Category Archives: Cape Town

Daily Maverick: Between frying pan and fire: Cape Town’s shack dwellers

It’s the festive season for all, but for some, who live in close proximity and without electricity, it’s also fire season. In the last week, hundreds of Cape Town people have lost their homes in shack fires, and they won’t be the last. Meanwhile, emergency service delivery is facing challenges of its own. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE.

In just over a week, the latest fire in Kosovo, Cape Town, left 120 people homeless. The chairman of the community leaders’ forum, Lonwabo Jako, blamed the same resident for devastating fires in 2013 and 2014. In Masiphumelele, meanwhile, another 40 homes were destroyed and 110 people left homeless, with the City of Cape Town and a number of NGOs delivering emergency relief. That fire spread after a stove was left unattended. Continue reading

Daily Maverick: Are some Cape Town fires hotter than others?

Last week, the worst fires to hit the Cape Peninsula in many years burnt thousands of hectares of vegetation, took two lives and 13 houses, and saw at least 500 residents evacuated. Capetonians responded with heartwarming displays of community spirit, donating food, drinks, and millions of rand after being moved by the heroism of firefighters – some of whom were unpaid volunteers with day-jobs, and others who are remunerated just R86 per day. The latter firefighters live in areas where devastating fires are more commonplace. By REBECCA DAVIS.

Fires are nothing new to Cape Town, where large stretches of arid vegetation become a tinderbox during the hottest and windiest months of summer. Not since 2000, however, has a fire raged out of control in the manner that it did last week. The story attracted international media attention, likely aided by some incredible and terrifying photographs. Continue reading

Open Democracy: The Cape Town model, state violence and military urbanism

The Cape Town model, state violence and military urbanism

Christopher McMichael, Open Democracy, 5 January 2012

Lead by the pugnacious Helen Zille, the Democratic Alliance is South Africa’s official opposition party and the governing party of the Western Cape, the only one of nine national provinces not under the control of the ruling ANC. Despite recent successes the party has failed to win substantial support among South Africa’s black majority, due to a widespread perception that, notwithstanding its meretricious rhetoric of an ‘ Open Society’, the party remains a bastion of white privilege. Further scepticism has been created by the parties’ aggressively neoliberal policies which propose to reduce the country’s already partial post-apartheid social welfare system . However, the DA is hoping that the increasingly overt internecine fighting with the ANC will alter South Africa’s political landscape to give it a credible chance of becoming the ruling party by the end of the decade. With the ANC beset by corruption scandals, a growing intolerance for political dissent and the seeming inability to robustly tackle growing levels of social inequality, the DA is attempting to position itself as a pragmatic and efficient government in waiting.

Central to the strategy is the promotion of the City of Cape Town as an exemplar of good governance. The DA’s Cape Town manifesto promotes the city as beacon of ‘world class services, order and stability’ (and by extension paints ANC run urban areas as decrepit ‘feral cities’). Notably, in a country where inequality has sustained high levels of violent crime, the DA’s Cape Town model offers humanistic sounding injunctions about improving safety through reducing historical legacies of underdevelopment, poverty reduction and ‘’violence prevention through urban upgrading’’. The DA’s official line on urban safety promises to enrol ordinary people in the improvement of the city through social crime reduction strategies: as one memorable slogan in the recent local election campaign noted "a child in sport, is a child out of court". Notably, the DA claims that its policies are linked by a concern for individual freedom and the limitation of abusive state power.

However, as the last few years have shown much of the self-proclaimed success of this model is in fact contingent on state violence and the perpetuation of a low level social war against the urban poor. Rather than an aberration this betrays a basal authoritarianism within the DA, which views the poor as targets for pacification, containment and ‘warehousing’.

Take for example the saga of the N2 Gateway housing project. In conjunction with the ANC led National government the city has attempted to move thousands of people from the city to Delft. Despite all the talk about meeting housing ‘’backlogs’’, most activists and researchers argue that the construction of ‘beautiful formal housing opportunities’ between the international airport and the city was a pretext for massive forced removals fast tracked ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Indeed, the quality of these housing opportunities was quickly revealed to people who had been moved from shack settlements into the two Temporary Relocation Areas (TRA) associated with the project. The DA managed Symphony Way TRA ( better know as Blikkiesdorp) greeted its new residents with government built corrugated iron shacks, barbed wired fencing, access control by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and regular patrols by apartheid era Casspier armed personal carriers.

The residents of the Symphony Way informal settlement were so unenamoured with the prospect of being forced into a glorified refugee camp that they occupied a nearby road in Delft for 21 months, the longest political action of its kind in South African history. And as the city was continually warned by residents this uprooting of communities has seen Blikkiesdorp invaded by gang related violence. With Blikkiesdorp as its premier dumping ground for unwanted and ‘risky’ populations, the ‘world class’ security of the city is often bought at the expense of creating insecurity on the periphery.

