Cape Town on Foot: From the Slave Lodge to Bo-Kaap
Good day and welcome. You should be standing outside the former Slave Lodge, at the top of Adderley Street.
I'm Ursula and I'm a Capetonian. I have been a language and history teacher, a hiking-trail guide, a guidebook writer and now I lead city walking tours, called “Cape Town on Foot & Bo-Kaap”.
Much of what you will see on today's tour has been described in my book “Bo-Kaap & Islam”. This is a really interesting route which I'm sure you will enjoy, as you learn more about Bo-Kaap, its mosques and people.
The reason I chose to start the tour at the former Slave Lodge was because this is where many slaves started their journey towards Signal Hill. Some escaped, others moved there after manumission or after purchasing their freedom. Amongst these slaves were many Muslims.
It’s time to start moving. With your back to the Slave Lodge, turn left and start following Adderley Street as it curves into Wale Street. Then continue along Wale Street. I'll meet you around the corner.
VoiceMap uses your location to play commentary automatically, so you can put your phone away and focus on your surroundings. Silence between tracks is normal, so if you don't hear from me, don't panic! Just keep going. There's a route map on the screen, but only use it if you get lost or stuck.
Along Wale Street
Keep following Wale Street. On your left is St. George’s Cathedral, also known as the Peoples’ Cathedral. It played an important role in the struggle against apartheid and is worth visiting, if you have some time later.
Now let me tell you a little more about the Slave Lodge. It was the largest building built by slaves in Cape Town. During the rule of the Dutch East India Company from 1652 to 1795, about 65 000 slaves were brought to the Cape.
Thousands of men, women and children languished in the Slave Lodge, in appalling conditions. It lacked adequate ventilation and lighting. It was finally emptied of slaves after England prohibited oceanic slave trading in 1808.
The French architect, Thibault, refurbished the building which subsequently housed various government departments, including the High Court of the Cape until the end of the 19th century. Quite a turnabout, don’t you think, considering its slave lodge origin?
Carry on walking and I'll meet you at the next corner.
Cross Queen Victoria Street
Cross the street in front of you and continue walking along Wale Street.
As you walk, have a look at the formidable art deco-style Provincial Legislature on your left. And on the opposite side of Wale Street is the Mandela Rhodes building complex.
We are now heading towards Long Street, the city's vibrant entertainment centre. This street has a colourful collection of Victorian buildings with wrought-iron balconies. They are now home to an eclectic array of coffee bars, restaurants, fashion boutiques, quality bookshops, antique and souvenir shops.
Motorists double-park, pedestrians jaywalk, skateboarders hurtle past, beggars abound, so do take care as you walk, particularly in the summer season.
Keep going and I'll meet you on the next corner.
Turn left into Long Street
Turn left at this corner and carry on. This is Long Street.
We are now walking towards an art installation called “Open House”. It stands next to the Provincial Parliament to symbolise that democracy is standing on a firm foundation, and is open to new ideas. Think of it as being a bit like Speakers Corner, in London.
I'll meet you next to this unique structure in a moment, so keep going.
Stop here, next to the red 'Open House' structure on your left.
Feel free to walk up the steps, so that you can get a better view of the Hanafee Mosque, on the opposite side of the street.
Turn to look at the mosque. Many Muslims lived in the Long Street area before moving uphill towards Bo-Kaap. This is the seventh oldest mosque in South Africa and was built in 1884. It is directly linked to the arrival of the respected Turkish scholar and teacher, Abu Bakr Effendi, in the 1860s.
It was around this time that a religious dispute erupted in the Cape Muslim community, which adhered to the Shafee School of Religion. A young imam, named Abdol Rakiep, had transgressed against the Shafee tradition which demanded the presence of forty worshippers before a Friday service could be held. In his youthful enthusiasm he ignored this ruling and delivered a sermon with less than forty worshippers in attendance. The resulting feud was settled in the Cape High Court, which is now the Slave Lodge Museum.
The judgement went in favour of the young imam, who was defended by the eloquent Abu Bakr Effendi. Effendi was an adherent of the Hanafee School of Religion. Nobody at the Cape had yet heard of the Hanafee School, but through this judgement, it began to take root here.
