Is it possible to change the face of the Cape Flats?

By Shabodien Roomany Time of article published Jan 9, 2020

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Cape Town’s spatial and human development really needs revisiting.

After 26 years of democracy, we have failed to shift the population, economic and financial dynamics of the Mother City.

It is pleasing that R14billion will be spent on a small tract of land on the Foreshore for a futuristic hub.

This will create opportunities for many while there is a particular market being catered for.

The point though is that this contributes to the lopsided development of Cape Town - or continued underdevelopment of large parts of our city.

There is still a deep disparity in access to jobs, income distribution and an improved quality of life.

A glance at the population distribution shows that of the approximate 4.5million people in Cape Town, about 2million live on the Cape Flats. Most of them reside “on this side of the railway line”.

A line in the sand points to a geographical region called the Cape Flats which straddles the Table Mountain and Helderberg Mountain ranges. The largest suburbs by far now are Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain.

The Amdec Group's R14 billion Harbour Arch mixed-use precinct. Picture: Supplied

The greater Athlone district and its suburbs follow in terms of population density but have many more public features that serve it than Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain for example. These are the dormitory townships. The labour pool that drives the Cape Town and Western Cape economy lives there.

Then there was the rapid expansion of the northern suburbs referred to in the pre-1994 days as the “boerewors curtain”, beyond which people of colour were allowed only when convenient to the police.

These were large tracts of land owned by the Graaff family, among others. With the establishment of major shopping nodes such as the Tyger Valley Shopping Centre, this opened up huge opportunities.

A new hinterland for those who were in possession of the title deeds of properties that stretched beyond the Durbanville Hills and up the west coast. Huge profits were made as demand for expansion increased and developers created a beautiful, spacious and spatially well-designed economic region that matches the best in the developed world.

A cursory drive through these areas will indicate that only the well-off can live in and frequent these areas. It has vast entertainment and well-maintained sports and leisure areas and the quality of life is above the average. And this is what it should be for everyone.

The same planning and spatial design does not apply to the larger part of the city’s population.

There are a few large shopping nodes that mainly serve the interest of their shareholders than those who live there. There are very few quality features such as well-equipped and managed sports facilities and theatres for the enhancement of culture and music for example.

There is no Artscape, no Baxter Theatre, Cape Town Stadium, no V&A Waterfront, no Two Oceans Marathon or cycle tour, big soccer, cricket and rugby events. These facilities and major events are in privileged areas where easy access is limited to those who have the means.

The larger part of the population would not have the capability of accessing these facilities. And so the Cape Flats remains underdeveloped. The lack of alternatives for those residing in these impoverished areas hastens the rate at which many young people give up hope and turn to crime.

They have no Kelvin Groves or Western Province Sports Clubs where they could belong and develop interests in arts, music and sport from a young age.

There has to be a fundamental shift from a planning point of view. The City should seriously consider a new approach to how it manages Cape Town.

There is ample scope for rethinking spatial planning and a good start would be to provide incentives, such as tax breaks, rent holidays and a massively improved, safe and secure public transport and infrastructure for major players to move into the Cape Flats where they should be headquartered. High rises, hotels and major parks should by now have been dotting the stretch from Muizenberg all along Baden Powell Drive that matches the Atlantic seaboard. Billions should have been spent on Athlone Stadium and not Green Point.

A major relook is needed at the zoning of properties where business rights are offered to current residential owners who could pool their properties and convert them into major hubs.

By now the Klipfontein Corridor on which millions were spent on discussing, thinking and planning should have been a major attraction to investors to develop what may have created new CBDs in areas that would stimulate economic activity on scale.

The Philippi Horticultural Area must remain the breadbasket for Cape Town. It has the potential to adopt the look and feel of regions in Belgium, with farming adding not only to the food security for the area but to create entrepreneurial and job opportunities for thousands. It could become a tourist hub.

The Philippi Horticultural Area must remain the breadbasket for Cape Town. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Unfortunately, maintaining the status quo only allows those who cornered, or inherited wealth and property to continue to benefit. They would be most reluctant to give up this powerful position that they find themselves in. Perhaps rightly so.

No property owner would willingly allow their property to be devalued through voluntarily accepting that other areas be developed so people residing there have an equal chance of having their assets grow in value because of proximity to new commercial, retail and industrial nodes.

This is currently only the preserve of the haves, those who have access to historical wealth and the political and financial clout to call the shots. A closed shop for the elite.

This is not sustainable. Brave political acumen, wisdom and will are required sooner rather than later to address this serious imbalance at all levels.

Sitting on a colonial and imperial governance system and construct, wittingly or unwittingly, controls the lives of the majority and will always benefit the few.

There are many examples of governments taking bold initiatives to grow their nations. Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur and Kigali are some of them.

* Shaboodien Roomanay is ex-headmaster of Islamia College, chairperson of the Muslim Views Board, trustee of the SA Foundation for Islamic Art and founder member - Salt River Heritage Society.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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