide (image left: DC WWII Memorial).

1949: Edward Seymour invents the aerosol spray can.

1961: Berlin Wall; on the west side people were free to approach the wall and did so with a colourful commentary (there is a section in Cape Town’s St George’s Mall; it was given to Nelson Mandela after he was released and Germany was unified).

Graffiti becomes popular in New York; writers tag their aliases with their street number.

1970s: tags start to appear outside trains. Styles become more unique.

1972: United Graffiti Artists, a collective that displays graffiti in galleries for the first time.

1980s: graffiti shows close links with the Hip-Hop and Punk movements.

Graffiti becomes a global form of expression with new artists emerging and cities taking on their own styles.

The Broken Window theory is introduced. It implies that petty vandalism leads to more serious crime. Graffiti is seen in a negative light.

2004: Artists like Banksy (a street artist from Bristol, England) change public perception. Graffiti starts selling in galleries again.

2006: Influenced by online and Western tourists, graffiti becomes popular in Asian cities.



In an ironic twist, street art and graffiti writing has made its way into the mainstream without people really understanding what they are looking at, eg ‘tagged’ handbags by Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Dooney & Bourke and Betsey Johnson

Using handmade stickers is popular with street artists and taggers because of their speed and ease to put them up. Shepard Fairey is a street artist and graphic designer best known for his iconic image of Barak Obama for the 2009 U.S. presidential campaign. Fairey’s work is so mainstream that his Obey line of t-shirts are available worldwide.

Like stickers, stencils provide a street artist with convenience because they can be quickly painted onto a surface with a tidy final result.

Discovery is a very important part of both graffiti writing and street art. When stumbled upon, the piece could feel like a hidden treasure (we’ll get this in Salt River, hopefully). Other times locations are chosen for their associations or demographic. (Salt River didn’t set out to have a large concentration of graffiti writing and street art.)


Street exhibitions are on the rise with social distancing and the benefits of being outside, such as “street-facing facades of buildings located throughout Arts District Houston. Large-scale vinyl photo banners, featuring works by global and Texas artists, including Jamal Cyrus, Eric Gyamfi and Zina Saro-Wiwa, featured in FotoFest’s Biennial 2020 exhibition African Cosmologies, will examine relationships between publicness, time, and community—concepts that have been challenged and redefined in 2020 by COVID-19”

Cape Town as a canvas

There are carefully thought through regulations for street art. “If you would like to paint an existing structure, add a structure or perform public art, you will need to get a permit from the City.” says the City’s website where the forms are easy to access.

Street art is recognised for its economic and social value. Cape Town’s Tourism website: “The nature of street art means that it is always changing, with new buildings, alterations, new gates and fences, and even vandals obscuring the art, and in some cases changing the meaning of what the artist originally intended.” (Stefan de Klerk).

Woodstock’s street art has international attention. To quote the UK’s Guardian newspaper, 2017,:“Cape Town’s Woodstock district has been transformed over recent years into one of the city’s most bohemian quarters, with restaurants, craft brew bars and the city’s favourite foodie address, the Saturday Neighbourgoods Market, in a former biscuit factory. But the real symbol of its renaissance is its spectacular street art, where houses are decorated with huge eye-catching murals, created by South African and international artists.”

Salt River is where the main action is now because of the annual summer festival. In February about 25 local and international artists painted created over 100 murals. Some local artists were upset that their work was painted over and visiting artists took precedence. The theme this year was to “spark a conversation and create awareness around the opportunities as well as responsibilities that come with the digital revolution” #4th industrial revolution, #digital art, #virtual reality (vr) and #interactive murals.

The festival is run by BAZ-ART, a non-profit organisation aims to engage, empower and uplift street artists and transform their communities. It has been involved in the new community garden we’ll see in Salt River created during lockdown.

http://www.capetown.gov.za/City-Connect/Apply/Licences-and-permits/Public-art/Apply-for-a-public-art-permit |

PS here are some definitions, though the lines are blurry between ‘artforms’

Graffiti can be defined as writing and/or drawing made illicitly on walls in public spaces. A very common form is when a name, often an assumed name called a ‘tag’, is used. Some are more elaborate and can be thought of as works of art.

