As the Bo-Kaap neighbourhood in Cape Town faces off against big development, factionalism has been brewing among its residents.
The ratepayers association, which has existed for decades, is at odds with the recently formed Bo-Kaap Youth Movement (BKYM), which was instrumental in protesting against gentrification. Now, distrust divides the small community, which believes its heritage is being threatened.
For decades, under the banner of the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers Association, there had been protest against the construction of modern office buildings and the like, which have led to a rise in rates and property prices. The BKYM had helped to reinvigorate the protest and city officials have now promised that the heritage of the area will be protected.
Shafwaan Laubscher was a founding member of the BKYM in May, when the Bo-Kaap came together in protest to protect the heritage of the Islamic neighbourhood. In the month of Ramadan, BKYM members blocked a major intersection to raise awareness about gentrification and hosted iftaars (breaking of the fast) in the street to promote solidarity.
Laubscher later left the BKYM and is now the deputy chairperson and spokesperson of the ratepayers association.
On Tuesday, the Bo-Kaap was once again in protest — this time by older residents, who were led by the ratepayers association. Public-order police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at the peaceful group of protesters, who had gathered to stop a crane from entering a construction site in Lion Street, where the development of a large apartment block is under way.
Four people were arrested for violating a court interdict, which blocked disruption on the site, and for holding up traffic. The charges against the four were dropped on Wednesday morning.
The Bo-Kaap’s residents continue to protest against development, but many of them no longer support the BKYM.
“The youth movement had no plan to collaborate with the civic or to communicate with the community. That’s when we started disagreeing amongst each other. You can’t be acting on behalf of the community if you have not yet engaged or received a mandate from the community,” Laubscher said.
On July 7, after spending two months protesting against development in the Bo-Kaap, the BKYM signed an agreement with Blok — a development company responsible for the construction in Lion Street. In the agreement, the BKYM and Blok agreed to “find a solution to their current impasse” on gentrification in the community.
As a result of that process, BKYM, which is now a registered nonprofit with three directors, has said that Blok has legally acquired land in the Bo-Kaap, and they therefore can no longer protest against the company. One of the directors, who did not want to be named because he says the residents have intimidated the BKYM, said the problem is the ratepayers association.
“They are like dictators. We cannot question them or challenge them in any way,” he said.
The BKYM has now made an access to information application, under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, demanding that the ratepayers association release its financial records, because they allege it may have been using funds without a mandate from residents. The association denies the claims.
Instead, they have said that the BKYM, in signing an agreement with Blok, has lost the trust of the residents.
“That obviously made up the community’s mind, because it happened without the community’s mandate,” Laubscher said.
Residents held a public meeting on Tuesday night, led by the association, at which they agreed that a moratorium should be placed on all public land in the area.
The City of Cape Town and national government are legally allowed to sell land that they own through regulated processes, but the Bo-Kaap’s residents insist that government has sold land without prioritising heritage.
Although the two groups remain divided, Laubscher still hopes that the older and younger generations can unite to protect their heritage.
“The aim of the youth movement initially was to take over the baton from the older generation in the civic association,” he said. “That was what we wanted.”