The verdict incensed the Shafees and the resulting rift led to the establishment of the Hanafee Mosque.
If you happen to walk around here on a Friday at 13:00, don’t be surprised to find the street blocked by worshippers, because the mosque is too small to accommodate everybody.
Climb down from 'Open House', turn left and continue walking along Long Street.
Continue along Long Street
Keep going, towards the palm tree ahead.
Incidentally, the various religious schools, known as madhabs, do not analyse the Koran; they pronounce on external matters, deciding on what to declare clean or halal, and unclean, or haram. The majority of mosques in Cape Town follow the Shafee tradition.
Carry on walking straight.
Palm Tree mosque
Stop here and look at the small, flat-roofed humble building on your left. This is the country’s second oldest mosque and dates back to 1807. It's known as the Palm Tree Mosque or the Jan van Boegies Mosque.
Jan van Boegies was from south-western Sulawesi, in Indonesia. He arrived as a slave in the late 1700s. A free woman named Salia van Macassar, bought him. This event was a turning point in Jan's life; Salia and Jan fell in love and married according to Muslim rites. But their life together was brief as Salia passed away soon after their marriage. Jan then married 15-year old Sameda van de Kaap, also a free woman. They lived at the Long Street property where Jan had already established a prayer room, known as a langar.
Jan’s cantankerous nature had caused him to break away from the town’s first mosque, the Auwal Mosque. But he exhibited compassion by apparently spending vast sums on purchasing slaves with the sole intention of setting them free.
Jan and Sameda remained childless and Jan died in 1846 at the age of 112. Sameda pledged the building, then known as the church of Jan van Boeghies, to the Muhammadan community of this town in her will.
Now, turn to face the street. Cross over Long Street, turn right and start walking back towards the Hanafee Mosque.
Islam in the Cape
Keep walking straight.
Now, why do you think Islam took root in the Cape?
Well, a large part of the answer lies in the Dutch East India Company's fear of the spread of Islam in the Far East, where the company had its headquarters. In order to stem the tide, the Dutch decided to exile learned and influential Muslims to remote and isolated places such as the Cape. When they were here, these men were able to continue their teachings, but to the local population of Muslim slaves instead.
I'll meet you at the next corner.
Cross the street in front of you, turn left and start walking up the hill. This is Dorp Street.
Along Dorp Street
Carry on walking up the hill while I tell you more about how Islam grew in the Cape.
Sheik Yusuf of Macassar was prominent amongst the early influential exiles here. He was born in 1626 and hailed from Gowa, on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. This highly educated and multilingual man became embroiled in the struggle against Dutch dominance in the East and was captured. The Dutch initially banished him, along with his wives and twelve religious scholars to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. They still feared his continued influence, and then sent on to the Cape.
Cross Loop Street
Cross the street in front of you. This is Loop Street, which in English means ‘Walking Street’. Keep following Dorp Street uphill.
You're doing well, carry on going up the hill!
Sheik Yusuf came to the Cape on 2 April 1694 and lived on the farm Zandvliet near Stellenbosch, about 40 km from Cape Town. The farm soon became a meeting place for slaves and other exiles from the East. Sheik Yusuf died at Zandvliet in May 1699. A few years later, in 1704, his wives, daughters and sons under the age of six boarded the ships De Spiegel and De Liefde for home.
Cross Bree Street
The street ahead is Bree Street, which means 'Broad Street'. Cross over and continue up the hill.
Towards Buitengracht Street
We're now heading towards Buitengracht Street, which means 'Outer-Canal' Street.
This was originally the western border of old Cape Town. As late as 1771, slaves were digging a street canal for which the town had become famous. These were narrow channels into which river water was led, to supply the settlement with fresh water. The Dutch called this stream 'Verse Rivier' while the local Khoikhoi population called it 'Camissa'; both meaning fresh, or sweet water. Incidentally, the stream still bubbles beneath the streets of central Cape Town.
I'll meet you on the next corner.
Turn right at this corner, with its busy barbershop. Customers often have to queue outside because it's so popular.
In the 1860s the canal system collapsed due to pollution, but street names such as Buitengracht survived.
Continue walking to the traffic lights ahead.
