Walking the Colourful Bo-Kaap

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 🙂

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The setting couldn’t be more breathtaking with Table Mountain and Lion’s Head as backdrops and the City Bowl and harbour sprawling below.


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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.

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For more information or to book a walking tour visit http://tanabarutours.weebly.com/


5 thoughts on “Walking the Colourful Bo-Kaap

  1. What a pretty suburb – I bet those houses are worth a bit now!
    You made me drool with memories of koeksisters (we always used to have twisted ones in a café not far from here) samosas and a cape classic I have made many times, bobotie!! All courtesy from the Cape Malay people. Thanks for sharing these lovely photos with us 🙂
    Jude xx


    • The starting price is R2-million Shereen tells me and sadly (well I think so anyway), some have been swept up by foreigners and renovated rather than keeping with tradition and passing the houses down through the generations. Hmm, now I really could tuck into a a plate of lamb breyani! Keep warm & dry in the north, xxx


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