[Urbanstudy] 'End spatial apartheid': why housing activists are occupying Cape Town

Vinay Baindur yanivbin at gmail.com
Sun May 28 11:08:15 CDT 2017


'End spatial apartheid': why housing activists are occupying Cape Town

Desperate for affordable housing, residents of South Africa’s second city
have taken over a nurses’ home and a hospital – and drawn attention to how
the country’s troubled history makes gentrification even more damaging
[image: Residents of Bromwell street in Woodstock protest neighbourhood
evictions at the Biscuit Mill]
of Woodstock protest against evictions and ‘spatial apartheid’. Photograph:
Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp


Alice McCool in Cape Town

Thursday 25 May 2017 07.15 BSTLast modified on Thursday 25 May 2017
15.21 BST

Glitzy shopping arcades. Fine alfresco dining. A world class aquarium. A
recently opened five-star hotel in a grain silo converted by Thomas
Heatherwick’s studio
offering guests views of the harbour and Table Mountain through bulging
“pillowed glass windows”. Those in the penthouse suite have paid
<http://www.theroyalportfolio.com/the-silo/rates/> the equivalent of up to
£8,000 a night for the experience, dependent on the season.

This is Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. One of South Africa’s most visited
attractions, more than 24 million people flock to the centrally located
harbour every year. But tourists needn’t wander far to be met with a
grittier scene. Behind Somerset hospital – a historic public facility in
neighbouring Green point which dates back to 1862 – large painted banners
emblazoned “Reclaim the City” call for an end of segregation.

“We’re into our second month now,” says Sheila Madikane proudly. “We don’t
get rest time, because we are always between meetings, work, the occupation
and our homes … if we have them. Even tonight I have to go back to my
children because the electricity has run out. It’s all part of the

A domestic worker, Madikane is one of a small group of Cape Town residents
who have moved into Helen Bowden nurses’ home – a large, disused building
which once housed hospital workers. The occupiers are from all over Cape
Town, but have one thing in common: lack of access to affordable housing in
the city.

According to <http://nu.org.za/publications/> local NGO Ndifuna Ukwazi
<http://nu.org.za/>, the average family in Cape Town could spend 300,000
rand (around £17,400) on a home, but the average sale price is more than
three times this at 1 million rand. It means most working class households
rely on renting, often in crime-ridden areas on the city’s periphery. And
if they do live in well-located areas, their tenure security is put at risk
by gentrification and steep rent increases.
[image: Thomas Heatherwick-designed Silo hotel, which has recently opened
in Cape Town]
 Heatherwick Studio has converted a grain silo in Cape Town’s Waterfront

The occupation began at the end of March when the Western Cape government
announced plans to proceed with the sale of the Tafelberg building in
nearby Sea Point, despite widespread opposition. It was deemed controversial
the context of Cape Town’s housing and segregation crisis – particularly
because the province had declared the site feasible for social housing back
in 2012.

At the Helen Bowden nurses’ home occupation I meet Reclaim the City
supporter Unathi (not her real name). We take a walk around the area, which
until recently she called home. Unathi was born in 1961 in Gugulethu, a
township in the Cape Flats – an expansive area on the outskirts of the city
where the apartheid regime
designated black and coloured (the word used in South Africa to describe
people of mixed ancestry) townships.The occupiers are refusing to accept
the sale, and are demanding commitments from the provincial government to
turn similar buildings in the city into social housing. In particular, they
are hoping to convince Helen Zille, the premier of Western Cape. A
political heavyweight within the Democratic Alliance
<https://www.da.org.za/> (the increasingly popular centre-right opposition
party), Zille is currently dealing with a charge from her own party
following a series of tweets
<https://twitter.com/helenzille/status/842260539644497921?lang=en> she
wrote suggesting colonialism brought benefits to South Africa. Now, she’s
up against a court case
Tafelberg, and Reclaim the City’s demands
“symbolic occupations” at Helen Bowden nurses’ home and Woodstock hospital
– both publicly owned buildings earmarked for social housing, which remain
[image: Reclaim the City supporters occupy Woodstock Hospital]
 Reclaim the City supporters occupy Woodstock hospital. Photograph: Ashraf