Cross Buitengracht Street
At the traffic lights turn to your left and cross Buitengracht Street.
Turn left into Buitengracht Service Road
Turn left into the service road and walk towards the second building on your right.
Nurul Islam Mosque
Stop here, outside the Nurul Islam Mosque.
Welcome to Bo-Kaap! The name means, 'the High Cape', and this is the oldest, but never exclusive, Muslim area of the country.
The first humble homes here belonged to European settlers. But in the latter half of the 18th century prosperous Muslims began buying some of these houses and moved up from the Long Street area. This changed the face of Bo-Kaap and it became a predominantly Muslim area, initially known as 'Slaamse Buurt', meaning, "the Islamic Neighbourhood".
Bo-Kaap stretches from the Strand and Castle Street Quarry in the north to Carisbrook Street in the south, and from Buitengracht in the east to Military Road running along Signal Hill in the west.
Including the Long and Loop Street mosques, you'll find ten mosques in this small pocket of Cape Town.
The name of this mosque, 'Nurul Islam Mosque', means ‘Light of Islam’. Its minaret is set back and not easily noticed. It was here that the young imam, Abdol Rakiep, transgressed against Sunni Shafee tradition when he delivered his sermon to less than forty members resulting in the start of the Hanafee Mosque on Long Street. Remember that story?
You can now continue walking along this street. Keep the houses on your right and I'll meet you at the next corner.
Turn right into Dorp Street
Turn right into Dorp Street, the ‘Village Street’. Stop when you are in line with the row of palm trees on your left.
Behind the palm trees is the Auwal Mosque, South Africa's oldest mosque.
The date above the entrance is the year in which an ex-slave named Coridon of Ceylon, and his wife, Trijn van de Kaap, purchased the building with its adjoining warehouse. Both Coridon and Trijn were manumitted slaves. Their daughter, Saartjie van de Kaap, eventually inherited the property and it's still registered in her name. The mosque was completely refurbished in the 1930s and the minaret was added.
Between 1795 and 1802 the British took its first occupation of the Cape. During this period muslims were permitted to meet for worship without fear of prosecution. So Coridon allowed meetings to take place in his modest home. This was the start of what later developed into the Auwal Mosque, once religious freedom was granted to the Muslims in 1804.
Its first imam was Abdullah ibn Kadi Abdus Salaam. He was better known as Tuan Guru, which means 'Lord Teacher'. He had been a prince on the tiny island of Tidore; one of the Maluku islands in Indonesia. Apparently he had conspired with the English against the VOC, was then captured by the Dutch, and brought to the Cape as a state prisoner in April 1780. During his banishment on Robben Island, he wrote three almost faultless copies of the Qur’an from memory. Two of these have survived. He also wrote a book on Islamic jurisprudence, the Ma’rifah al-Islam. It was written in Melayu and Portuguese, but in Arabic script. After his release in 1793, Tuan Guru married a free woman, Kaija van de Kaap. Her surname means she was born in the Cape.
You can start walking up Dorp Street now.
He then began preaching in the disused stone quarry in the lower part of Chiappini Street, until 1804, when he became imam of the Auwal Mosque. He also established a Muslim school which was enormously popular with slaves and free black people. He died in 1807. His walking stick and a copy of his handwritten Koran can be seen in the mosque.
Stop at this corner
Stop and have a look at the narrow side street on your left – you will feel transported to some Mediterranean island, a countryside village.
Now you will notice that Dorp Street is turning more colourful. There have been many theories around why these buildings were painted such bright colours. Let me take this opportunity to set the record straight. These colours neither reflect the occupants’ profession, nor are the residents so illiterate that the colours show them the way home! Equally inaccurate is the story that Bo-Kaap was the Dutch East India Company's slave quarters and that to inject some life into their drab lives the slaves painted their homes vivid colours.
Can you imagine that the company was generous enough to build houses for their slaves? This theory might be because so many slaves moved into the area after emancipation in 1834 that it was often mistaken as being former slave quarters. But emancipated slaves were poor and it is unlikely that they would have wasted precious resources on dazzling paint, even if it had been available in the 1830s in Cape Town.
The truth is that the bright paints appeared for the first time in the late 1960s when the Bo-Kaap was partially restored, and were simply an expression of joy.
