Cape Town squatters battle plans for Muslim hotel

Image caption,
The Kraal was first occupied by squatters in the early 1980s

The BBC's Mohammed Allie reports on a historic disused quarry, the last piece of vacant urban space on the edge of Cape Town's central business district, which has become the subject of a dispute between 150 squatters who live there and one of South Africa's oldest mosques that wants to build a Muslim-friendly hotel on the land.

Nestled in the quarry above Cape Town, the informal settlement known as the Kraal has sweeping views of South Africa's iconic Table Mountain and the city's trendy Waterfront and harbour areas.

The area, first occupied by squatters in the early 1980s, has grown to accommodate 24 shacks housing 150 people, including many children.

In recent months, several newcomers have erected plastic and corrugated iron dwellings in a narrow slit of ground about 100m away from the main camp.

The mosque authorities, led by Imam Moutie Saban, have complained about rising crime in the area. Tourists have been robbed and cars and houses broken into.

The mosque's sound system has been stolen and toilet facilities smeared with faeces.

The city's law enforcement authorities say the Kraal has been used as a hideout by criminals escaping police.

"Yes, we have had a criminal element and drug dealers but they have been arrested and are now in prison," says Kraal community leader Kenny Prins.


Imam Saban wants the area upgraded and has applied to the city council, which owns the land, to build a no-alcohol hotel, along with a business centre and a heritage centre on ground, which adjoins the back part of the historic Jameah mosque.

Image caption,
Community leader Kenny Prins says squatter residents must be given proper housing

The mosque was built on land where the first Friday congregational prayers were performed in South Africa in 1790.

The mosque has already bought the house next door and wants to extend prayer facilities and the toilet block to accommodate the increasing number of worshippers.

Belinda Walker, city councillor for the area, confirmed receiving an unsolicited application to develop the land from Imam Saban and his son Wafeeq.

"Last year Imam Saban and his son came to see me about their proposal to extend the mosque. They proposed a development on the site of the quarry which would cross-subsidise their upgrade because of the high cost of the renovation.

"They said funding was available to build a Muslim-friendly hotel which would serve no alcohol and would meet the dietary needs of Muslim visitors. It would also allow for a separate swimming pool for females," says Ms Walker.

But the proposal has infuriated the Kraal community, as well as local residents represented by the Bo Kaap Civic Association.

"It's against the scripture of all religions to evict poor people from their homes, so we need to ensure the residents of the Kraal have access to decent housing before moving them from the site," says Osman Shabodien, chair of the association.

"The area has huge historical and heritage significance, so whatever we eventually decide to do, it will have to be carefully planned and we need to consult with the surrounding community.

"Any development has to benefit the entire community and not just a few individuals," says Mr Shabodien.

Solid rock

Mr Prins says residents of the informal settlement need to be given proper housing before there can be any thought of developing the land.

Many of the Kraal residents grew up in the area and will not accept being moved to the council's Blikkiesdorp resettlement camp, some 28km (18 miles) away.

Image caption,
Mosque authorities have complained about rising crime in the area

"Our children attend school in the area, so you can't just uproot them," says Mr Prins.

Kraal resident Mareldia Abrahams, a 54-year-old mother of four, says she would be prepared to move should the council provide her with a formal house.

"I have been on the council's waiting list for 17 years but to this day I'm still waiting for my house," says Ms Abrahams.

According to Ms Walker, there are no immediate plans for the land as a long consultation process still has to be followed.

"We are currently busy with a heritage study which will inform us what sort of development is suitable for the ground. We then need to advertise the development proposals for public comment so the entire process will take at least a year," she says.

Ms Walker ruled out providing formal housing on the land for Kraal residents.

"The area is situated on solid rock, which means it will be difficult and very expensive to lay underground sewerage and water connection pipes for council-subsidised housing. There are also up to 250 informal settlements in Cape Town that need our attention," she says.

More on this story