De Lille’s promise to reverse apartheid design rings hollow

Government has failed to take opportunities to integrate Cape Town

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Photo of Bromwell Street protest
In 2016 Bromwell Street residents marched to The Old Biscuit Mill, a popular upmarket venue, to oppose their evictions. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

This week, Mayor Patricia de Lille announced plans to restructure the city administration in part to “reverse the legacy of apartheid spatial planning”.

De Lille emphasises better services in poor areas and promotes a Transit Orientated Design (TOD) to cut poor people’s commuting times by densifying and investing in public transport nodes.

These are laudable objectives, but they are not new to the City of Cape Town’s policy. For years, De Lille has invoked reversing the legacy of apartheid as central to her government’s aims. But instead of putting Cape Town on a roadmap to integration, she has emphasised parity in service delivery between formerly white suburbs and townships on the periphery, and a plan to make commutes cheaper and less time consuming for poor residents. Such aims do not disrupt the powerful forces that help to replicate apartheid spatial planning today, let alone reverse the design we inherited.

Her administration has failed to recognise the enduring legacy of apartheid city design and its main premise: segregation. The City ignores successive administrations’ failures to address this faltering design, nor does it acknowledge the urgency and remedies we now need.

Last year Reclaim the City campaigned for affordable housing development on inner-city state land and against the eviction and removal of poor residents from the city. Thanks to those organising efforts, many white residents today have a public reminder, one internalized by their black and coloured counterparts, of what apartheid spatial planning was: a city design which reserved the CBD and the best suburbs for whites only. It drew on the Group Areas Act and pass laws for “legitimacy”, found form in the construction of barracks and townships, and depended on tens of thousands of forced removals to townships and deportations to the Bantustans for implementation. The urgency with which the nationalist government realised their (and our) city design was astounding.

The only way to reverse apartheid spatial planning is to bring black and coloured working people back into the city from which they were removed or excluded. Only government, particularly at the local level, has the mandate and mechanisms to do that.

Democratic Alliance control of the City of Cape Town has resulted in the opposite and furthered the segregation which the preceding ANC government failed to redress. Since 1994, not a single affordable housing unit has been built in or near the Cape Town city centre.

In this void of state funded affordable housing, the value of property in the CBD nearly quadrupled during a period roughly coinciding with the first eight years of DA rule. That boom continues to translate into a rent hikes, evictions and forced removals in inner-city suburbs.

Following De Lille’s announcement, Mayco member for Transport and Urban Development Brett Herron spoke this week about the need to find better located land parcels for housing development. In particular, Herron referenced the city centre and social housing as a remedy for displacement because of gentrification. Encouraging as this may seem, it’s worth noting that these are unrealised aims long established in the City’s Spatial Development Framework. Ground has not yet broken on Salt Circle, the City’s flagship social housing development planned for the epicentre of inner city gentrification. It has been stuck in the pipeline for at least nine years.

The City’s housing delivery plans for the immediate future also affirm why we should meet De Lille’s renewed commitment with scepticism. A map of housing developments under construction and planned, created by my colleague Ndifuna Ukwazi researcher Shaun Russell, shows that the City still favours the periphery – leaving the city centre and formerly white suburbs unhindered as exclusive enclaves.

But it is not only on new affordable inner-city housing where De Lille needs to show leadership and urgency. We need a comprehensive new policy to address the crisis of displacement of poor and working class people from the city.

De Lille’s predecessor, former Mayor Helen Zille, oversaw the construction of Cape Town’s largest relocation camp, Blikkiesdorp in Delft, as a catchment for Woodstock evictees to be housed alongside those left homeless by natural disasters. As though the free-market and gentrification are like forces of nature not to be interfered with, a position seemingly held by officials in De Lille’s administration.

The assault on poor black people in areas dominated- and coveted by wealthy, predominantly white, developers and investors emulates the unchecked efficiency of the segregationist planners whom they replaced.

Last week, prominent Sea Point domestic worker and housing activist Thandeka Sisusa, 44, and her family were evicted from a basement room and removed from a neighbourhood in which she had lived since migrating from rural Eastern Cape at the age of 13. This week Reclaim the City gathers in support of a 62 year old coloured woman who faces a similar removal from servant quarters in Sea Point. She has been employed as a live-in servant for the last 40 years, and asked for anonymity in fear of her former employer’s reprisal.

The steady flow of pleas from soon-to-be evicted poor families to the Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre attests that these personal crises and indignities form part of a trend. As another life-long Sea Point resident and domestic worker Celina le Hane told me during an interview recently: “We endured the trespass raids on our rooms” - raids by the apartheid security police searching for undocumented overnight visitors - “but we cannot endure this.” Recently widowed, the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements evicted her, along with an HIV positive great-grandchild, from Wynyard Mansions in Sea Point in 2012. At 72, she joins the thousands of daily, working commuters to the city.

Today, a variation of Le Hane’s statement – we endured during apartheid, but we cannot endure this – is true for many families in inner-city neighbourhoods where poor black and coloured people held on to enclaves and homes in spite of the wave of apartheid forced removals all around them. With these evictions, the character of Sea Point, Woodstock, Salt River, Bo-Kaap and lower Walmer Estate changes in ways not dissimilar from what apartheid did to Simonstown and Claremont.

For every black family priced out and removed from the city, many more are permanently excluded from finding accommodation nearer to their places of work and the areas denied to them under the Group Areas Act.

Last year, the crisis came to a head with support for Woodstock’s Bromwell Street residents who face eviction by private developers from lifelong homes. On 31 January they are in the Western Cape High Court to challenge attempts by the De Lille administration, which maintains a hands-off approach to private evictions, to remove them to Wolwerivier – a relocation camp on the city’s rural northern periphery. They demand the provision of temporary alternative accommodation in or near their home community - a right which, their lawyers argue, was confirmed by the Constitutional Court in 2012.

If De Lille is to convince Cape Town citizens to celebrate her plan for tackling apartheid spatial planning, she would do well engage robustly in conversations already ongoing between the City and civil society.

Will she support social housing development on the Tafelberg site in Sea Point? Will her administration continue an expansion of the Wolwerivier relocation camp and purport that Bromwell residents, and by extension other inner-city evictees, be removed to there? Will it help bring an end to forced removals, by providing temporary alternative accommodation for evictees in their home communities and by regulating the land market?

And, will it publicly identify its inner-city land parcels, say which of these it will commit for affordable housing development, and set down a timeline for development?

With answers and urgency, De Lille can instil hope that 2017 will break with her administration’s failed record on addressing the legacy of apartheid spatial planning in Cape Town. Lacking that, the battle lines are drawn anew.

Daneel Knoetze is the Communications Officer at Ndifuna Ukwazi.

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TOPICS:  Government Housing Racism

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