Often it is the voice of the voiceless and can be overtly political. After the ‘Fees Must Fall’ there has been an increase in graffiti in South Africa.

Where there is graffiti more will follow. The opposite is also true; a church in Johannesburg which continually removed graffiti no longer has fresh graffiti.

Source: ParkViews, July 2017 based on Jo Buitendach’s talk (MA in graffiti and guide)

Major types of graffiti

  • Gang graffiti, often used by gangs to mark turf or convey threats of violence, and sometimes copycat graffiti, which mimics gang graffiti
  • Tagger graffiti, ranging from high-volume simple hits to complex street art
  • Conventional graffiti, often isolated or spontaneous acts of “youthful exuberance,” but sometimes malicious or vindictive
  • Ideological graffiti, such as political or hate graffiti, which conveys political messages or racial, religious or ethnic slurs

A graffiti writer might be insulted to be called a “graffiti artist” or “street artist.” It depends on the intention of the artist. but there is a great deal of crossover. Because graffiti writing has a bad public reputation for vandalism, many prefer to be called “street artists.” Conversely, many graffiti writers find the term “art” offensive and are happy to be known as “saboteurs”.

A street artist may have a tag name, most don’t use just a tag to get their message across. Their tag isn’t usually the focus – it is more like a signature at the bottom of a painting.

Street art is related to graffiti art – they are both in public locations and usually unsanctioned, but street art covers a wider range of media and is more connected with graphic design. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/street-art

Mural art means, for the City (of Cape Town), art applied directly to a wall, fence or structure, which has been approved by the City by a permit.


Art Deco – South Africa’s Architectural Gem

Art Deco – South Africa’s Architectural Gem

Flapper girls, fire-stations and the fantasy world of Hollywood – Art Deco was everywhere and still is. You’ll find stunning Art Deco in Prince Albert, a Karoo “dorpie” (small town) to skyscrapers in the big African metropolises. Afterall, Art Deco design was infinitely adaptable, giving free reign to the imagination, celebrating fantasies, fears and desires. Art Deco’s hay day was between 1925 and 1940, even though the term was coined only in 1966 and it arrived later in Africa than Europe, UK and States.

Like its forerunner Art Nouveau, Art Deco was eclectic and drew on many sources. It borrowed from European historic styles which lent itself well to South Africa whose architecture was eclectic, derivative and hybrid pre 1930s. Art Deco flourished amid an existing Beaux-Arts classicism (see St George’s Mall, Cape Town images below) and the emerging, radical International Modern style. It gave a “cloak of modernist form concealing a traditional structure and layout”, to quote heritage architect and consultant Dr André van Graan (pictured below), Cape Town’s Art Deco expert. Its geometric play of forms and other detailing actually helped Modernism to be accepted here after WWII.

Art Deco motifs were “Africanised”. Sometimes this is subtle and open to conjecture. The zigzag motif some say harks back to the chevron patterns on the ruins of the African Iron Age city, Great Zimbabwe.see They can be seen, for example on Gerard Moerdyk’s Merensky Library, 1933, Pretoria University. South Africa’s national flower, the King Protea lent itself well to geometric forms perfect for facades, especially entablatures and between arches (spandrels). Both the zigzag and protea can be seen on Cape Town’s Commercial Union offices (now Market House) in Greenmarket Sq by William (Billy) H Grant,1932. See image above. When this building opened a local journalist at the time wrote “Modernism in design almost “in excelsis” has come to Cape Town”.

Baboons, elephants and even tribal figures are integral to Old Mutual Building’s façade (see images below). It was inaugurated in 1940 and designed by two local architectural practices – Fred Glennie and Louw and Louw. A local material, Paarl granite, clads the whole building. This gives a sense of a national, rooted Art Deco.

