Ramadan, a time of social cohesion in Cape Town

The community of Cafda were treated to its first ever mass iftar on Sunday. Picture: Supplied

The community of Cafda were treated to its first ever mass iftar on Sunday. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 31, 2024


The period of Ramadan is auspicious to all Muslims across the world, but, in Cape Town, it’s just a bit more special.

Cape Town is known for its diversity and acceptance of all cultures and faiths, so as a Christian, I too look forward to the month of Ramadan.

Growing up and as an adult, I have many Muslim friends and family. While my faith is also celebrating a special time now, Easter, I am filled with joy that our special time coincides with Ramadan.

The Cape Flats, most infamously known for all the violence, becomes a sight of absolute bliss, because now, during this month, the concrete jungle known as flats becomes a haven to all. Young and old, Muslim and non-Muslim.

Muslim men makes Dua in Bo- Kaap where a mass boeka was hosted on the last Friday of Ramadan. File Picture: Brendan Magaar/Independent Newspaper

My most favourite time of Ramadan is the mass boekas (mass iftaars - the time of breaking fast).

It is here when you are brought back to the days of yesteryear my grandmother always told me about. The days of District Six, where everyone got together, regardless of age, race or denomination and broke bread.

While gunshots might ring out during the day, when a mass iftar is announced all the dust settles.

The clouds of judgement and hate fall away as white cloth gets strewn down straight roads leading to infinity. Roads are cordoned off and at this moment, just before the athaan (sound to prayer) can be heard, a silence befalls the streets for those praying.

Neighbours come out of their yards to celebrate this magical time. Men and women can be seen on their prayer mats making salah (prayer) in the road, open, for all to see. The beauty of the salah witnessed is magical, everyone in unison.

Once the mats are folded excitement soon fills the air and brings about a sense of pride and neighbourly love among the people. Children, unable to contain themselves, already seated as hoards of fruit, dates and water are placed on the white clothes.

Humanitarian Aid Organisation Gift of the Givers fed more than 700 people in Heideveld as part of a mass boeka in 2022. File Picture: Facebook

During this period, a small speech is usually given by the local imam or community NGO hosting the mass boeka and then we feast.

Once the fruits, dates and water have been devoured a group of women in full hijab are usually standing on one spot, dishing and handing out food.

The food, still warm, and steaming, being handed out to each and everyone. People just passing would be stopped and served. This sense of love for thy neighbour I have not seen outside of Cape Town and it’s beautiful to witness. Everyone sits, feasts, and talks while laughter fills the streets. The economic adversities these communities face daily are wiped away in this moment.

At the weekend, Wale and Rose streets in Bo Kaap were transformed into a massive dinner table as hundreds of people sat down for the annual “Boeka innie Bo-Kaap”, a mass street iftar. Picture: Leon Lestrade / Independent Newspapers

Police are usually close by to ensure safety but, like any mass boeka, it will end without a hitch and those officers will not be standing empty-handed. As I said, the mass boeka is for everyone.

Earlier this week, the month of Ramadan reached its halfway point, and commonly in Cape Town it’s known as “boeber night”. Boeber is a Cape Malay delicacy and is a sweet, milk drink, made with vermicelli, sago, sugar, and flavoured with cardamom, stick cinnamon, and rose water.

Boeber and/or sweet treats such as biscuits and cakes will be shared in foam containers for those present to take home. Known as your takeaway or known by its colloquial term: barakat.

Leaving a mass boeka, your heart is full, and a sense of community has been instilled again.

So, if you can, join a mass boeka and share in the blessings of Ramadan.

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