2 June 2015
Attention: Premier of the Western Cape
Re: Submission for the Tafelberg Site in Sea Point to be reserved and developed for affordable housing
I am a cultural manager and curator who has been living and working in Cape Town since 1991. Besides curatorial work focussed on identity and transformation, I have been involved in key strategic interventions to improve the cultural life of Cape Town, including stints developing the Creative Cape Town initiative and the World Design Capital bid and as Manager of Arts and Culture for the City.
My submission on this issue is in support of the Reclaim the City Movement. As a result I will not repeat the compelling reasons the movement has already laid out for the reservation of the site for affordable housing. Instead I wish to make a plea based on the need to address long term societal transformation of South Africa and the importance of a cultural perspective.
The preamble of the South African Consttution is clear about its agenda for justice and societal transformation with our constitution serving to:
- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
- Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
- Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person;
- Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
The White Paper on Arts and Culture confirms this constitutional mandate and speaks to fosterng “social cohesion” in our societies. Social cohesion is defined by the national department of Arts and Culture as “the degree of social integration and inclusion in communities and society at large, and the extent to which mutual solidarity finds expression among individuals and communities.” Social Cohesion is NOT an event, it does not just find expression in a one off carnival or music concert, it requires concious ongoing action from partnerships of government, civil society, academia and business, with government a neccesary, albeit challening, agent for managing the relationships. It takes many years and it takes leadership to make it happen.
Today South Africa is a tortured country as far as race goes, there are more incidents and reports of racist action than ever. We are far from a non racial and open society we wish to be, because our projects of transformation have failed, Campaigns that speak to non racism have no value if they are not backed by action. But sadly we are a society that is as unequal as it was before April 1994 economically, socially and spatially. We have failed to understand the power of culture has – not culture as something that is provided by artists, but culture as an active process of making something new out of different and sometimes conflicting elements. This is what the notion of cultural diversity works with.
Good neighborhoods around the world are those where people of diversity – ethnicity, age, religions, and economic class are able to exist comfortably together, to learn from and influence each other. Countries like the United Kingdom and Canada have spearheaded cultural diversity initiatives in neighborhoods and have decades of good practise and positive case studies to draw on and to learn from. Of course there are other examples less planned that show the value of mixed neighborhoods for all involved – India, Denmark, Sweden, USA and Brazil are just some examples.
Sea Point is a vibrant community today, one of the most special in Cape Town, thanks to a large mix of people from other parts of Africa and Asia making it home. They may be in threat in the future as the area gentrifies, but many are also opening businesses alllowing them to root in this community bringing in the social capital and diverse and positive cultural practices enlivening a once homogenous area.
By not making projects like Tafelberg happen we miss the opportunity to make real the ideals of the constitution and the concept of social cohesion for local people to benefit from this dynamic area. The site provides an opportunity for the Western Cape to show leadership and forward thinking in making a long term positive contribution to societal change on many levels.
For those who may benefit from living in a state funded initiative of social housing, the project creates a potential to be close to work, saving sometimes hours in daily commute, providing the opportunity to engage in more recreational activities with families, to send children to schools and other facilities close to home, to be able to shop for a variety of food in a diversity of shops, to be safe from drugs and gangsterism, and to save money. The value for such people is immediate, howevever over time and in less than a generation oftentimes, this increases the opportunities for generating both financial wealth and social capital for such communities – think Brick Lane in London, where within a generation, blue collar workers have had the opportunity to develop their children into professionals, property owners. The area has new shops owned by the locals who moved in recently and has seen and increase in tourism because of the vibe. Government benefits because over time its rate base is built and a greater number of citizens enter into productive work.
But the value will also captured for the wealthy landowning residents, many of whom are currently against the scheme, much of their concerns driven by fear. South Africans are not confronted by otherness – their domestic workers leave after hours, the clerks they engage with in banks and local government, the young people who attend educational institutions leave once its dark and often cannot afford to take advantage of the city after hours on weekends. By having people from other parts of the City living in and amongst them, white Sea Point residents will slowly begin to recognise not the differences, but the similarities between them and others, they will begin to understand and appreciate the humour, humility, commmunity and beauty of those they once feared. They will by neccesity begin to recognise that just like them, those who were once forced into dormitory suburbs far out of sight are as much proud and productive citizens of Cape Town as they believe they are.
Finally, I wish to have it noted that the sale of government owned land, without recognising the long term value of cultures fundamental role in societal change –to make room for citizens previously denied access to the resources of the city and to use such sites for affordable housing – has many problems associated with it. Symbolically it reinforces the image of the DA as a party of privledge, practically it is shortsighted and does not recognise the value for the City as a whole in making such changes. It prevents people of colour improving their quality of life and has long term negative impacts on the DA’s voter base – both those in areas of wealth and those in challenged areas. If indeed the DA wishes to show the rest of SA it is a model for change through the Western Cape, then it is doing things the wrong way. Selling the land is immoral and shows serious policy and implementation weaknesses, we have enough money in government, what we lack is political will and leadership.
It is time to do the right thing and show leadership.
Make Tafelberg a symbol of hope in a country quickly losing hope.