While the likes of Billy Grant (1877 – 1957) had to use magazines and catalogues for his Art Deco inspiration and references, Old Mutual paid for Fred Glennie and the Louws to go to Europe and the States. No surprises that the Old Mutual Building looks like a smaller version of Empire State Building, designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, built 1930 – 1931. Old Mutual wanted their new headquarters to impress and it still does, even the small details (eg banisters, light fittings and etched images by the lifts). Going inside gives the feeling of stepping back in time to a bygone era. So too, going into the small Art Deco optometrist, Mullers, opposite Mutual Heights. It was designed by Frank Spears (1906 – 1991) when he worked at shopfitters Brimble & Briggs (no relation to me, btw). While Old Mutual Building is now an apartment block renamed Mutual Heights, re-purposed like most other Art Deco buildings here, Mullers is still an optometrist and in fact where I go for my annual eye test.

Moving onto other city centres in South Africa, Johannesburg’s city centre has apparently the world’s third largest number of large Art Deco buildings, after (no less) New York and Miami. Near to Johannesburg, the small town of Springs has 34 small Art Deco buildings (Dr André van Graan did the survey), second only to Miami. Some call Durban South Africa’s Art Deco capital. It has an active Art Deco Society. Cape Town’s hosted the Art Deco World Congress in 2005. The society no longer exists – all the more reason for us to read, write and engage with Art Deco here. Sadly, but understandably, many owners rip out Art Deco features in their properties. I was speechless when a history teacher told me he did so for his Market House flat so it would do well on Airbnb, which it did!

There is the informative and active Facebook page, Art Deco Architecture in Cape Town. The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation ran a series of Art Deco lectures during ‘hard’ lockdown mid 2020 on Art Deco. Dr André van Graan gave a brilliant ‘virtual tour’ of Cape Town’s Art Deco heritage and did a similar one for the UCT Summer School, 14 Jan 2021. I plan to organise another tour sooinish; for the one on 11 Nov 2020 (images above), we finished with supper at Gorgeous George. The birds’ eye view includes the Art Deco Shell offices, converted in a hotel which I think has just closed, Onomo, Greenmarket Sq (pictured). And splendid Beaux-Arts buildings on St George’s Mall which was Art Deco’s predecessor and “competitor”.

Let me know if you would like your own Art Deco tour, or for me to organise another public open one.

Kate CB, kate@cultureconnectsa.com or call/WhatsApp +27 (0)72 377 8014

Sources of info and recommended reading:

Art Deco 1910 – 1939 edited by Charlotte & Tim Benton and Ghislaine Wood, V&A (R729 from Takealot)

Dr André van Graan’s PhD Negotiating modernism in Cape Town: 1918-1948

Prof Federico Freschi Big Business Beautility: The Old Mutual Building and The Business of Belonging: Volkskapitalisme (I have digital copies if you need them)

Cape Town in the twentieth century, by Vivian Bickford Smith, Elizabeth van Heyningen and Nigel Worden (out of print R480 from Quagga Books); Frank Spears: The Painter by Melissa Sutherland; The Early Architects of Cape Town by Michael Walker, www.artefacts.co.za, www.theheritageportal.co.za, Pinterest

I also have a briefing on South African Art Deco I would be delighted to email you.

Ross Rayners (and I) are currently working on short video of André’s recent tour.








Senryū: a selection by Tony Ullyatt in lockdown

Senryū: a selection by Tony Ullyatt in lockdown

Michèle Betty and I are planning a poetry evening later this year in Cape Town where she is based. Michèle is the founder of Dryad Press and editor of New Contrast: South African Literary Journal.

Tony won the 2019 South African Award for Poetry for An Unobtrusive Vice. Dryad Press published this in 2018 so the above three senryū are not part of it. But it is a good time to buy this collection as Dryad are running a special online promotion: three books for the price of two. It is the sort of book that is good to have in your bedroom or bathroom – his use of words is quite beautiful, evocative yet minimal.

identical days
trail one after the other:
each unlike the rest


after brusque jostling
in shops with payday people:
the refuge of home


May arrived today
walking jogging biking in:
life remains fragile


Image: book cover from Dryad Press.

