Locked down and locked out: Bo Kaap food gardeners barred by ‘greedy’ landowners

A Cape town community group who started a food garden to help feed the Bo Kaap community say they have been locked out of their patch by the landowners.

This piece of land, they say, had lain abandoned for over 40 years and a haven for criminals, gangsters, alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, and served as a rubble dump.

With basic tools and bare hands, the members of Sustainable Bo-Kaap (SUBOKA), the majority of whom are senior women from the Bo Kaap, cleaned up the property and restored its dignity, turning it into a beautiful sustainable garden while teaching organic gardening skills to the people.

The landowners, though, are undeterred, saying the group has no right to be there and that the site has been earmarked for development, Cape Talk reported.

Image: Facebook – Sustainable-Bo-Kaap

Lockdown load weighs heavy

Soraya Booley told the station that the Sustainable Bo-Kaap NPO was started in July 2020.

“It was at the height of the lockdown when our community was really suffering from the economic impact of the lockdown.”

She said people living in the area are involved in the tourism, accommodation, and hospitality industry, sectors particularly hit-hard by the lockdown, and had a huge impact on food security in the area.

The beautiful and historic Bo Kaap, the birthplace of Islam in South Africa, internationally known and loved as a tourist destination with its brightly colored houses has been home to many English language students from the Arab world and is under the kosh as a result of the lockdown.

“The tourists and the students have not come to the Bo Kaap since early March 2020 and there does not appear to be an end in sight for a while yet, meaning that no money has flowed into the area for almost a year.”

Vegetable garden

That was when a group of people in the community decided to start the Sustainable Bo-Kaap project and turn a piece of derelict land into a vegetable garden.

“It was turning a piece of abandoned land that has been used for the past 50 years for rubble dumping, vice, crime, drug-taking, and gangsterism into a sustainable food garden.”

Cape Talk said the landowners, the Darul Falaah Study Group, declined to be interviewed, but in statement said the land was not abandoned and was earmarked for development.

The group added that the community had not asked or been given permission to start a food garden.

Booley said the group has been locked out of the garden since 23 December and “our members have been trying desperately to harvest the food and water the garden.” The members eventually found a way to water the garden from the top section on Lion’s Street, she says.

“It is not true that we don’t have consent. The issue is actually a piece of land that was bought through community fundraising for our community under the leadership of Sheik Booley in 1972.

SUBOKA say they began planting on a piece of ‘waqf land’ in the Bo Kaap, known as the Koestas.

According to the Sharia (Islamic Law), waqf land is an endowment to be used for charitable purposes, including feeding and caring for the needy and vulnerable and providing religious education to Muslims.

Booley said the land was to be used to build a madrassa (Islamic school) and as a community centre to benefit the poor and the needy in the community.

Not for profit

Booley disputes the claims by the Darul Falaah Study Group and some residents that their vegetable garden is a commercial venture.

“There is nothing commercially happening there. The food is given away for free to our community.”

She says the trustees of Darul Falaah Study Group have been asked since September for their “locus standi” allowing them to erect the gates that have locked the community out, but to date, they have not replied.

Sustainable Bo-Kaap approached the High Court Friday, but the opposing parties entered no answering affidavits and asked for a postponement.

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Presh JM Reporter

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