Poverty by design: Is this the plan for Cape Town?

MyCiTi services connecting Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain to the CBD were brought to a complete halt more than two months ago. There are no signs of the service being reinstated, says the writer. Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

MyCiTi services connecting Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain to the CBD were brought to a complete halt more than two months ago. There are no signs of the service being reinstated, says the writer. Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Aug 18, 2019

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Cape Town - This month, the City of Cape Town cancelled the five affordable housing projects championed by Brett Herron and Patricia de Lille in Woodstock and the CBD.

Last month, the city began to fine the homeless and raised water costs, even though the dams are higher than they have been in the past three years.

In May, it cancelled the MyCiTi services to Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain - a service that has been running since 2014.

Cape Town’s new leaders are entrenching apartheid’s system of poverty by design.

Across the world, city governments ensure the provision of affordable housing in expensive areas - council housing in London, rent-controlled flats in New York and social housing in Australia. It means that more teachers, policemen and other lower- and middle-income earners can afford to live in the communities in which they work.

Like many South Africans, I wanted to believe in the DA, and this is why I volunteered, later joined and worked for the party. I resigned last year when it became clear that the principles of environmental and spatial justice I believe in are not supported by the vast majority of that party.

Shifting factions and priorities within political parties are not new. We all witnessed the rise and eventual takeover of the ANC by the Zuma faction. I concede it was naive not to expect this in other parties also.

In Helen Zille’s autobiography, she warned that National Party members sought to take over the DA, focusing on the Western Cape. A review of the evidence supports her warnings.

After De Lille’s resignation, 20 senior members of the DA elected the following people to lead Cape Town:

* Dan Plato, who joined the National Party in 1990, is now mayor.

* James Vos, the National Party’s former youth leader, was elected to manage all of the city’s land and

buildings.

* Marianne Nieuwoudt and Felicity Purchase, responsible for planning and transport, respectively, are also former National Party politicians.

Zuma’s approach to state capture was to ensure that the critical roles in government were controlled by his faction. In Cape Town, the posts now held by former Nats are the critical leadership positions that one must control to undo the National Party’s apartheid planning legacy.

Apartheid spatial planning worked by evicting residents categorised as African, coloured and Indian from well-located areas and forcing them to live in dormitory townships far from the economic opportunities and social amenities of our cities. Black citizens were thus spatially, socially and economically excluded.

For those fortunate to find work, the long commuting distances resulted in hours of lost family time and very high transport costs. That planning legacy persists today. In some lower income households in Cape Town, as much as 60% of household income is spent on the direct costs of commuting. Poverty, created by design. This is why affordable, reliable public transport to the former apartheid townships is so critical to mitigate the situation we inherited from the National Party.

For five years, MyCiTi services have been connecting Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain to the CBD. These services were brought to a complete halt more than two months ago. There are no signs of the service being reinstated.

Former MyCiTi passengers I have spoken to say they are now spending four to six times more than they were because they are forced to use taxis.

Cape Town is, therefore, neither facilitating affordable public transport to get people to and from work, nor providing affordable housing for them to live closer to work. In other words, the city is perpetuating apartheid division and injustice.

Over the past 10 years, all projects promising the provision of affordable housing in former whites-only areas of the city have been stalled or stopped by the DA. In 2009, development of a suite of sites suitable for spatial integration was halted by the DA. Promised alternative sites never materialised.

The Tafelberg site in Sea Point, earmarked for affordable housing, was instead sold to a private developer in 2015. The Foreshore project, which included hundreds of affordable

flats, was cancelled last year; and

now, this month, five more affordable housing projects, representing thousands of housing opportunities, are being cancelled.

In the 25 years since democracy, not a single affordable home has been built by the government in any well-located part of Cape Town. The selection of the National Party’s former youth leader to oversee Cape Town’s land and properties should have indicated in what direction the city is heading. This week’s cancellation of projects confirms it. The “new” National Party: same people, same tricks, with a slightly darker shade of blue. The clock has been set back.

* Mark Rountree is the national policy officer for GOOD.

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

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