Cape Town’s castle as a centre of our stories

Cape Town’s castle as a centre of our stories

Being in lockdown has made me long for some of my favourite Cape Town sites. I love looking down on the city bowl from the top of Table Mountain, or standing in the courtyard of the Castle of Good Hope looking back up. I know that the Castle reminds us South Africans of a dark part of our past where colonialism took its roots and where slavery was entrenched in our history, where as children we were frightened to death to hear about the dungeon, but I prefer to think of the Castle as the centre point in a compass to many Cape Town’s stories.

Inside the walls of the Castle there are lots of tales to be told. Some claim to have seen the ghosts of Lady Anne Barnard, Governor Pieter Gysbert Noodt, the Lady in Grey and even a big black dog (there are stories of quirky animals both tame and wild).

The Castle is still used as barracks and it is easy to forget how important the Castle was strategically, albeit symbolically, for defense. Not many people know how specially selected women came here incognito, to monitor our coasts during WW2.

My favourite prisoner story is about Frederick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne. He acted as a Boer spy under the alias “the Black Panther”. Between 1899 and 1901 he was imprisoned several times and was able to escape. Around 1901, after attempting to sabotage Cape Town, he and his party were sentenced to death. But he managed to avoid this by supplying the British Boer codes, which were actually false! He was one of a handful of prisoners who managed to escape from the Castle – or almost…He became a spy for the Nazi’s in WW2; the Duquesne Spy Ring is the largest espionage case in US history that ended in convictions.

Back to  the Castle, looking towards the mountain from its walls you can just glimpse Philip Kgosana Drive. Kgosana was a mere 23 years when on 30 March 1960 he co-led 30 000 anti-pass protesters from Langa on this road. It was the day after the Sharpville Massacre, when police killed or wounded 250 pass protesters. The same tragedy could have happened here, but Kgosana convinced the crowd to disperse peacefully. Kgosana was arrested and fled the country while on bail. In 2016 he led a protest about the government’s lack of care for the poor. He died 13 months later and soon after on 12 Oct 2017 the road was named after him (previously it was De Waal Drive).

I have designed an unusual tour at the Castle featuring these and other lesser known tales about it and Cape Town. I look forward to sharing these with you once the Castle has re-opened to visitors (all enquiries welcome).

Jeanne Bonnema, tourist guide and Culture Connect associate.

Image credits: De Meillon c1830 and Thomas Bowler drawings (c1863 and 1864) from Parliament’s Collection, the rest from Wiki, the author (Jeanne) and editor (Kate Crane Briggs)

Lady Anne Barnard “locked-in” Cape Town

Lady Anne Barnard “locked-in” Cape Town

Confined to barracks – Lady Anne wouldn’t have had a problem with lockdown, especially in her later years when she lived like a recluse. She arrived in Cape Town 1797 and initially lived in the Castle of Good Hope where the barracks were (and still are).

Lady Anne set herself the challenge of painting the phenomenal view of Cape Town from the Castle (pictured). Unsurprisingly it took her three years to finish. Halfway through she wrote: “I wish I had not undertaken this panorama; I am really very bad at it and yet having undertaken it I do not like to give up.”

CT pano 3 (1)

Thankfully she didn’t give up – it gives a fabulous and unique view of what Cape Town looked like just after the Dutch’s long occupation (nearly 150 years) and the very beginning of the British rule. Its emptiness has an extra resonance now with the Government’s COVID-19 measures.

CT pano 4 (1)

Lady Anne’s picture is so wide it is in seven sections and hard to photograph, especially as it is now hanging in a passage of her family’s ancestral home in remote Fife, Scotland.

There is still Lady Anne’s presence at the Castle. There is a room named after her which she made into a ball room. A few people claim one of the ghosts there is her! Such a story will be part of Jeanne Bonnema’s new family tour of the Castle for Culture Connect.

Greg Clingham, (pictured below) Professor of English emeritus at Bucknell University, Pennsylvania, will be giving an illustrated talk about Lady Anne and her watercolours for Culture Connect when he is next in town (he was due to give it on 16 April 2020). As this will be a long way off Tracey Randle, “Cape Herstorian”, be giving an illustrated talk about Lady Anne’s sitters, “it has been one of the most astonishing and exciting lines of research I have ever conducted.”

