Dear Premier Helen Zille,
My name is Horman Chitonge and I am a professor in the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town. I teach courses in Rethinking Africa’s Development, as well as the Land and Agrarian Question to postgraduates and I write to you now to lend my knowledge to the current debate around the Tafelberg land in Sea Point.
I have recently published new research conducted in the city of Lusaka following an increase in conflicts over urban land there. There are many similarities between the situation studied there and that playing out in Cape Town currently. In fact, these are trends we see across the African continent and central to the discussion is the urban land question in places that have not planned for the poor. Despite this, we have observed that city officials appear to lack awareness of or interest in the problems that our research reveals.
There are two realities that I believe city authorities particularly need to bear in mind. The first is that the issue of land in urban areas is an issue of social justice. People who have nowhere to go also have a claim on city land and if the city does not manage that properly it is going to create all sorts of problems. Most fundamentally, you have to find people somewhere to go. If they are in the city, you cannot just dismiss them. You have to offer them alternatives. Most municipalities are not good at doing that.
Secondly, changing our mindset is very important. Most people, including researchers and academics as well as city officials, think the land question is a rural question. They think that in the urban setting there is no land question, only a housing question. That mindset is very dangerous. There is a big land question in the urban setting especially now that urban growth is proceeding at an accelerated rate across the continent. One of the major questions is around where we settle people. City officials need to change their mindset about land to realize there is a big issue in the cities.
There is need to think about the poor and working-class as part of the city and to allow that they have access because it disadvantages them seriously to be in outer-lying areas far away from major services, markets, and areas of employment. Poor and working-class people spend a lot of money coming into the city and some of the time most of their salary ends up going to transport costs. That is also an issue of social justice: you have the poor who earn less staying far away from work paying almost 75% of their income into transport because we have never thought of them as being part of the city.
The City of Cape Town is currently not adequately addressing this situation. Just going to give the people of Khayelitsha toilets does not solve the problem; the problem is that Cape Town has been designed in a way that does not incorporate the poor who end up on the peripheries. Even where small pieces of land appear where poorer communities could be provided with residence close to the city, we tend to reserve these for future development or redevelopment of the city and to keep the poor outside of the city. But that model does not work. The moment the poor begin to be in larger numbers they will challenge the status quo. Cape Town has not done much in terms of dealing with that problem. We keep blaming the apartheid government, but we need to interrogate what we are doing to redress some of those problems. We cannot just placate here and there – that is not solving things.
Part of resolving this aspect of the urban land question lies in democratizing the process. People should have a say in how land is used. These decisions cannot just be taken bureaucratically in an office in the CBD. Consulting with communities to see what the priorities are is essential and part of what our constitution requires. Fully embracing this, however, in a manner which does not simply re-inforce the interests of the few, means shifting our mindsets. We have to come from the view that the city belongs to all of us, not that the city belongs to some more than others. We need to address that misconception as an urgent issue. If we solve that, then you can build low-cost housing for all kinds of people in the city and you do not zone off according to income. The way the city is currently outlined, the poorer you are the further out you will be, and yet there are spaces available. These spaces are not used because we think “those people don’t deserve to be here” or “if they come here property values will go down”. But that is because we do not realize that the city belongs to them as well. We have to live in a city together. As long as we do not realize that, we will not even use the spaces that are available and could be used for low-cost housing, with the land in Sea Point being a perfect example. Places like this are always earmarked for something else and given to other forms of development which perpetuates the same kind of set up where the poor are pushed to the periphery and those with better income stay separate. That is not healthy and that is not good for social justice.
I fully support the campaign to stop the sale of Tafelberg. For one, we need a city that is inclusive and that is integrated, not a city that is segregated by the level of income you earn. We can build a city where the poor can live close to the rich and if we have a chance like this one where we can develop low-cost housing, that is an opportunity we must not miss. There are all sorts of fears around taking this action, but we have to overcome that and take decisions to build this integrated city. Secondly, this is also a question of justice. This is an opportunity to transform the city. If you give into a private school development you will have the rich people bring their kids there and you will have lost an opportunity to have a more integrated city.
Centre for African Studies
University of Cape Town