For example, immediately prior to the World Cup last year, hundreds of homeless people were evicted from the areas around the Greenpoint stadium to Blikkiesdorp, a sudden influx of people which seemed to bear all the hallmarks of an orchestrated clean up. The international media had a field day with this story, especially because of the camp's disturbing similarities to the titular zone of exception in the film District 9. However, the DA’s slick press cadres denied that there were any links between this and the upcoming World Cup. Indeed, when conducting research for my PhD, one City spokesperson even told me that they were not even aware of any controversy about the evictions. These denials looked slightly farcical in light of the city's public unveiling of its philanthropic sounding 'Winter Readiness Plan for street people’, which aimed to "rehabilitate" its "participants" by offering vaguely described "activities" which would keep them out of the city bowl. Coincidently, the plan was initiated a month before the World Cup and happened to fit exactly into FIFA imposed by-laws about restricting the visible presence of poverty within host cities. Most tellingly, the plan stressed the importance of ensuring that "our task is to get to people living on the streets before they acquire survival skills on the streets. Once a person survives a winter on the streets it is even more difficult to persuade him to consider getting back home." Using language that wouldn’t be out of place in the control of wild animals, the statement reveals much about the status of the down and out in the eyes of the Cape Town authorities.

The creation of a far flung prison camp, whose architecture serves as a weaponised form of containment is one thing, but the city considerably upped the ante with last year's attempt to evict the residents of Hangberg. As gruellingly recorded in the Uprising of Hangberg documentary the police were clearly told to prepare for war: without provocation the SAPS opened fire with rubber bullets, destroyed homes, beat up schoolchildren. Several residents lost eyes. This shock and awe campaign was undergird by a sophisticated DA strategy of disinformation, in which the press was assured that the police were ‘liberating’ the area from ‘ drug dealers’ and it was falsely claimed that violence had been initiated by the community.

One of the most telling scenes in the film is Zille’s petulant response to the community’s anger about this officially legislated brutality. Surrounded by her police praetorian guard she storms off when the understandably furious community refuses to accept a pious lecture about their own best interests. Among activists Zille has become notorious for this kind of behaviour, with radical community groups who deviate from the official agenda set down in meetings accused of undermining ‘development’ through talking ‘politics’. As seen in Hangberg, this rapidly transmutes into the vilification of protest as ‘criminal’. The DA script entails a division between the ‘deserving poor’ who want development and ‘troublemakers’ who make the cardinal sin of demanding to be engaged in the political process.

The violence at Hangberg was so extreme that containing the negative publicity proved a challenge even for the party’s finely honed techniques of reality management. At a local election meeting this year I saw a normally slick councillor reduced to half-baked evasions when the issue was raised. After mumbling something about a ‘tragic misunderstanding’ his conclusion was "you know how the police get in these situations". While the level of state violence unleashed was perhaps exceptional, this kind of militarised policing is not. As an aspirant ‘World City’, the DA has managed Cape Town by drawing on a transnational repertoire of what Stephen Graham calls the new military urbanism : ‘crowd control’ which aligns ‘non-lethal’ weaponry with hyper aggressive tactics and campaigns of media dissemination. While this is initially tested on groups which the state considers marginal it may quickly become the norm. Indeed, the party’s official security policy reveals an eagerness to rollout such ‘first world security measures’ if in power, from mandatory prison labour to the pre-emptive identification and tracking of ‘potential’ criminals. To this end, Cape Town’s central business district (CBD) has seen the establishment of a CCTV network of Orwellian proportions whose surveillance footprint far exceeds any other city in the country. However, this funnelling of resources into the CBD stands in strong contrast to the epidemic violence in the sprawling Cape Flats to the south east, in which children have exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress comparable to a warzone.

As the party supporters are quick to point out, ANC dominated councils in other cities have engaged in similar actions, from orchestrated attack on the shack-dwellers' movement, Abahlali base Mjondolo in 2009 to last year's dramatic upsurge in recorded cases of police brutality. Indeed, it can be argued that this is a problem which transcends parties as urban authorities’ efforts to create sanitised world class cities fuses with historical legacies of authoritarianism. Despite the troubling developments, post-apartheid South Africa has a vibrant civil society which continually exposes and challenges these abuses. However, the nature of our recent past means that ordinary South Africans must be continually vigilant about the application of state power, especially when this is glossed in a packaged coat of ‘’international best practise’’.

