This is what a typical night looks like in the Taiwan informal settlement in Khayelitsha, where residents say inadequate lighting is making them vulnerable to criminals. Picture: Jason Boud/ANA Pictures
Cape Town - Township residents on Saturday accused the city of continuing apartheid-era spatial planning practices at a Social Justice Commission (SJC) meeting on their new advocacy campaign for better street lighting in Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Harare and other townships.

Last week, the SJC launched a campaign over the inadequate lighting in the townships, which it said was leaving residents vulnerable to crime and contributing to Cape Town’s status as the murder capital of Africa.

Khayelitsha and other townships still rely on apartheid-era mast lighting that towers about 30m or more in the air and can cast deep shadows in streets and between structures, creating cover for aggravated assaults and other crimes.

The uneven lighting can temporarily blind people who step out of the shadowed areas, SJC researcher Dalli Weyers said, making them easy targets for would-be assailants.

Around the world, mast lighting is primarily used worldwide to illuminate highways. “That’s what the apartheid government deemed appropriate for Khayelitsha," Weyers said.

City guidelines specifically state that high-mast lighting must be avoided because it casts dark shadows. The guidelines state quality lighting is one of the “most effective” measures to deter crime.

Weyers said that while lighting may not seem directly connected to crime, a large portion of the crime in townships occurs between 6pm and 6am, including the hours when people are going to and coming from work.

“Darkness and crime and misdeeds like happening in the dark,” Weyers said.

SJC convened the meeting at their headquarters to answer residents’ questions, hear their concerns and convene a strategy to address their concerns.

A council member and EMS representatives, who have been attacked when responding to emergencies in poorly lit areas, also spoke on the need for better lighting.

The meeting also was to respond to the specific claims the DA made last week about the campaign.

In a statement, mayoral committee member Xanthea Limberg wrote that the city addresses lighting based on the response from the community and that none of Khayelitsha’s community had raised the issue in meetings from the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry.

At the meeting, residents discussed ways of making their demands known. People proposed passing around petitions and holding a symbolic picket at night in a darkened area.

Mandlenkosi Sitonga, manager of one of two of Khayelitsha’s sub-councils, said he had been working on improving lighting for his specific district, reaching out to the directors of electricity, city parks and asset management in an effort to get a comprehensive solution.

But others in the room appeared sceptical of the focus SJC was placing on lighting. They agreed it was important, but questioned how the government drew up development plans that didn’t include lighting and who approved them.

“How do you build houses and parks and streets and sewers and not put in lights?" asked Kagiso Themba, 30, of Khayelitsha.

“Khayelitsha has a mall but the mall does not have lights”, Themba said.

“Is this a continuation of apartheid spatial planning?"

Themba pointed to land reform as the primary issue they should focus on and the occupation of empty, privately-owned land by backyarders in Town Two, Khayelitsha.

Weekend Argus