Both early evening events will be at the Vineyard, where there is display (image below) about Lady Anne and her husband, Andrew Barnard who was the colony’s secretary; the house they built is now part of the hotel. Dates will be announced post pandemic.

Stephen Taylor, has also agreed to give a talk on Lady Anne for Culture Connect when he is next in Cape Town (he is based in England). Stephen’s very readable, yet thorough biography, Defiance: the Life and Choices of Lady Anne Barnard, is published by Faber & Faber (2016 and 2017).

Rosalind Spears’ talk, Lady Anne Barnard, Balcarres and the Cape with fabulous music recordings as interludes, is planned for U3A Atlantic Seaboard 12 November 2020. Perhaps she should do it for Culture Connect too? In the meantime, do read Jeanne Bonnema’s short biography on Lady Anne below, with images from Rosalind Spears.

Early life
Lady Anne Lindsay was born on the family estate of Balcarres (pictured below) in a remote part of Fife, Scotland, on 8 December 1750. She was the eldest of the 11 children of James Lindsay, the impoverished 5th Earl of Balcarres, and his wife, Anne Dalrymple, who was 40 years his junior. They had a governess at home. Anne subsequently developed her conversational skills in the Edinburgh salons of her grandmother Lady Dalrymple, amongst the best minds in Scotland including the philosopher David Hume.

Lady Anne had numerous admirers, many of whom would have been happy to lay their worldly goods at her feet. But she was unconvinced that she liked any of them well enough to marry them. Eventually she was persuaded to accept one of her suitors, a wealthy merchant Henry Swinton. But her family put a stop to it when they heard rumours he was not as rich as they had thought. Lady Anne got the blame and thought a coquette – a label that stuck with her for years.

Balcarres 2019

In 1793 Lady Anne married Andrew Barnard; at the age of 43 years, considered very old at the time to become a wife. He was the son of the Bishop of Limerick. She had refused his proposals two years earlier, but now, to everyone’s amazement, she accepted him. She continued to use her title as she was the daughter of an earl and was known as Lady Anne Barnard for the rest of her life.

The couple retreated to Ireland where they attempted to live within their limited means. Anne was determined to get him a job so asked Henry Dundas (he was one of her previous suitors, a Scottish advocate and Tory politician and became Viscount Melville). Eventually Dundas offered him the position of secretary to the governor at the Cape of Good Hope. This was not quite what Anne had hoped for, but no other offers were likely.

Life at the Cape
In February 1797, the Barnards sailed for the Cape of Good Hope. They arrived three months later and lived in the Castle of Good Hope with the governor, Lord Macartney. Macartney’s wife had not travelled out with him and so Lady Anne acted as his hostess. They entertained the army officers and the Dutch colonists as well as visitors who were passing through, such as Richard Wellesley, Lord Mornington, elder brother of the Duke of Wellington.

A few weeks after arriving, Lady Anne climbed Table Mountain, highly unusual for women of her background. She went on several trips into the interior. She recorded what she saw both with words and drawings, including reflections on issues, such as the massive slave population in the Cape and the appalling treatment of local farm labourers.

The Barnards renovated a run-down cottage, Paradise, in Newlands Forest, part the way up Table Mountain and for a while they lived there (its ruins still exist and below is what it might have looked like, Wiki). In 1798 they built a house in Newlands, now part of the Vineyard hotel.


Lady Anne called these years the happiest of her life, marred only by her inability to have children. Andrew Barnard thrived under Macartney’s laid back leadership style, but when the governor returned to England because of ill health, the colony was temporarily put under the control of General Dundas, a nephew of Lady Anne’s old suitor. His authoritarian approach and contempt for Andrew Barnard made life difficult. Soon he was secretary in name only as General Dundas bypassed his approval.

Things were not easier with the new governor, Sir George Yonge. Lady Anne reported to Dundas that Yonge had accepted a huge bribe from an infamous slave trader to land lots of slaves. Yonge was removed from office. In 1801, before another governor could be appointed, Britain made peace with France. The colony was handed back to the Dutch, and so there was no need for a colonial secretary. Lady Anne was worried about a new position for her husband as Dundas was no longer in power. In January 1802, Anne travelled back to England to try and get him work, while he stayed until the official handover to the Dutch; neither realised it was going to take a year.