Continue walking up the hill.
You are now walking through the historic heart of the Bo-Kaap, which for many people, is still known as the Malay Quarter. These houses were constructed between the 1750s and 1850s and were first occupied by Muslims from the latter part of the eighteenth century.
Slaves and exiles communicated in a lingua franca known as 'Melayu'. In its written form, Melayu was an Arabic script. It became the religious language of the Cape Muslims, used in their prayer rooms. It is possible that the word Melayu led people to speak of the Malay Quarter.
It is incorrect to label all Muslim people who came to the Cape as 'Malay'. Barely one percent of slaves and exiled persons originated from Eastern Malay, now known as Malaysia. About 34% of the slave and exiled population came from India, 22% from the Indonesian region, and the rest came from the coast of Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius and Sri Lanka. So it is preferable to speak of Cape Muslims. Presently about 70% of the Bo-Kaap residents are Muslims. The Muslim population of Cape Town is approaching 400 000, while country-wide it's about two million.
I'll meet you a little further on.
Top of Dorp Street
Stop here, at this charming row of cottages known as 'huurhuisjes'. These were built by the sexton of the Groote Kerk, which is the large Dutch Reformed Church on Adderley Street. His name was Jan de Waal and he rented out these houses to a combination of white artisans, Muslims and free black people.
Look up towards the slope of the mountain. Can you see several rather bland looking buildings? That area is known as Schotsche Kloof and those sub-economic flats were constructed between 1938 and 1942, when most of the area’s properties were Muslim-owned. Of the four hundred dwelling units that had been planned, only 198 were built due to the start of the Second World War. The man who conceived the idea was Dr. Abdullah Abduraghman, a respected local councillor. He insisted that tenants had to be 'Muslim Malay’. An interesting design feature of these units was the inclusion of washing cubicles for the 'toekamandi' to wash the dead.
Now you need to turn around and walk back along Dorp Street. But you will need to take the first turn off to your left. This is Chiappini Lane. I will meet you along the lane.
Stop when you get a view of the hill on your left.
[5 SECOND PAUSE]
Have a look across the parking area on the left, at some of the modern housing development on the hill. That is the area of Stadzight, which means 'Town View'. It is named after a small farm once operated by the Dutch East India Company. The Slums Act of 1934 declared Bo-Kaap a slum and many Muslims lost their properties as a result. Many chose to move further up the hill to this area. A large part of the Stadzight space is taken up by the Tana Baru Muslim Cemetery.
Now, continue to walk downhill towards a small, open gateway and a set of steps. I'll meet you on the steps.
Murals in arched passageway
Walk down the steps into an arched passageway, decorated by the Bo-Kaap Heritage Mural. Stop when you're in the archway and have a look around.
[pause in audio]
This work was created by Iranian artist, Nasser Palangi, with a few local artists.
Turn to look at the entrance you just walked through. The two children are looking back at their own cultural heritage. The little boy looks at old photographs of Sheik Yusuf’s kramat; a collection of bridal gowns; a family group on an outing with the men wearing the once traditional conical cane hat, turbans and badjoes. These are coats worn over silk or cotton garments. There is also an image of a tailor at work, a Muslim man wearing a fez, and another family portrait.
The little girl looks at photographs of a shoemaker at work, a Cape cart, musicians, boys studying the Qur’an, a local building, and a group of women wearing head coverings that reflected the style at that time.
Women only wore doeks or scarves after the arrival of Abu Bakr Effendi in the 1860s. This was also when the red or black fez became the preferred head-dress for men. A tussle indicated the fulfilment of a pilgrimage to Mecca.
From the archway you can see what old Cape Town would have looked like towards the end of the 1880s, although it wouldn't have been as colourful! It was a town of flat-roofed homes, either single or double-storeyed.
Now you need to leave the archway and head towards those colourful houses. Cross the street and I will meet you on the other side.
Walk along Chiappini Street
Take a slow stroll along this street to enjoy the local architecture.
The houses with their open terraces are known as stoeps, and radiate a feeling of tranquility. The stoep was often the projecting platform on which the house was built. It also protected the walls of the house from being splashed by mud on rainy days.
