Bo Kaap: The heart of Cape Town
This is where Cape Town started, where the language, culture and variety that give Cape Town it’s enchanting, incomparable character, was born. Last week, a friend spent an afternoon showing me around the neighborhood.
His version of the Bo Kaap’s story goes something like this: The Dutch East India Company created the Bo Kaap to house their slaves, who came from Malaysia, Indonesia, and a hodge-podge of countries in Southern and Eastern Africa. Forced to work and live together, these groups mixed their original languages with Dutch, creating Afrikaans. According to Wikipedia, 41% of Cape Tonians now speak Afrikaans. The language of the slaves became the language of the city. 
The Dutch East India Company’s strategy for enslaving people was diabolically clever: prevent them from becoming Christian. If a man was a Christian, he was free in the eyes of God, and therefore unable to be enslaved by man. So the DEIC prevented missionaries from setting up in the neighborhood and actively encouraged enslaved people to convert to Islam. Today, Islam is firmly rooted in the community: on our walk through a few blocks, we saw about half a dozen mosques and no churches.
Unlike Long Street, or the V.A. Waterfront or most of the tourist attractions in town, the Bo Kaap maintains a sort of living history of Cape Town. Many of the neighborhood’s brightly painted buildings have chipped at their edges, revealing bricks cobbled together long ago by local slaves. Several streets are still paved with smooth cobble stones from an era that favored trolleys and carriages over cars.
A few jazzy tuck shops and restaurants were recently built around the neighborhood, harbingers of gentrification. Small groups of camera-toting tourists shuffle through the neighborhood, pointing out this or that building. We get in the way of each others photo ops from time to time. Yet, I can still walk around and feel that something powerful and enduring happened here.
This is where a city was born. To know the Bo Kaap is to know Cape Town.
1: Not so random side note: It’s interesting that in South Africa, the language of the slaves became legitimized. Afrikaans is one of the country’s official languages. In the U.S., the language of the slaves, ebonics, Black English Vernacular, Black slang, whatever people call it nowadays, is still stigmatized. Why?