Bashiera Parker joins the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as they visit the oldest mosque in South Africa on Heritage Day during their royal tour of Africa.
Cape Town – Palm trees line Dorp Street like pillars outside Auwal Masjid on what turned out to be a rather windy day in Cape Town on Tuesday. But the very many residents who came out to see the Duke and Duchess of Sussex weren’t fazed by the howling winds as they stood tall and proud outside the mosque in the area many know for the splashes of colour that fill the city centre, but they simply call home.
After parking my car on the upward slope, Aunty Ruschana Benjamin was so kind as to direct me through the back route to the mosque. “Whenever there’s a street function, there’s food,” she said, as she took me past the Klopse, with the smell of boerewors in the air, as I walked through a narrow hallway between two bright orange houses before making my way to the mosque.
Built in 1794, Auwal Masjid is the first and oldest mosque in South Africa. Islam was first introduced by exiled Muslim leaders and Cape Malay slaves in the late 1600-1700s, though slaves were not allowed to practice Islam then. So today, for the Muslim community, Auwal Masjid symbolises resilience, strength, and freedom.
(WELCOME: The duke and duchess arrive and remove their shoes.)
On arrival, the Duke and Duchess were greeted by Sheikh Ismail Londt, the Imam of the mosque and Mohamed Groenwald, a Muslim community leader.
Meghan, dressed modestly in an olive green A-line dress and a cream scarf, sat down next to Prince Harry as they removed their shoes.
Their Royal Highnesses were invited to view the first known manuscript of the Qu’ran in South Africa, which was drafted from memory by the first Imam, Tuan Guru, while he was imprisoned on Robben Island, before they were introduced to faith leaders.
A representative of the Church of England, the Chief Rabbi, Christian and Muslim youth leaders, as well as students who participated in the London-Cape Town interfaith exchange were all present.
But it was the conversation with Aunty Masturah, Aunty Fowzia and Aunty Abdeya, that seemed to touch the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
After asking Aunty Masturah about what the Bo-Kaap means to her, she said, "Bo-Kaap is my life."
"The people, the traditions, the culture, is what makes us a living culture."
She introduced me to 93-year-old Aunty Abdeya, who was born and raised in Bo-Kaap. She told me her life’s story as quickly as one could in the five minutes we spent together, but gave me her number after inviting me over – I left promising to catch up after the royal tour.
(INTRODUCTIONS: The royal couple is introduced to all the guests present at the event.)
The Auwal Mosque welcomes visitors of all denominations and hosts inter-faith dialogues to develop inter-communal and inter-faith understanding between South Africa’s varied communities regularly.
In Cape Town today, it serves as an important role in reducing and preventing cases of inter-community tension, which has risen in Bo-Kaap during the last few years, during a period of gentrification.
But the steadfast and unrelenting spirit of the Muslim community ensured they beat on in the heart of the city when the Arts and Culture minister declared 19 areas in Bo-Kaap heritage sites in May this year – one of the being Auwal Masjid. Aunty Fowzia said it’s a very special and momentous year. The fourth generation in her family to return to her home in Bo-Kaap explained, "Alhamdulilah, today is the first Heritage Day we could celebrate 19 heritage sites that have been declared."
"Living in Bo-Kaap, there’s no other place," she gushed. "I always say, I live where the koesisters are."
The royal fan in me was excited to witness what was the most beautiful conversation today. But as a Muslim, I was in awe, humbled, and honoured, to be part of that very community Aunty Fowzia spoke so proudly about when she said, "This is our Bo-Kaap."
(ROYAL WHISPERER: The duchess whispers something to one of the youngest guests present. Photos: Bashiera Parker)