A disastrous posting
Three years after Barnard’s return, he was still without a job. Finally, in 1806 Henry James Fox, a prominent British Whig statesman, recommended that Andrew Barnard should get his old job back, as secretary to the new governor at the Cape. Windham, Secretary for War and the Colonies (one of Lady Anne’s former suitors) reluctantly agreed. But Lady Anne then panicked that her husband’s health would not stand up the Cape; she pleaded with Windham to give him something else, but he didn’t change his mind. Andrew Barnard said he would take the post or he would not get any more offers. Anne stayed in England to lobby for him.

The new governor, Lord Caledon, was young and inexperienced so relied heavily on Andrew Barnard. The governor was concerned about his secretary’s nausea and vomiting, especially as it got worse. On 27 October 1807, he died. Lady Anne was devastated and blamed Windham.

Table-Mt-1790 from Greg Clingham's site

Lady Anne received a letter from Lord Caledon about a mixed-race girl, about six years old. She was the daughter of her husband and a slave woman, conceived after she had left for England in 1802. Anne’s reaction was unconventional for the time; she excused her husband’s infidelity, blaming herself for leaving him like a widower in South Africa. In 1809, she welcomed Christina Douglas, into her home at 21 Berkeley Square. (Cape Town based photographer Ed Suter, (picture below), found out last year, he is related to Christina; an exhibition of his work is currently touring Vineyard hotels).

Self portrait-20200306-WA0021

Christina was not the only child that Lady Anne cared for. Barnard had fathered two illegitimate sons before his marriage and each of these placed a daughter in Lady Anne’s care – Margaret and Anne Hervey.

Final years
Lady Anne increasingly lived as a recluse, devoting her time to writing and drawing. She wrote a memoir of her life with Christina Douglas’s, help. Some relatives worried about it bringing the family into disgrace and she was adamant that her work was never to be published and her memoirs remain so today.

In 1822, Sir Walter Scott quoted a verse from Auld Robin Grey in The Pirate, specifically referring to it as Lady Anne Lindsay’s beautiful ballad. After maintaining her anonymity as the author through most of her life, she was finally given public credit for her poem.
Lady Anne died on 6 May 1825 at her home in Berkeley Square (her funeral was nearby at St George’s, Hanover Square, pictured). She left legacies to all three of the girls who lived with her, and, skipping over her brothers, left the rest of her property to her nephews, James and Lindsay.

St George's Hanover Square with her suitcase

Mainly The unconventional Lady Anne Barnard (1750-1825) by Rachel Knowles
Supplemented by Defiance: the Life and Choices of Lady Anne Barnard by Stephen Taylor 2016 (and Wiki)

For the Castle ghost stories: http://www.vanhunks.com/cape1/castle1.html and https://www.travelground.com/blog/things-go-bump-in-the- .

For Lady Anne’s writings https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/barnard/letters/letters.html

For a docu-drama, made in 1990 for SABC by Roberta Durrant on Lady Anne’s time at the Cape: https://www.penguinfilms.co.za/portfolio-item/lady-ann-barnhard/

For Balcarres and the Regency info by Jeanne Bonnama, email me (and with any comments and questions): kate@cultureconnectsa.com

Finally, a picture of Rosalind Spears with the current Earl of Balcarres, in situ, 2019.

Ros with the boss

Bo-Kaap Culture Connect review

Bo-Kaap Culture Connect review

We met on a clear and sunny Saturday morning on the steps of the Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum at 71 Wale Street. The museum has just recently opened an exhibition after scholar Halim Gençoĝlu uncovered new details about the house’s history and connection with the notable Effendi family of Cape Town. Meeting us was Bilqees Baker, a qualified tour guide and also a long-time resident of and community activist for the Bo-Kaap. We began our walk from the museum to the Auwal Masjid (Mosque), the first and oldest mosque established in 1794 in Cape Town. Bliqees relayed the story of Coridon of Ceylon, a manumitted slave and the first Muslim to own property at the Cape and how his warehouse here on the corner of Dorp and Buitengracht eventually became the first mosque in southern Africa. Tuan Guru became its first imam and this also became the location of the first madrassa or school for Muslims at the Cape.

