Mon, May 29, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Spatial apartheid driving housing protests in Cape Town

By Alice McCool  /  The Guardian, CAPE TOWN

Illustration: Yusha

Glitzy shopping arcades. Fine alfresco dining. A world class aquarium. A recently opened five-star hotel in a grain silo converted by Thomas Heatherwick’s studio, offering guests views of the harbor and Table Mountain through bulging “pillowed glass windows.” Those in the penthouse suite have paid the equivalent of up to US$10,250 per night for the experience, dependent on the season.

This is Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. One of South Africa’s most visited attractions, more than 24 million people flock to the centrally located harbor every year.

However, tourists need not wander far to be met with a grittier scene. Behind Somerset Hospital — a historic public facility in neighboring Green Point that dates back to 1862 — large painted banners emblazoned “Reclaim the City” call for an end of segregation.

“We’re into our second month now,” Sheila Madikane said. “We don’t get rest time, because we are always between meetings, work, the occupation and our homes ... if we have them. Even tonight I have to go back to my children because the electricity has run out. It’s all part of the struggle.”

A domestic worker, Madikane is one of a small group of Cape Town residents who have moved into Helen Bowden Nurses’ Home — a large, disused building which once housed hospital workers. The occupiers are from all over Cape Town, but have one thing in common: lack of access to affordable housing in the city.

According to local non-governmental organization Ndifuna Ukwazi, the average family in Cape Town could spend 300,000 rand (about US$23,310) on a home, but the average sale price is more than three times this at 1 million rand.

It means most working-class households rely on renting, often in crime-ridden areas on the city’s periphery. If they do live in well-located areas, their tenure security is put at risk by gentrification and steep rent increases.

The occupation began at the end of March when the Western Cape Government announced plans to proceed with the sale of the Tafelberg building in nearby Sea Point, despite widespread opposition.

It was deemed controversial in the context of Cape Town’s housing and segregation crisis — particularly because the province had declared the site feasible for social housing back in 2012.

The occupiers are refusing to accept the sale and are demanding commitments from the provincial government to turn similar buildings in the city into social housing. In particular, they are hoping to convince Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.

A political heavyweight within the increasingly popular center-right opposition party the Democratic Alliance, Zille is dealing with a charge from her own party following a series of tweets she wrote suggesting colonialism brought benefits to South Africa.

Now, she is up against a court case over Tafelberg, and Reclaim the City’s demands and “symbolic occupations” of Helen Bowden Nurses’ Home and Woodstock Hospital — both publicly owned buildings earmarked for social housing, which remain abandoned.

At the Helen Bowden Nurses’ Home occupation I meet Reclaim the City supporter Unathi — not her real name. We take a walk around the area, which until recently she called home.

Unathi was born in 1961 in Gugulethu Township in the Cape Flats — an expansive area on the outskirts of the city where the apartheid regime built designated black and colored (the word used in South Africa to describe people of mixed ancestry) townships.

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