Death by design

2014-04-01 08:00

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Long-time residents of Woodstock and Bo-Kaap say their suburbs’ new-found trendiness is forcing them out

Woodstock is an intriguing mix of sexy, homely and gritty.

The man at the ­corner shop ­answers to “uncle” and you’ll hear gunshots at least once a week.

You can buy some of Cape Town’s most ethically sourced and brewed coffee and fair trade chocolate there, and new residents complain the call to prayer from local mosques keeps them awake at night.

Under the Group Areas Act, Woodstock was the only place in Cape Town’s city centre where all races were allowed to own property.

But now, long-standing locals say the suburb’s diversity is under threat – and its recent reputation as a design hot spot is to blame.

It started with the Old Biscuit Mill, which now houses galleries, boutiques and one of Cape Town’s most ­expensive restaurants, the Test Kitchen.

Every Saturday morning, hundreds of people ­converge on the Neighbourgoods Market, where they can buy handmade leather sandals and eat red velvet cupcakes on haystacks under umbrellas.

Muzaffar Osman is not one of them. He owns Smokers’ Paradise on Albert Road, which his father opened in the 1940s, and sells loose cigarettes, pies and chocolates.

“Since the Biscuit Mill came here, business has gone down. Saturday used to be our busiest day. Now the ­people who come to the market park in our loading zone because they just don’t care,” Osman says.

“Foreigners only come in here to buy a bottle of ­water. There has been no employment created for the local community.”

Five years ago, he paid R800 a month for municipal rates. Now it’s R5?000.

Michael Adams rents a shop a few doors down from Osman for his metal work business. The building will likely be sold soon.

“They call it the Neighbourgoods Market, but there are no neighbours,” he says.

The Woodstock Exchange, which houses a designer bag store and branding and design companies, is up the road. It replaced the Woodstock

Industrial Centre in 2009 and caused controversy by evicting artists and the 50-year-old Golden Plate takeaway shop.

Nick Ferguson of property developer Indigo Properties says: “Gentrification is a cycle. It’s not the rich displacing the poor.

It’s the cycle of how buildings and areas that were once new and the happening part of town ­become run down and badly maintained.

“When the ­value of these buildings falls because of their physical state of repair and the degeneration of the area gets to the point that it’s feasible to fix up, they go back on the upward cycle to their previous condition.”

On the other side of the city centre, in the Bo-Kaap, residents are preparing for a fight. They don’t want to become Cape Town’s next Woodstock.

Here, locals snort at tourists in hiking boots who trek up hills to take photographs in front of the brightly ­coloured houses.

Khadija Isaacs (70) lives in the flats at the ­highest point. She bought hers from the council in 1999 for R8?500.

It’s now worth R590?000 and rates and levies cost R795 each month. Her only income is a R1?200 state pension. She has lived in Bo-Kaap since 1958 and refuses to budge.

Osman Shaboodien, the head of the Bo-Kaap residents’ association, says property owners pay the same rates as those in wealthy Camps Bay.

“Gentrification is not just the buying and selling of houses,” says

Shaboodien, “it is about the uprooting of stable communities.”

The City of Cape Town says there’s nothing to be done if the area’s traditional Malay families who have lived there for centuries want to sell their homes to ­newcomers.

Anton Groenewald, the city’s executive director of tourism, events and marketing, says it has spoken to residents.

“The city?...?cannot prevent a willing buyer, willing seller situation from transacting as the ­private right to transact on property is enshrined in our Constitution,” he says.

“The private property market is not regulated to ­ensure ownership is restricted to one racial, ­ethnic or historic grouping.”

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