Thus, despite the service it pays to liberal platitudes about an open society, the DA’s approach to Cape Town's ‘peripheral’ areas and populations appears to replicate a governmental strategy of disgusting inequality by force and lashing out at society’s most vulnerable. As Jean Pierre de La Porte has put it, the DA’s Cape Town model is divided into a Manichean “world of orderly haves and embarrassing have-nots, mocking the weak has become acceptable, since their own failure to be prudent and follow the rules has brought their every misfortune upon themselves – the vulnerable are dunces’’. Under Zille’s botox hardened smile lies a ready resort to the fists of iron which fortify this divide.

Mother City to Some: The Story of Housing in Cape Town

Mother City to Some: The Story of Housing in Cape Town

by Mandisi Majavu, SACSIS

Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa. Affectionately known as the ‘mother city’, it is home to about 3,4 million people. Helen Zille recently argued in the Sunday Times that Cape Town is “the least unequal city in South Africa.” The point, however, is that Cape Town is an unequal city – a white city that is not very motherly towards poor people of colour.

A large number of people of colour live in poverty. It is estimated that 400 000 families of colour do not have access to basic services and shelter in Cape Town. For them, prospects for decent housing are extremely limited.

As things stand, the situation is likely to get worse. Research conducted by the HSRC shows that “the estimated housing backlog in Cape Town is between 360 000 and 400 000, and growing at a rate of 16 000–18 000 units per year.” Further, the housing backlog is expected to reach 460 000 by 2020. Commentators point out that the growing housing backlog has the potential to undermine social stability.

To deal with the situation, the City has, amongst other things, introduced a Five Year Housing Plan, which it claims will improve housing conditions for the poor. The Social Housing Foundation, an agency that works in close collaboration with government and supports the development of social housing in South Africa, argues that Cape Town’s housing plan “advocates a wide range of interventions from informal settlement upgrades to the development of formal freehold housing opportunities for residents who have incomes in excess of R3 500 per month and are therefore no longer entitled to state housing subsidies.” Additionally, the plan aims to boost the development of social housing, as well as rejuvenate existing hostel accommodation in order to provide subsidised rental accommodation.

However, NGOs such as the Development Action Group (DAG) argue that the City’s housing plan reinforces and perpetuates “apartheid spatial patterns.” DAG’s argument is informed by the view that the location of the City’s new low cost housing projects is predominantly in black and coloured areas. As far as DAG is concerned, these new projects could be built in historically white suburbs, where “relatively large tracts of open land often are unused.”

In this regard, the NGO raises some pertinent questions, “How does the city justify continued separate housing developments for different race and class groups? What are the impacts of inequality and separate development of Cape Town as a city and a society?”

The ideology behind this separate and unequal development is rooted in neo-liberalism. World famous academic and political geographer, Professor David Harvey, argues that neo-liberalism is a theory of political economy practice based on the view that human wellbeing is best advanced “by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.” Naturally, the role of a neo-liberal city is to create and maintain an institutional framework that is consistent with neo-liberal policies. To this end, the City of Cape Town has adopted an urban development model known as City Improvement Districts (CIDs), which are managed by the public-private partnership, Cape Town Partnership (CPT).

The values underpinning Cape Town’s CID’s are so problematic that the plan has attracted international condemnation. US-based academic, Faranak Miraftab, who works in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois, has written specifically about spatial apartheid in Cape Town. She contends, “The CIDs in Cape Town…restructure urban space to serve the ideal of a world class city integrated into the global economy, at the cost of the city’s social and spatial integration.”

Predictably, the City receives global rewards for its efforts to keep the City segregated, sanitized and a “highly ‘aestheticised commodity’ for global investment and consumption,” she says.

For instance, Cape Town was recently shortlisted for the World Design Capital 2014. The CPT received the news with enthusiasm writing that “we believe that Cape Town possesses many assets that could make it a World Design Capital. From a history of hosting big events like Cape Town’s own internationally acclaimed design event, Design Indaba to the World Economic Forum…”

But organisations that work amongst the poor take a different view. What the CPT statement does not mention is what DAG bears witness to on a daily basis – Cape Town’s highways form “neat impenetrable buffers between predominantly coloured, black and white suburbs (Bonteheuwel, Langa, Athlone, Pinelands…)” We have families of colour who reside in informal settlements being removed to crime infested ‘transitional relocation areas’ on the periphery of the city. And, research shows that 39 percent of all households in Cape Town live below the poverty line.

Moreover, in our neo-liberal world poverty and misery are conveniently turned into commodities for consumption by tourists. Miraftab astutely points out that the City of Cape Town “markets the poverty and stigma of its marginalized communities as exoticism for tourism consumption, in townships tours and coffee table, township picture books.”

Cape Town’s poor communities most certainly do not share in the wealth generated from the city’s massive tourism industry.

It is estimated that tourism generates R14bn per annum for the City of Cape Town. Wealthy people who own land, hotels, restaurants and farms are the main beneficiaries of the revenues generated by the tourism industry. So skewed are the benefits of tourism that just last month Cosatu noted that “the exclusion of workers from the tourism board by the MEC for economics is a further indication of his desire to control this industry in the interest of the owners and at the cost of the workers.”