The foundations consisted of stone rubble quarried from Signal Hill. Shell-lime, which is obtained from burning seashells, was used for damp-proofing, plastering and whitewashing the walls. Houses were normally painted in November, at the end of the rainy season. Whitewashing recipes were often closely guarded family secrets.
This is Mosque Shafee, on your left. It was built in 1847.
Stop on this corner and turn to face the way you've just walked. Look up towards Lion’s Head. Can you see a tall minaret peeking over the rooftops? That belongs to the Nurul Huda Mosque, which was built in 1958 and is the youngest of all the mosques in the Bo-Kaap.
Now turn back to face the street intersection. You need to turn left, and start walking up the hill. I'll meet you again in a few moments.
Turn right into Morris Street
Turn right here and keep walking.
We are heading towards the Tana Baru Cemetery. It's quite an isolated area, so please take care.
Turn left into Signal Street
Turn left here.
As you walk, let me tell you a little about the cemetery.
Tana Baru means 'New Land' and it's made up of several independent adjacent burial grounds. The Cape Muslims achieved religious freedom in 1804, coupled with the promise that they would be allowed to build a mosque and establish a burial ground. Initially the local authority granted land to Frans van Bengalen in 1805, and only in 1830 was it finally registered in the name of the Muslim community.
The promise of a mosque was only fulfilled in 1850 with the building of the Jamia Mosque, which can be found at the bottom of Chiappini Street. Additional land grants and purchases of land make up Tana Baru. They were consolidated by four imams on behalf of their congregations.
Keep going, you're doing well!
Turn right at this corner
Turn right here and carry on going. We're almost there!
Among the many graves on the Tana Baru are those of Imam Abdullah ibn Kadi Abdus Salaam, also known as Tuan Guru, Tuan Nuruman, Abu Bakr Effendi, Tuan Said Aloewie, Achmat van Bengalen, Jan van Boeghies, Saartjie and Sameda van de Kaap.
The cemetery dispute was finally solved when the Muslim Cemetery Board purchased a burial ground in Observatory, a suburb of Cape Town.
Keep walking straight.
Cross over Longmarket
Stop at this intersection. I want to point out where you need to go after you've visited the Tana Baru.
The street running down towards the city is Longmarket. You will need to follow it to continue with the tour. But for now you need to cross over Longmarket Street and continue straight.
After a smallpox outbreak in 1858, the municipality began to close all city cemeteries including Tana Baru for 'health reasons'. This left the Cape Muslims without a burial ground.
After several years of fighting this decision the issue eventually came to a head on 17 January 1886, when a child of a Muslim fisherman died. In defiance of the cemetery closure, over 3 000 Muslims joined a funeral procession from the grieving family’s home in Woodstock to the Tana Baru to bury the child.
Carry on walking towards the end of the cul-de-sac ahead.
Towards Tana Baru
Before you enter the cemetery, please make sure you are modestly dressed. Women need to cover their heads.
When you are ready, you can head through the main gates and I'll meet you inside.
Visiting Tana Baru
Stop here for a moment.
Inside the facebrick structure on the left is the holy grave of Tuan Guru. This is known as a kramat.
Straight ahead is the kramat of Tuan Said Aloewie. If you go inside, please take off your shoes.
I will now leave you to explore this area in silence. But when you are ready to continue with the tour, you will need to make your way back to Longmarket Street and turn left. Follow the street downhill and I will meet you along the way.
Downhill along Longmarket Street
Well done, you found me!
Now, as you walk down Longmarket Street, let me tell you how Islam began to spread in the Cape.
During the first fifty years of Dutch settlement there was seldom a time when the free population outnumbered the enslaved. To correct this potentially dangerous imbalance, the authorities prohibited the sale of Christian slave children in 1715. This included slave children who were owned by their fathers. Predictably, many exasperated owners ignored the baptism of their slaves and many pressed their slaves to convert to Islam since the legislation did not apply to Muslim slaves.
But by the 1770s slaves continued to outnumber the free settlers. So the sale of all Christian slaves was prohibited. This led to many slave owners forcing their Christian slaves to convert to Islam in order to maintain their ownership rights.
