De Waterkant, situated on the slopes of Signal Hill and overlooking Table Bay, has a history that dates back to the 1700’s. Although De Waterkant forms part of the Bo-Kaap, which has buildings dating from the 1760’s, little is known about this area’s diverse cultural and architectural history.
Most of the buildings were erected by slaves from the East and by free natives who mainly practiced Islam. Because many of the inhabitants were thus Muslim/Malay, the entire Bo-Kaap area became know as the Malay Quarter.
Take a tour around the malay village just above De Waterkant, called Bo-Kaap, meaning, “above Cape.” With Tana Baru Tours, you will visit mosques, museums and heritage buildings and interact with locals, even sampling authentic food from the area.
The architectural style used by the slaves is a mixture of Cape Dutch, from when the Dutch colonized the Cape after the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652, and Georgian, from when the British invaded the Cape in 1795 and 1806. Although the area’s architecture comes from European design, it originated from Oriental craftsmen. So, along with the buildings being both Cape Dutch and Georgian in style, it also has some element of eastern design. Proof of this can be seen in the verandahs, which extend the full length of the front of the house. As there were no drainage system and the streets became streams when it rained, these roofless stoeps where built.
The houses where built with a mixture of crushed seashells and lime, to produce a very hard plaster. The plaster made it possible to use less reliable building material such as mud and clay. The buildings where built with rocks retrieved from the quarry on the other side of Strand Street.
The Malay Community played an extremely important role in shaping the area into what it became. They not only brought their religion, but also their skills, such as carpentry and cooking. The Afrikaans spoken in Cape Town is a mixture of Dutch and Arabic, a language still used by the Muslims.
The Muslims were not only important to the area, but the area was also important to them. When the honored Sheik Yusuf was banished to the Cape as political prisoner in 1681, because he was involved in the revolt against the Netherlands, he found a Muslim Community in his new land. Even before his arrival at the Cape he was regarded as a “Kramat” or holy one. When he died in 1699 a domed tomb was placed over his grave. This is one of six tombs in the city.
Not much is recorded about De Waterkant after those early beginnings. What is evident is that it was a regular neighborhood where children, irrespective of race, religion and cultural background, would play badminton and cricket in the streets while the entire neighborhood watched and cheered them on. That is, until the Group Areas Act was enforced in 1966.
This Act forced the so-called blacks and coloureds to move out of De Waterkant and onto the Cape Flats, to places like Manenburg, Bonteheuwel and Mitchell’s Plain. The residents of Loader Street were the second group to be moved. The only coloureds left in the Bo-Kaap were those living above Strand Street.
After the Group Areas Act was enforced, De Waterkant became a predominately white neighborhood. The area has since been declared a National Preservation Area, and has been renovated over the years with certain guidelines to preserve the architectural style used by the slaves in the eighteenth century. Today, De Waterkant has become a very cosmopolitan area and boasts Cape Town’s first guest street, incorporating Loader and Waterkant Streets.
De Waterkant, diverse in culture and architecture, remains the friendly, welcoming village of yesteryear, where the resounding Noon Gun can clearly be heard and residents are woken by the early morning sounds of ships in the harbour.