Cape Malays

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Cape Malays
Kaapse Maleiers
Melayu Cape
Cape Muslims
The National Archives UK - CO 1069-214-85.jpg
Malay bride and bridesmaids in South Africa.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 South Africa
Western Cape, Gauteng
Currently: Afrikaans, South African English
Formerly: Malay until 19th century, Dutch.[1]
Majority: Sunni Islam
Minority: Atheist, Agnostic, Christianity, Irreligion
Related ethnic groups
Javanese, Malays, Indians, Africans, Malagasy, Cape Dutch, Dutch, Cape Coloureds, Bugis

Cape Malays (Afrikaans: Kaapse Maleiers, Malay: Melayu Cape) are an ethnic group or community in South Africa. The name is derived from the former Province of the Cape of Good Hope of South Africa and the people originally from Maritime Southeast Asia, mostly from Netherlands East-Indies (present-day Indonesia)[2] a Dutch colony for several centuries, and Dutch Malacca,[3] which the Dutch held from 1641 – 1824.[4] The community's earliest members were enslaved Javanese transported by the Dutch East India Company.[5] 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.[6] 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.


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.[7] Also, over time, the original Indonesian slaves intermarried with various other groups, including other slaves from South[6] 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.[citation needed] The "Cape Malay" identity was also a subcategory of the "Coloured" category, in the terms of the apartheid-era government's classifications of ethnicity.[8][9] 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 many Asian ports.[6]


Cape Malay samosas, a Cape Malay traditional dish that witnessed a South Asian influence. The Indian influence in the Cape Malay culture is essential due to generations of widespread intermarriage and union between the two communities.

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. 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.

Malay Choir Competition.

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.

Adaptations of traditional foods such as bredie, bobotie, sosaties and koeksisters are staples in many South African homes. Faldela Williams wrote three cookbooks, including The Cape Malay Cookbook, which became instrumental in preserving the cultural traditions of Cape Malay cuisine.[10][11]

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.[citation needed]

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[edit]

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.[12] There is also an increase in the interest of the food, culture and heritage of Cape Malay descendants around the world.[13]


  1. ^ Stell, Gerald (2007). "From Kitaab-Hollandsch to Kitaab-Afrikaans: The evolution of a non-white literary variety at the Cape (1856-1940)" (PDF). Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics. Stellenbosch University. 37. doi:10.5774/37-0-16. Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 May 2016. Retrieved 24 April 2016. 
  2. ^ Vahed, Goolam (13 April 2016). "The Cape Malay:The Quest for 'Malay' Identity in Apartheid South Africa". South African History Online. Retrieved 29 November 2016. 
  3. ^ Winstedt, Richard Olaf (1948). "VI The Dutch at Malacca". Malaya and Its History. London: Hutchinson's University Library. p. 47. Archived from the original on 28 June 2009. 
  4. ^ Wan Hashim Wan Teh (24 November 2009). "Melayu Minoriti dan Diaspora; Penghijrahan dan Jati Diri" [Malay Minorities and Diaspora; Migration and Self Identity] (in Malay). Malay Civilization Seminar 1. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. 
  5. ^ Theal, George McCall (1894). South Africa. New York: G.P. Putman's Sons. p. 35. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  6. ^ a b c "INDIAN SLAVES IN SOUTH AFRICA". Archived from the original on 20 March 2008. Retrieved 2011-11-24. 
  7. ^ "Cape Malay | South African History Online". Retrieved 2013-05-12. 
  8. ^ "Race Classification Board: An appalling 'science'". 2007. Archived from the original on 23 April 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2013. 
  9. ^ Leach, Graham (1987). South Africa: no easy path to peace. Methuen paperback. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-413-15330-2. 
  10. ^ Jackman, Rebecca (28 May 2014). "Cape Malay Cooking Guru Faldela Williams Dies at 62". Cape Town, South Africa: Cape Times. Retrieved 13 November 2016 – via HighBeam Research. (Subscription required (help)). 
  11. ^ Lewis, Esther (27 May 2014). "Faldela Williams lives on in cookbook". Johannesburg, South Africa: IOL. Archived from the original on 13 November 2016. Retrieved 13 November 2016. 
  12. ^ Haron, Muhammed (2005). "Gapena and the Cape Malays: Initiating Connections, Constructing Images" (PDF). SARI: Jurnal Alam dan Tamadun Melayu. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. 23: 47–66. Retrieved 28 November 2016. 
  13. ^ "Cape Malay Samosas with Mint-Cilantro Dipping Sauce". MeyerFoodBlog. Retrieved 2 March 2017. 

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