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Cape Malay

Cape Malay
Kaapse Maleiers
Melayu Cape
Cape Muslims
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 South Africa
Western Cape, Gauteng
Currently: Afrikaans, South African English
Formerly: Malay, Javanese, Dutch, Buginese and others.
Majority: Sunni Islam
Minority: Atheist, Agnostic, Christianity, Irreligion
Related ethnic groups
Javanese, Malays, Indians, Africans, Malagasy, Cape Dutch, Dutchmen, Cape Coloureds, Bugis

The Cape Malay (Afrikaans: Kaapse Maleiers, Malay: Melayu Cape) community is an ethnic group or community in South Africa. It derives its name from the former Province of the Cape of Good Hope of South Africa and the people originally from Maritime Southeast Asia, mostly Javanese from modern-day Indonesia (largely speakers of Malayu, hence the name Malay), a Dutch colony for several centuries, and Dutch Malacca,[1] which the Dutch held from 1641 – 1824.[2] The community's earliest members were enslaved Javanese transported by the Dutch East India Company.[3] They were followed by slaves from various other Southeast Asian regions, and political dissidents and Muslim religious leaders who opposed the Dutch presence in what is now Indonesia and were sent into exile. Malays also have significant South Asian (Indian) slave ancestry.[4] Starting in 1654, these resistors were imprisoned or exiled in South Africa by the Dutch East India Company, which founded and used what is now Cape Town as a resupply station for ships travelling between Europe and Asia. They were the group that first introduced Islam to South Africa.


  • Terminology 1
  • Culture 2
  • Demographics 3
  • International relationship 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The Cape Malay identity can be considered the product of a set of histories and communities as much as it is a definition of an ethnic group. Since many Cape Malay people have found their Muslim identity to be more salient than their "Malay" ancestry, people in one situation have been described as "Cape Malay", or "Malays" and in another as Cape Muslim by people both inside and outside of the community.[5] Also, over time, the original Indonesian slaves intermarried with various other groups, including other slaves from South[4] and Southeast Asia, Madagascar, and native African groups.

From the early 1970s to the present, some members of this community – particularly those with a political allegiance to broader liberation movements in South Africa – have identified as "black" in the terms of the Black Consciousness Movement. The "Cape Malay" identity was also a subcategory of the "Coloured" category, in the terms of the apartheid-era government's classifications of ethnicity.[6][7] Like many South Africans, people described in some situations as "Cape Malay" are often the descendants of people from many continents and religions.

The term Malay may have originated from the Malayo-Portuguese language that was a lingua franca in Asian ports.[4]


Malay Choir in District Six
Malay Choir Competition

The founders of this community were the first to bring Islam to South Africa. The community's culture and traditions have also left an impact that is felt to this day. Adaptations of traditional foods such as bredie, bobotie, sosaties and koeksisters are staples in many South African homes. The Muslim community in Cape Town remains large and vibrant. It has expanded greatly beyond those exiles who started the first mosques in South Africa.

People in the Cape Malay community generally speak mostly Afrikaans but also English, or local dialects of the two. They no longer speak the Malay languages and other languages which their ancestors used, although various Malay words and phrases are still employed in daily usage.

This cultural group developed a characteristic 'Cape Malay' music. An interesting secular folk song type, of Dutch origin, is termed the nederlandslied. The language and musical style of this genre reflects the history of South African slavery; it is often described and perceived as 'sad' and 'emotional' in content and context. The nederlandslied shows the influence of the Arabesque (ornamented) style of singing. This style is unique in South Africa, Africa and probably in the world.

Cape Malay music has been of great interest to academics, historians, musicologists, writers and even politicians. The well-known annual Cape Town Minstrel or Carnival street festival is a deep-rooted Cape Malay cultural event; it incorporates the Cape Malay comic song or moppie (often also referred to as ghoema songs). The barrel-shaped drum, called the 'ghoema', is also closely associated with Cape Malay music.


Bo-Kaap, Cape Town's Malay Quarter

It is estimated that there are about 166,000 people in Cape Town who could be described as Cape Malay, and about 10,000 in Johannesburg. The picturesque Malay Quarter of Cape Town is found on Signal Hill, and is called the Bo-Kaap.

Many Cape Malay people also lived in District Six before they, among many other South African people of diverse ethnicity, were forcefully removed from their homes by the apartheid government and redistributed into townships on the Cape Flats. The Claremont Road Mosque, frequented by many Cape Muslims, was an important center of anti-apartheid activity. Islamic scholar Farid Esack is from this community.

International relationship

Connections between Malaysians and South Africans took up when South Africa rejoined the international community. The latter's re-entry was welcomed by Malaysian government and many others in the Southeast Asian region. Non-governmental organisations, such as the Federation of Malaysia Writers’ Associations, have since set on linking up with the diasporic Cape Malay community.[8]


  1. ^ Book Title: Malaya and Its History. Contributors: Sir Richard Winstedt – author. Publisher: Hutchinson's University Library. Place of Publication: London. Publication Year: 1948. CHAPTER VI THE DUTCH AT MALACCA.
  2. ^ Seminar Peradaban Melayu 1: Paper 6, 24 November 2009, by Prof.Abdullah
  3. ^ Theal, George McCall (1894). South Africa (in Sout). New York: G.P. Putman's Sons. p. 35. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  4. ^ a b c "INDIAN SLAVES IN SOUTH AFRICA". Archived from the original on 20 March 2008. Retrieved 2011-11-24. 
  5. ^ "Cape Malay | South African History Online". Retrieved 2013-05-12. 
  6. ^ "Heritage | Memorial". Retrieved 2013-05-12. 
  7. ^ South Africa Today: No Easy Path to Peace – Graham Leach – Google Books. Retrieved 2013-05-12. 
  8. ^ Gapena and the Cape Malays: Initiating Connections, Constructing Images

External links

  • HTML "Multiple communities: Muslims in post-apartheid South Africa Scholarly essay includes history of "Cape Malay" identity.
  • Kramat An early religious leader's legacy remains on Robben Island.
  • Official South African history site Early context for "Cape Malay" community.
  • The Bo-Kaap Museum
  • The Cape Malay Choir Board An umbrella organisation for Cape Malay singing ensembles.
  • "Cape Malay" references A descriptive bibliographic paper examining the contested identity of "Cape Malay."
  • Sparse website with some information about Cape Malay musical instrumentsand music.
  • Masters thesis about the Cape Malays (Norwegian)
  • Cape Mazaar Society
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