A free walking tour will get you close to the iconic colours of the Bo Kaap that paint the slopes of Signal Hill and send you back in time on its cobbled streets. Lace up and learn the fascinating history of Cape Town's beautiful Bo Kaap.
Cape Town Free Walking Tours host two daily tours, both starting on the corner of Wale Street and St Georges Mall and take 90 minutes. The historic tour of the Bo Kaap is an afternoon stroll that starts at 14h00.
The first stop of the tour is beside the oldest mosque in Cape Town, Auwal Masjeed, in Dorp Street It was founded by Tuan Guru, who memorised the Qur’an when he was jailed on Robben Island and remains a symbol of the struggle of Cape Muslims today. The ancestors of the current Bo Kaap residents were brought to South Africa as slaves to build the city of Cape Town and they had to fight for the recognition of Islam and their freedom to worship.
Another version of the story is that the homes are re-painted during the celebration of Ramadan while others say it began much more recently in the 90s after the end of apartheid. Personally, I love the story about the doctor with a bight idea. Not all houses are painted and kept in beautiful condition, but to me this also adds to the character of the place and helps it maintain its authenticity.
There are a number of stories about why the Bo Kaap is so colourful. One version is that it was an ingenious initiative to spread the word about people’s skills to land work. A doctor painted his house red to distinguish his trade, and if anybody needed one they would just say, “he lives in the red house”. This idea spread and various trades began to paint their homes. Slaves could not wear any colourful garments and colour also became an expression of freedom and a form defiance - a big finger to their old masters.
Current residents of the Bo Kaap area are descendants of slaves originally from various places in Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and elsewhere in Asia, and became known collectively as ‘Cape Malays’ despite many not actually being of Malaysian origin.
You can find more photographs and detailed info on the Cape Town Free Walking Tour in this blog I wrote for Getaway Magazine.