Initially too young to have much awareness of apartheid, she became
interested in political activism as a teenager - around the time of the Soweto
1976. After the regime fell, Unathi could have been a cover girl for social
mobility in the new South Africa. She got a job in Cape Town as a
parliamentary liaison officer, bringing up her children in inner-city
suburbs. “I grew up in the township, but not one of my kids has ever
attended a township school. That was very important for me.” But when she
divorced, Unathi was hospitalised with depression and had to leave work.
Since then, her income has been unstable. Unathi has financial support from
her children who work at the Waterfront, but the prices in the area are
becoming too high.

When you go back to the township after living in a suburb it means you are

She recounts an incident of racism when moving into a new apartment in Sea
Point. “I began moving my things in and the black caretaker said to me, ‘I
don’t think you will stay here because people here are very racist’,” she
explains. After just a few days staying in her new place Unathi met the
tenant’s chairperson in the lift who asked her for information about which
flat she was renting. When she went away for a few days to visit family,
Unathi returned to find new tenants had moved into her flat. With no lease
agreement, she had no choice but remove her things and leave.

Unathi is now back in the Cape Flats in Langa township, where she lives
with her family, including her infant grandson who she cares for most days.
Apartheid spatial patterns repeat themselves here, as people like Unathi
are pushed to the townships, living either in the homes of extended family
(as she is) or in so-called government relocation camps
far from work opportunities and basic services.

Having lived another life she is deeply unhappy in Langa, where gang crime
and sexual violence are a daily occurrence. A group of boys with knives
recently targeted her 14-year-old grandson when she took him to buy school
shoes; not recognising his face they assumed he was in a rival gang.

“We don’t fit in much,” she sighs. “You are called names. When you go back
to the township after living in a suburb it means you are doomed, and you
must live with that.”
[image: Sheila Madikane in her apartment in Sea Point, where she has lived
for 30 years.]
 Sheila Madikane in her apartment in Sea Point, where she has lived for 30
years. Photograph: Alice McCool

The Tafelberg property is located in Sea Point, 10 minutes’ walk along the
coast from the Waterfront. Along the beachfront promenade, toddlers in
pushchairs messily eat ice creams, lycra-clad runners speed past, couples
sit on brightly coloured benches to admire the ocean view. This is where,
for the past 30 years, occupier Sheila Madikane has lived, worked and
raised three children. A desirable district due to its proximity to the sea
and the inner city, Sea Point was reserved as a whites-only zone during
apartheid, like much of central Cape Town.

Today it is considerably more diverse, and despite increased crime in the
90s, it is now one of the most affluent parts of Cape Town. This has given
rise to a different type of violence, occurring not on the streets but in
the homes of working class, non-white people facing forced evictions.
Madikane and her friends live in constant fear of this fate, and she is
currently going through a court case to hold on to her home of 14 years.

“Sea Point has changed a lot. Now it’s become a place for people to go
shopping and go out to restaurants,” explains Madikane as she shows me
around her neighbourhood, full of establishments that she doesn’t have the
time or money to access, she says. “But the place changing doesn’t bother
me. The only thing that bothers me is that they don’t want black and
coloured people to live in the inner city. We want to make the city a mixed
income place where all can stay, but the [Western Cape] government doesn’t
want that. If they did, they would have given us these buildings a long
time ago.”
[image: The Neighbourgoods Market in the Old Biscuit Mill, Woodstock.]
 The Neighbourgoods Market in the Old Biscuit Mill, Woodstock. Photograph:

Like Sea Point and the Waterfront, in the east of the city Woodstock
attracts a steady flow of visitors, though of a slightly different ilk. A
“grey” area under apartheid, it was one of the few central areas black and
coloured people were able to live – but a rise in artist studios and cafes
offering wifi and flat whites has increased property prices, and evictions.
This is a familiar trend in European and American cities, but the history
of Cape Town makes the effects of gentrification even more profound –
before the spacial injustice of the past has been cured, more injustices
are layered on top.

