Cape Town’s ‘‘little Mogadishu’’
By Hassan Isilow
For some people, Bellville is just another Central Business District (CBD) of Cape Town. But the reality is that it feels much different from other bustling shopping zones in the mother city.
Once in Bellville you realise the difference. One part of the CBD, which is the busiest, has been taken over by the Somali refugee community, who number in their thousands. The southern part is mainly occupied by the local coloured community.
A stroll along Durban road, in the main Bellville CBD makes you feel as though you are in down-town Mogadishu. Women dressed in full-body hijabs and niqaabs are seen selling clothes on street stands along Blankenburg Street. Somali men move about sanguinely through bursting street crowds, while others are seen labouring for themselves, loading merchandise on to their bakkies (pick-up trucks). The environment here is almost synonymous with that in Mogadishu.
Roughly 90% of businesses in Bellville belong to Somali’s who have come to South Africa as refugees, while 5% belongs to local companies and the remaining 5% is owned by other foreign nationals.
“When I arrived here in 1997, there were very few Somali nationals. Those I found were hawkers selling belts, chocolate, chips and sweets at the taxi rank. But today Bellville has very many Somalis’’ Ahmed Mohammed related.
He explained that Somali’s are a close-knit community who like living together. That’s why many of them have found comfort in Bellville where a true sense of community exudes.
‘‘People know of Bellville, even in Somalia,” Ahmed revealed. “When some new Somali refugees arrive in the country, they prefer coming straight to Bellville compared to staying in Johannesburg or other cities.’’ He said despite attacks on Somali nationals in the townships, they still preferred to live in the Western Cape compared to other provinces.
A local businessman in Bellville said ever since the Somali’s overtook Bellville, the CBD has became extremely busy with buyers coming from different parts of the province to buy merchandise.
If you’re looking for cheap Chinese commodities to purchase, then Bellville is the ideal place for you. There are several shops selling Chinese merchandise at unbelievably low – prices. There are also many street hawkers selling different products.
There are over 10 traditional Somali restaurants selling a variety of foods. A three-course meal of Pasta and meat enough for three people costs about R45.00 ($7), while an additional R15.00 gets you a full jug of milk.
Despite shoppers and store owners being spoilt for choice with regards to food, Somali restaurants in the CBD still manage to survive because the majority of people here do not cook during day time; they depend on food from their traditional restaurants.
There are also many Somali owned backpacker lodges which offer cheap accommodation to Somalis and anybody else willing to stay there.
This form of accommodation is popular among the youth because it enables them to save money, which they remit back home to their families.
The good thing with the Somali community is that one can survive among them even without having money. The spirit of UBUNTU or caring for others is well and alive in this community.
Sheikh Abdi Rashid Afi of the Somali community board (SCOB) said Somali people can never abandon one of their members to starve without food. ‘‘In this community we always share, despite the little we may have’’ the Alim (Islamic Scholar) revealed