These social tensions are rooted in Cape Town’s colonial struggle, which “imposed elitist fantasies” that sought to keep the Cape white and disconnected from the rest of Africa – in addition to maintaining a distance from the struggles of people of colour who wished to be treated with dignity and as equals.

Cape Town was considered a white space under the apartheid regime. The apartheid government declared it a ‘Coloured Labour Preference Area’ and black Africans caught without a passbook were deported to the homelands. This colonial encounter continues to play itself out in various ways. As Miraftab points out, “whether and how the tensions will resolve is far from preordained; it remains an open question.”

M&G: Cape traders to be moved ahead of World Cup

Cape traders to be moved ahead of World Cup


Street traders at the Grand Parade in Cape Town have been told to leave the area from May 1 until the end of the Soccer World Cup because of Fifa by-laws that relate to host cities.

“According to the host-city agreement, the city is legally obligated to provide a stadium and a fan-fest area,” said Thembinkosi Siganda, Cape Town’s director of economic and human development.

“After a location analysis the city identified the Grand Parade as a fan-fest area and this was approved by Fifa.”

The fan fest, or fan park, was first seen at the World Cup in Germany in 2006. It’s an area in the host city with big screens, music and a place for fans to watch matches for free.

But “there are currently over 300 informal traders operating at the Grand Parade who will be adversely affected” by the development, said Rosheda Muller, chairperson of the Grand Parade Limited Traders’ Association.

The Grand Parade, the main square in Cape Town, is surrounded by the City Hall, the Castle of Good Hope and the Cape Town railway station, and is currently used as a market place and parking area.

Significant investment

But it will soon be transformed into a fan-fest area where the public can view all 64 World Cup matches on a giant high-definition TV screen.

More than 25 000 people are expected to gather at the public viewing area, said Siganda, adding that there had been “significant investment” in infrastructure.

The city plans on spending about R20-million on lighting, landscaping, payments to the event organisers for operating the fan fest and additional parking bays.

“Although traders won’t be able to trade at the Grand Parade, alternative locations have been prepared for them,” said Siganda.

Heated discussions

“The city wanted to put us at Harrington Square but we refused because it is hidden away,” said Muller.

After heated discussions, new sites have been agreed on.

These include the Drill Hall site, Corporation Street, Lower Plain Street and the Castle, and are being prepared to accommodate all 344 permanent traders.

“These sites are in close proximity … not more than 100m away from the Grand Parade,” said Siganda.

New laws

Street traders were operating under a lease agreement with the city and were required to pay a fee of no more than R80 a month — which goes towards security and cleaning — to one of the five trading organisations that operate at the Grand Parade.

The fee is expected to increase when the traders move to the alternative sites, although this is yet to be finalised.

“There have been suggestions that the fee could add up to R20 to R40 a day but we have to check equity fairness,” said Siganda.

“This won’t be a profit-making fee, but will be reasonable because traders are being inconvenienced.”

Grand Parade Traders have now had their trading leases suspended and have received notice that they are not able to trade in the area. There is also talk of introducing a permit for the traders who would be moved.

“I understand that they [the city] need to bind us to some sort of agreement but I reject the permit system, it is like a dompas [apartheid-era pass],” says Riedewaan Charles, vice-chairperson of the Grand Parade Black Pirates Traders’ Association and internal chairperson of the Grand Parade Forum.

He says he will only agree to the permit if it clearly states that it is for the duration of the World Cup and expires after the tournament.

“What about others that want to trade at the Grand Parade after the World Cup, will they be permitted to without a permit?”

“We also want it written that we will be permitted to return back to the Grand Parade after the World Cup.”

Muller commended the city for the manner in which it had been negotiating with the traders in the last two months, but she said street traders were disturbed that they weren’t consulted earlier, since “the city had plans on being a host city a while ago”.

South Africa was awarded the rights to host the soccer tournament, defeating Morocco and Egypt in 2004.

“The mayor of Cape Town, Helen Zille, signed the host-city agreement in 2006 already but the city only engaged with us a couple of months ago,” said Charles.

Job creators

“We are one of the biggest job creators when people are retrenched, without skills or without degrees; we add great value to the country’s economy but we always get the raw deal,” said Muller.

More than 50% of the traders at Grand Parade are Capetonians, while the rest are from Nigeria, Senegal, Angola and Zimbabwe, among other countries, she said.

While street traders have been promised that they will return to normality after the World Cup, Muller said they want changes to be made.

“We only have a month-to-month lease and we would like to renegotiate this with the city. We need security so that we know that we are secured for the future.”

Street traders have been working at the Grand Parade since the 1800s, according to Charles.