Reclaim the City activist and Woodstock local Charol
<https://www.facebook.com/ReclaimCT/videos/957936377671000/> is a petite,
kind-faced woman who works as a cleaning supervisor. Her family moved to
the area in the 1970s when they – and 60,000 others – were forcibly removed
from District Six
One of the most infamous mass evictions of the apartheid era, the regime
dismantled what was a hugely diverse and culturally rich community in the
inner city.

After the removal, life continued in nearby Woodstock, where Charol and her
family benefited from access to work and good schools. But last year the
bulldozers came – as the did in District Six all those years ago – and she
was forced to leave. Her wooden house was demolished to make way for a
shopping mall.
[image: 1980: Youths clear rubble in District Six where a house was
bulldozed by the government.]
 1980: Youths clear rubble in District Six where a house was bulldozed by
the government. Photograph: Franjola/AP

Woodstock, one of the last remaining central areas where working class
black and coloured communities live, is being fast lost to high-end
property developers and businesses. Yet just a short walk from the train
station lies the Woodstock Hospital building, which until the occupation
was empty since the nineties and was deemed feasible for social
housing as early
as 2002 <http://allafrica.com/stories/201704040313.html>.

But Charol refuses to give up hope. “I grew up in the inner city. My granny
lived in District Six all her life … She fought for her rights, and my mum
after her fought for her rights, so I’m not going to leave my rights
behind. I am still fighting. This land belongs to me because of their
fight.”Meanwhile Charol, unable to afford rent in Woodstock, has been
forced to live in the Cape Flats for the first time in her life. “It is so
far from the city. I have to leave the house at 5am and I don’t get home
till dark, when it’s not safe, and to bed until past midnight,” she says.
Violent crime is rife in Manenberg, the township where she now lives, and
Charol is particularly concerned about the future of her 22-year-old son
Ashley. Having never been in trouble when they lived in Woodstock, after
getting caught up in crime in Manenberg he is serving five years in jail
for stealing a mobile phone.

The racist spatial planning that built Cape Town means without deliberate
attempts to rectify the past, segregation and gentrification continues at
the expense of poorer non-white communities. By law, this shouldn’t be the
case. Formed after the return to freedom in 1994, in section 25 of the
South African constitution it says “there is a positive obligation on our
government to redress land that is legally insecure because of past racial
discriminatory patterns”, explains Chriscy Blouws, a lawyer at Ndifuna
Ukwazi, the NGO coordinating the Reclaim the City campaign.
'Regeneration should be for all': will change in Johannesburg benefit its
poorest residents?

Read more

Blouws says that technically in South Africa
<https://www.theguardian.com/world/southafrica> nobody can be evicted from
their home without a court order – even if the tenant breaches a lease
agreement. Protections like these seek to ensure human dignity and redress
the unlawful dispossession of land that occurred during apartheid. But this
law, which she describes as “a beautiful law, a beautiful right”, is not
being implemented, and the government is “instead using an apartheid style
of governance”.

These are the kind of arguments being made in the NGO’s lawsuit against the
Western Cape government over the Tafelberg case. Using the building for
social housing would be an easy way for the provincial government to
kickstart spatial justice in Cape Town: Tafelberg is publicly owned, has
been officially recommended for social housing (ideal accommodation for the
many domestic workers in Sea Point, like Sheila), and the right laws are in
place to make it happen.

“We should be looking at long-term goals and even the profit you could
eventually get from a mixed income social housing development,” says
Blouws. “Instead, we are selling it off to private property developers so
that we can extract more money from it.
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