Walking over to the Nurul Islam Mosque just around the corner, Bliqees told us the story of how Coridon’s wife Trijn van de Kaap and subsequently her daughter, Saartjie, inherited the building and the prominent role Muslim women had in Cape Muslim history. Of particular note included discussions on naming customs in the Cape at the time of slavery (and therefore names like ‘van de Kaap’). From there, we walked to the famous Atlas spice shop where Bliqees talked about the flavours of Cape Malay cuisine as an organic development from the unique intersections and flows of cultures and people here at the Cape and we tried some common local sweets and savoury snacks.

From here we progressed to the archway that stands as a throughway between Wale up to Upper Dorp to meet Galija, a Bo-Kaap resident who was selling some of her home-baked goodies and the discussion turned towards local community activism and group efforts with charity, assisting the poor and soup kitchens, especially at this time of year – it was Ramadan. Ramadan is a holy month in the Islamic calendar in which Muslims fast between sunrise to sunset and there is an accentuated attentiveness to charity and almsgiving, and caring for those in need. Bliqees begins to discuss some of the current challenges facing the Bo-Kaap, particularly that of rising rates and intrusive high-rise block developments as a result of gentrification. Consequences include concerns over respect and consideration of the neighbourhood’s history and residents, and the high levels of tourism that has begun to bring in more crime. Although recently it has won heritage status as a protected neighbourhood, there are still unknowns as to what kinds of protections, restrictions, and benefits this designation will entail.

From here we walk sharply uphill to Tana Baru to visit the kramats that have survived. The first pieces of land comprising Tana Baru, meaning “New Ground,” was granted to Frans van Bengalen in 1805 after religious freedom was granted to Muslims at the Cape in 1804. Several notable figures in Cape Muslim history are buried here, including Tuan Guru of the Auwal Masjid, Abu Bakr Effendi – a scholar and educationalist who opened one of the earliest Muslim schools at the corner of Bree and Wale Streets, and others. There is also a small Chinese precinct at Tana Baru which have burials that dates back to 1772. In 1886, as a response to several disease epidemics at the Cape, the authorities closed Tana Baru. The Cape Muslim community saw this as a violation of their religious freedom. When a 12-year old child passed away, the community banded together under Abdol Burns and 3000 Muslims joined in a funeral procession to bury the child at Tana Baru. Burns and 12 others were arrested for this.

When we walked into the first Kramat – that of Tuan Guru’s, we could see that fresh incense had just been lit. Bliqees tells us that often we’d find residents of the Bo-Kaap who would walk to these kramats just for sanctuary, a quiet place to pray and reflect. The second kramat was that of Tuan Sayed Alawi, who was from Mocca in Yemen, but was probably brought to the Cape via Indonesia, where he had been working as a missionary. The grave for Paay Schaapie was also pointed out, as well as the small fenced off burial of the 12-year old child, who was the last person to be buried at Tana Baru.

The tour then ended with a homemade lunch in the Bo-Kaap home of Mymoena Saunders on Yusuf Drive. The tour was educational and inspiring, in no small part because it was led by a resident — the history is fascinating, but it is the personal touches, the anecdotes of someone who also is able to just tell stories of what it is like to live in the neighbourhood, to be a member of that community that makes all the difference. For a visitor, it is through these touches with Bliqees’ warm and engaging storytelling about her experiences living here, seeing her greet neighbours along the tour, and tell anecdotes the way that one might hear if they also lived in the neighbourhood — this is what brings the Bo-Kaap alive. To top it off with an authentic Cape Malay lunch, especially during Ramadan, it is something very special indeed.

By: Evie Wong

For further reading:
New exhibition retells Bo-Kaap Museum story

The Effendis of 71 Wale Street, Bo-Kaap

History of the Auwal Masjid

18 May 2019