The city of Cape Town, hosts South Africa’s legislative capital. Recent years have seen the explosion in property development for middle and upper market segments. Twenty-three years into its fledgling democracy, our country is still disabled by apartheid urban planning. We cannot deny the fact that remnants of the Group Areas Act are still with us today. In Cape Town, property development has mushroomed over the last few years, with areas like Woodstock which offer developed infrastructure whereby residents are evicted to areas with crumbling roads and social challenges such as Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier.
On April 18th we were joined by young leaders from the Ndifuna Ukwazi Organization to speak to us about Housing and Communities and the challenges surrounding many citizens in the city of Cape Town. Many poor families are being removed off land into relocation camps, all in the name of urban development. For many poor South Africans, the attraction of the city and the hope for jobs are the reason many of them have migrated to Cape Town. Unfortunately, as a result of exclusionary urban area development, this attraction now remains a distant vision and in fact a geographical misery for many poor families. These relocation camps have been dubbed as temporary solutions for the poor evictees, however they have gradually become a permanent reality and in many cases several kilometres outside the City Centre.
I cannot help but reflect on the development problem of inequality in our country as both a spatial and structural dilemma. The session we had on housing and communities in Cape Town unpacked the uneven development within the spatial structure of the city of Cape Town. Such micro-level spatial inequalities have nurtured polarisation between varying urban spaces and occupants. We all know that this was an agenda significantly driven in the “Apartheid City”, however, I can’t help but feel a sense of nausea as I realize that this still appears in the post-apartheid era, albeit in a relatively altered disguise.
We need to always take cognizance of the fact that South Africa, as a country has come across several social engineering projects, from colonialism, to apartheid to the so-called democratisation, all of which have had fundamental spatial consequences and have regrettably left legacies in the geography of exclusionary development. With that being said, we cannot forget that apartheid’s concept of separate development delayed our country’s development in many aspects: lines were drawn on maps and South Africans were relocated accordingly. Today, we see the implications of apartheids urban spatiality together with the current exclusion of urban development in many South African cities. There is an escalation of violent crime, a loss of identity and belonging and sky high unemployment rates, while private elites enjoy benefits of exclusionary urban developments.
We have all heard of the Post-apartheid image of diverse races embracing a single ‘rainbow nation’, which was vividly used by uTata uNeslon Mandela to encourage unity amongst South Africans in the new democratic dispensation. For many South Africans, this concept together with this so-called “democracy” is a myth glossing over widespread economic inequalities and vast racial divides. Unfortunately, the painful reality is that we live in a country of black poverty amidst white wealth. As the prices of housing increase as a result of urban development, the poor continue to be excluded from even access to housing near the city center. This in fact dampens any likelihood for racial reconciliation amongst South Africans.
I would like to add that, exclusionary urban development is a serious issue that needs to be taken with extreme measures if we are to seriously consider ourselves a fledgling democracy. As South Africans, in order to overcome symbolic exclusionary measures, we need to combat exclusionary mind-sets.