Cape Town Neighborhoods

Portugal began exploring in the 13th century, pushing further and further along the western coast of Africa, and rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488.

In 1602, several Dutch trading companies came together and formed the Dutch East India Company, “Vereenigde Oostindiche Compagnie,” to jointly establish a business in trading for spices. It is commonly referred to here now as “the VOC” or just “the Company.”

The VOC was a business and did not establish colonies per se in the ports along their trading routes. In the history of businesses, there are those who argue that the VOC was the first multi-national corporation and the first conglomerate, developing trading, shipbuilding, agricultural, and banking functions under one organization in multiple locations around the known world, owned by shareholders. When the VOC established a trading post in Cape Town, some Dutch created farms to supply the VOC ships as they sailed around Africa. These eventually became active settlements, but not technically colonies until later.

“The Company Garden” in Cape Town is a remnant of these farms and is now a beautiful city park. This map is of the area – the green parts were the original garden.

Cecil John Rhodes was a major figure in the history of the Southern Africa region, and the former country of Rhodesia was named for him. Today, his legacy generates strong feelings because he represents colonialism and all of its negative aspects, including apartheid. A memorial was built to him in rural Cape Town. It is still there, but the large statue has been removed.

The Parliament building faces the Garden, and is still in use:

the Museum of Natural History sits on the southwestern edge. St. George’s Cathedral is on the northeastern edge, near the neighborhood known as “Bo-Kaap.”

“Bo-Kaap” means “above the Cape” in Afrikaans, and it is located on Signal Hill, which overlooks the City Center. In days past, when it was a township, it was known as the Malay Quarter because most of the residents came from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Africa, brought as slaves by the Dutch because the Southern Africa aboriginal tribes resisted them.

Bo-Kaap, with its brightly colored houses and cobbled streets, is the oldest surviving residential neighborhood. The neighborhood retains its multi-cultural character, and the 1844 Nurul Islam Mosque serves the mostly Muslim residents.

In 1760, Jan de Waal bought the land on Signal Hill and built three small houses that he leased to his slaves. One of them is now the Bo-Kaap Museum at 71 Wale Street. Between 1790 and 1825, more housing was built for the growing population of tradesmen and artisans.

When slaves were liberated in 1834, many of them moved into the Bo-Kaap neighborhood. Before emancipation, the houses were all painted white, and so in an act of rebellious celebration, these houses were painted in bright colors.

Following the end of apartheid in 1994, the houses in Bo-Kaap became very popular, and there has been friction as the neighborhood became trendy and long-standing residents were forced out by the sale of houses they rented. It is now a National Heritage Site.

Green Point, the neighborhood that my AirBnB was in, is adjacent to the V&A Waterfront, on the upland side. It’s a very nice neighborhood, filled with apartments, and pouring onto a Main Street that sits between Green Point and the waterfront filled with restaurants, coffee shops, a Woolworth’s grocery store, and a pharmacy.

The other neighborhood I was in deserves its own post, so you’ll see that next: District Six.

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