Bo Kaap, community, resilience and Corona
Depending on who you are the Bo Kaap evokes differing responses. For the traveller from abroad, it is a quaint little community with very colourful houses. The kind you use as a back drop for a ‘bucket list’ motivated Instagram post, never to return to, with little consideration for the community who have lived there for generations.
For an investor, developer, boutique hotel builder, it is a much sought after geographic location on the slopes of Signal Hill, bordering the city with increasing property value, once again, with little consideration for the community who have lived there for generations.
For someone who was born and raised in the area, it is a place of long held memories, where place is marked with the names of relatives, friends and neighbours, events, laughter and the mischievous exploits of the children we were. That house is not no. ‘such and such’ Pepper street, it is where ‘so and so’ lived, where the fig tree grew in the back yard where my ear was twisted when I got caught picking the biggest juiciest figs.
It is a place criss-crossed with relationships formed across generations, where people knew who you were because you look like your parents, or because they remember you as a kid coming to mosque with your grandfather, or you went to 1 of the 2 primary schools in the area, 1 of the 3 high schools close by, or, and this is less common, they remember you from a memorable boy scouts outing where you and your cousin stole a rowing boat at the provincial Jamboree almost disqualifying your troop, which for those of you who don’t know, was 4th Cape Town.
Many things have changed since the Covid-19 induced lock down,though what hasn’t changed are the long standing relationships within the community.
These relationships, shared history and concern for ones neighbour form the bedrock and resilience which has seen the members of this old community rally towards a common cause.
The cause of course is the current pandemic that has enveloped the world and all the major cities, and though there are horrendous injustices perpetrated on the already vulnerable in our society with regard to the hungry and homeless, there are also instances where communities unify and give a hint to what life after Covid-19 could look like, where care and concern for the next man’s stomach outweigh the self serving and the profit motive.
Enter the Bo Kaap Covid 19 Response team.
When I asked about the formation of the response team I was told by Safwaan Laubsher, a long time Bo Kaap resident that people in the community had been watching the various news networks and had become aware of the potential dangers to the community of the continued arrival of tourists from European countries affected by the virus, and as Bo Kaap has a lot of pensioners and elderly, a statement was issued banning the visits of tourists to the area 2 weeks before the official lock down in South Africa. This was enforced by a group of volunteers who informed unknowing tourists, and it was also the beginning of the response team.
The need for concerted efforts by the community to protect its people led to the consolidation of various organisations active in the area. The Masajids of the Bo Kaap, the Bo Kaap Civic, Boorhanol, the Bo Kaap Collective and local businesses got together to avail their resources and information to formulate a plan and take action so they could pre-empt and mitigate the spread of the virus and the effects that a long term lock down would have.
The primary function of the response team is to provide relief to the vulnerable in the community in the form of food parcels and cooked food, and in some instances shopping trips for bread and milk on behalf of the aged who naturally fear going to the supermarkets. The data from the various organisations who have been active in the community for many years were used to identify those historically in need, though I was told that this was expanded due to the job losses as a result of the lock down and the consequent dwindling of resources as it continues.
Another important function that the response team performs is one of informing the community about the virus and its spread, as well as the door to door screening that would take place on behalf of the Western Cape Government Health Department partnered with the response team to promote testing in the area which was a pilot project for the Health Department in the region. To this cause the Masajid of the Bo Kaap played a valuable role in the use of the speakers of the various mosques used normally for the call to prayer and funeral announcements, but now as a means to reach the generation who don’t have access to social media and a platform from which to broadcast Duas (prayers) for protection, healing and recovery of those afflicted with the virus.
In response the community has opened its doors to the officials from the Health Department, helping with identification of confirmed cases of the virus, as well as providing much needed resources. Everyone involved in the response team are volunteers from the area, dedicating themselves to their community at its time of need.
I was very proud to find out that a lot of the donations toward the food parcels and cooked food came from households and businesses within the community who chose to remain anonymous. According to the Islamic belief, amongst those who will have shade on the day that there is no shade ( the day of rising) is the one who gives to the extent that the left hand does not know what the right hand gives. This selfless giving with the modern spin of mixed income communities adds to the inherent resilience of the community and acts as a possible lesson to the powers that be with regards to future spacial planning practices, thus far dominated by global economic policies and the profit motive of the ubiquitous ,anonymous and all powerful ‘shareholder’ whose influence and benefit outweigh all local social concerns.
Organisations such as SANZAF, Gift of the Givers, Mustadafin and Muslim Hands have played a significant part in furnishing resources to the effort in the Bo Kaap. These are the collective actions that rescue the often touted phrase ‘living heritage’ from the waste bin of petty social media rhetoric bandied about by politically correct power mongers with hidden agendas.
Beyond the ‘official’ response of the community at large there are also many instances of individuals, not just in the Bo Kaap but all over Cape Town who have made it part of their daily routine to cook big pots of food to feed the homeless and socio economic outcasts within the city precincts. The fact that they are prepared, are in possession of big pots, burners and the ‘know how’ so to speak involved in cooking large amounts of food is as a result of years of participation in the cooking that takes place on a field at Boorhanol, where hundreds of people get together to sponsor and cook more than 40 pots of food the night before the Eid celebration so that the less fortunate have an Eid lunch, another tradition that has been ongoing for many years. Activities like these facilitate the formation of small groupings of people, friends, colleagues, cricket and rugby clubs who support the ongoing feeding efforts of individuals, supplying 10 kilos of dal here, a pocket of onions or potatoes there, rice and whatever else can go into the pot. These small donations add up and contribute towards feeding the hungry, especially those who have so to say “fallen through the cracks”.
With the arrival of Ramadan, the month of fasting for the muslims, there are feeding programmes within the community that need to continue, ensuring that everyone has something to break their fast with, which during this time will add to the already considerable resources which are required.
Together with dwindling household incomes there is an increasing need to spread the net wider afield, as it is the hope of the response team and others to continue the food distribution beyond Ramadan and the lock down.
As a child I was told by my parents that one of the purposes of this holy month is to experience hunger, existentially and viscerally, to empathise with those who do not have. This invaluable teaching is part of the living heritage and a formidable lesson in empathy.
The primary drive for photographing and writing this photo essay is to focus on people helping people. By no means are the people and institutes mentioned here exhaustive, and shining examples exist elsewhere in Cape Town where fearless big hearted people are doing the same thing, in very different and sometimes more severe cases. Another reason is to contribute to throwing the net wider in the event that this reaches those who are able and willing to contribute towards the ongoing feeding efforts.
This is the time to focus on people, and not systems, this is the time to support, encourage and assist beyond the banal ineffectual pursuit of the armchair soap box theorist, this is the time for each of us to use what we have been blessed with to stand up and be counted amongst those who when called upon to help, arrived willing, able and hopeful.
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