It is important to note that not all Muslims were slaves. Many were freed after completing their sentence and banishment, and chose to remain in the Cape.
By 1842 Muslims accounted for one third of the population of Cape Town. Their influence grew steadily after having been granted the municipal franchise in 1839, and a qualified parliamentary franchise with the new Constitution of 1853.
Today, a third of all South African Muslims live in Cape Town where there are over 50 mosques.
Carry on walking and I'll meet you next to one of those mosques in a few moments.
Stop here, outside the Boorhaanol Mosque, which was built in 1884.
The mosque was originally known as the Pilgrims’ Mosque and has been closely linked to strife and discord amongst the Muslim population since its start.
After the 1930s Slums Act the Cape Town City Council was willing to allocate another mosque site, but it was rejected. By this time the building was showing severe strain. The wooden minaret was the first to have been built in Cape Town and it blew off in a gale. It was replaced by an incongruous-looking concrete structure that was so ugly that it was decided that a renovation was necessary. The refurbishment and simultaneous extension started after the second World War. Its name was also changed, to Mosque Boorhaanol, meaning the Proof of the Faith.
The mosque has always been deeply involved in the upliftment of the community. It established a secular school bursary fund, as well as a burial society which provided paupers’ burials and emergency relief. It also introduced scouting and girl-guiding, and helped instil a sense of responsibility amongst the youth.
Continue walking down the hill.
Turn right into Rose Street
Turn right at this corner and carry on walking. This is Rose Street.
You may be disappointed by a very different picture of Bo-Kaap along here, in comparison with the more colourful Chiappini Street. What Rose Street does illustrate is the destruction inflicted on the area by the declaration of the Slums Act of 1934.
Many old homes disappeared at this time, but the good news is that today the area is being restored and uplifted. As you walk, take note of the blend of old and new. There are several new cafes and art galleries, as well as some older establishments like the colourful Rose Corner Café at the end of this street.
I'll meet you at the end of this street.
Opposite Bo-Kaap Museum
Stop here and look across the street at the cream building with curvilinear mouldings and a high, open stoep. That's the Bo-Kaap Museum. The undulating roof-line was once widespread in Bo-Kaap, but today only two remain.
The museum is the oldest unaltered building in the Bo-Kaap. It boasts an original ‘bo-en-onder’ door, the up-and-down door. Have a careful look at it. Can you see the fanlight above the stable door? Now imagine a sudden rain shower. The temptation would be to close the upper section of the stable door, but that would mean that all the light and fresh air would be lost.
The fanlight is cleverly constructed like a sash window; its inner part can be pulled down and fastened to the lower part of the door while the upper half of the door remains open. Only two such doors remain in the city: here, at the Bo-Kaap Museum and also at No. 14 Keerom Street, opposite the Western Cape High Court.
The museum’s exhibits testify to the religious heritage and socio-political development of the area. Why not pop in there after this tour?
Now have a look a little further down the street. Can you see a shop called 'Rocksole'? It's the fourth building to the left of the museum.
This is another Bo-Kaap landmark. Here, the Jaga family have been repairing shoes for over a century. Jagar Jivan Parmar, a cobbler from Bombay settled in the Cape in 1902 where he started the shoemaker’s shop. In case your shoes have worn out on this walk, you know where to go!
We are now going to our final location on this tour. Turn right and start walking up the street. I'll stop you in a few moments.
Atlas Trading Company
Stop here, outside the Atlas Trading Store where Capetonians have been shopping for spices for over seventy years.
We tend to forget that it was the search for spices that landed the Dutch East India Company in Cape Town in the first place. This city started out as a settlement providing passing ships with fresh water and supplies as they travelled to and from the Far East, trading in spices and slaves.
Atlas Trading is well known for its whole and ground spices such as black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ground cumin. You might notice some unusual names like borrie, which is ground tumeric; jeera is another name for ground cumin; and koljana is also known as coriander. You can also buy lentils, butter beans, masalas, basmati rice here, and there's even a good selection of books available.
Your walk through Bo-Kaap has come to an end. I hope you have fallen in love with this colourful heart of Cape Town and may you go home with lasting memories. Fill your bag with spices, chat to the locals and enjoy your stay in Cape Town.