Cape Town - Exploring the importance of place in human life, a UWC Honours graduate walked away as one of two winners in the Society of South African Geographers’ Outstanding Honours Research Award for his research around the long-term impact of gentrification for Bo-Kaap residents.
Drawing inspiration from his interest in post-apartheid/colonial cities like Cape Town, Aidan Africa’s research focused on the unique Bo-Kaap Cape Muslim community who remained in the area despite apartheid’s forced removals. His research delved into gentrification and discussed points such as how, in a world where places are increasingly more alike, does one preserve the authenticity that makes places meaningful and unique.
Discussing why he felt connected to his research, Africa said his research not only aligned with his personal interests, but he also felt that the experiences of residents that live in this gentrifying neighbourhood needed to be told.
“The Bo-Kaap gentrification caught my attention and the attention of many others around 2018 when numerous protests took place in the neighbourhood to oppose the gentrification of the area. This naturally caught my attention because this issue was not only geographical but also very political. Thus, it not only aligned with my personal interests, but I also felt strongly that the experiences of residents that live in this gentrifying neighbourhood must emerge foremost,” said Africa.
Highlighting some of the socio-spatial injustices still prevalent in South African cities today, Dr Delia Ah Goo from the Society of South African Geographers’ Outstanding Honours Research Award said while Africa’s research made an important contribution to understanding the negative impacts of gentrification, Africa’s research ticked the boxes that illustrated his research could have a potential impact on society.
“Before getting into anything, it is important to note that the awards are adjudicated by a team of geographers from different universities in South Africa. Each candidate’s research is assessed according to criteria based on the potential impact of the research on society; the publications and presentations flowing from the research, as well as the reports from the examiners. A letter of motivation from each of the candidates, in which they describe their vision as a young geographer in South Africa, is also used in the adjudication of the award. Aidan ticked all these boxes.
“Aidan’s research makes an important contribution to understanding that long-term residents experience the negative impacts of gentrification long before being forced to move. It shows that gentrification not only leads to displacement through rent hikes and evictions, but that it also disrupts the strong connection that people have to a place. This has important implications for policy, as the government needs to find ways in which to protect the long-term residents of gentrifying areas and the heritage and character of their neighbourhoods,” said Ah Goo.
Hoping that his research can illustrate the importance of “place” in human life, Africa added that he hopes his research can reach relevant members of the City Council so that they can understand the disastrous impacts development plans have on local communities.
“There can be no doubt that gentrification is a significant challenge threatening this neighbourhood, its heritage, cultures and people. Issues of housing, safety, crime and others (which are undoubtedly very significant issues) we must also pay attention to how the histories, heritages, cultures and memories of those Bo-Kaap residents who have for generations lived in the area are being eroded under forces of neocolonialism and neoliberalism.
“What I hope is that my research highlights those affective ties that long-standing residents have to not only their physical environment but also, importantly, their socio-cultural environment. I also hope that this research gave some of Bo-Kaap’s long-standing residents a voice to express how gentrification affects their place experiences and sense of place. If I have managed to do this, I will be satisfied. But better yet, I hope it can somehow reach a relevant member of the City Council or a policymaker tasked with realising the development plan of the city so that they may, hopefully, understand the disastrous impacts of this development path on our city’s local communities,” said Africa.