It seems strangely appropriate that only days after Nelson Mandela has passed on, I am standing among rows of brightly coloured houses in Cape Town’s historical Bo-Kaap district, where in 1994 Madiba gave residents his blessing to paint their homes any colour they wished.
Previously, the City of Cape Town had prescribed to several generations of Cape Malays what they could do to their homes, limiting their choice to a handful of pastel shades. Today though it’s a vibrant collective of gay and bold hues, representative of South Africa’s Rainbow Nation and the eclectic mix of people that occupy this small ‘burb on the slopes of Signal Hill. It’s also just one small example of how Nelson Mandela touched the lives of ordinary people
My host and guide for the day is the delightful Shereen Misbach-Habib, an author and publicist who previously stood as ANC candidate for the Bo Kaap. As the story goes, when a resident bemoaned the paint restrictions to Tata Madiba, he told her and congregants gathered in the neighbourhood mosque (which is the oldest mosque in South Africa) to “Paint if you want to paint, it’s a new South Africa”. To celebrate this new found freedom they did. It was Madiba too who later suggested to Shereen that the Bo Kaap to be marketed internationally.
Shereen is 5th generation Cape Malay from Indonesian descent. Half her family was born in District Six – an inner city residential area before the occupants were forcefully removed by the Apartheid government – and the other half in the Bo Kaap, so unsurprisingly she’s full of encyclopedic knowledge which she happily shares on her walking tours of the neighbourhood. Everyone knows Shereen, so be prepared for Salam Alaikum‘s at every turn (a Muslim greeting) along with unscheduled stops to interact with the locals 🙂
The setting couldn’t be more breathtaking with Table Mountain and Lion’s Head as backdrops and the City Bowl and harbour sprawling below.
To round off the tour, I joined Shereen for tea and traditional Malay snacks in her home in the heart of the Bo Kaap, where remnants of history and the famous Cape Malay Koeksisters and Samosas await. For an even fuller experience, grab a traditional meal at one of the local eateries that Shereen can point you to.
For more information or to book a walking tour visit http://tanabarutours.weebly.com/