Looking back at 20 years of democracy, Cape Town has come a long way, yet urban inequality persists. Giving a historical perspective on our progress, Cape Town Partnership programme coordinator Sibusiso Tshabalala says it’s time to replace “bridging the divide” with a bold urban rights-based approach.
By all accounts, 2014 has been “a year of reflection”. And, while the views may be varied, the common refrain this year has been: South Africa is a better place than it was 20 years ago, but more needs to be done to address our most pressing challenges.
From the numerous publications, seminars and conferences marking South Africa’s 20-years since the advent of democracy, through to our fifth national general election: we have taken stock of our challenges and opportunities, and where possible, plotted for the future.
The 2014 State of Cape Town Report is one such initiative that captures the challenges our city faces against the backdrop of a 20-year retrospective view. As the introduction of the report suggests, it aims to “give a real and current sense of the city and its inhabitants”.
The report is a biennial publication – the fifth of its kind – produced by the Strategic Development Information (SDI) and Geographic Information System (GIS) Department of the City of Cape Town. It examines five broad themes – social, economy, natural wealth, urban growth and urban governance – all used as lenses to gauge the progress made and mark the remaining challenges.
Bridging the divide, the panacea to our problems?
It’s not hard to find the catchphrase “bridging the divide” in the report. It has become a hackneyed expression used to point out our reality – we are divided along racial, class, income and gender lines. The other divide, which is perhaps less mentioned, is the urban divide.
The report argues that Cape Town’s urban divide – between rich and poor, as well as between its black and white population – was significantly higher in 1994 than it is in 2014. It offers interesting statistics noting Cape Town as a mainly urban city, with an above national average labour absorption rate, coupled with a growing and diverse population – Cape Town is home to 3 860 589 people (according to Stats SA’s 2013 Midyear Population estimates).
The rationale behind apartheid South Africa’s spatial planning sought not only to separate different races, but to also deprive black, coloured and Indian South Africans of (permanent) access to productive urban nodes. This in turn, made racial integration in living environments impossible, as well as depriving the majority of the population of the right to adequate housing, sanitation, health and education.
Much of post-94 South Africa’s policy on poverty, urban development and planning has focused on granting access to basic amenities in informal settlements and infrastructure where possible. A cursory glance at the policy approaches since 1994 prove this point.
The 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) principally aimed to rapidly address the immense socio-economic problems brought about by apartheid. To do this effectively, the RDP placed a huge emphasis on a massive rollout of housing, electricity, water and sanitation to scores of people who had none such access before. While many have (fairly argued) that the RDP was only a transitionary plan, its success was limited by not arguing for bold interventions like the equitable distribution and use of urban land for housing developments close to, or in city centres, thereby deconstructing apartheid’s spatial legacy.
Two years later, the RDP was replaced with the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) programme, a policy approach that argued that to effectively break down the economic and spatial legacy of apartheid, South Africa had to pursue an economic growth strategy that would favour private sector and foreign direct investment, thereby creating jobs and a fiscal base for government to pursue development and redistribution in favour of the poor.
Fast-forward to 2014, we have the National Development Plan (NDP), which notably makes the shift away from the provision of housing, to the incremental upgrading of human settlements. (As an aside, Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s comments warning poor young South Africans under the age of 40 that they shouldn’t expect a house from government is quite telling.)
Despite these various policy approaches, the patterns of urban and income inequality have not dramatically changed; they are still determined primarily on racial lines. Why is this so?
There is an ongoing (and spirited) debate on why this is the case. One of the most thoughtful approaches in making sense of this is to make the distinction between the bridging of divides and fundamentally restructuring South African society into a just and equitable one.
One could argue that over the past 20 years, South Africa has made major leaps in bridging various divides – as the State of Cape Town Report notes – alongside the massive provision of basic amenities, basic adult literacy has improved and access to primary healthcare is now better enhanced. As desirable as it is, the bridging of these divides has not fundamentally dealt with urban and income inequality.
Thinking of urban equality as a right
Writing on urban inequality, Cape Town-based academics Susan Parnell and Edgar Pieterse, argue that a rights-based approach is a good starting point in addressing urban inequality.
South Africa’s Constitution has a Bill of Rights that guarantees the protection and promotion of socio-economic rights. Over the past 20 years, the Constitutional Court has made interesting rulings compelling government to provide for basic housing, health and education.
Drawn from the work of French philosopher, Henri Levebre, the popular concept of the “right to the city” anchors Parnell and Pieterse’s argument. They argue that similar to acknowledging human rights as universal and binding, the right to the city should be an entrenched human right across all cities in the world.
The Mexico City Right to the City Charter, drawn up in 2010, is a good example of how actionable this could become. The charter includes practical aspects like the equitable distribution and regulation of urban land, and the creation of legal instruments and mechanisms that oppose urban segregation and forced evictions and displacements. Although it remains to be seen how Mexico City has progressed four years down the line, their exercise of a city-wide process to bring together the affluent and the poor is a lesson for Cape Town.
Through the charter, Mexico City was able to move popular public opinion that the eradication of urban inequality is solely the responsibility of government. The charter made the point that all citizens are responsible to create a city that engenders urban equality for all.
Cape Town is best positioned to explore this ideal. This could start by changing how we view urban inequality. Admittedly, government is stretched. It needs to balance the priority of not only dealing with the legacy of the past, but also chart a path for the future.
For some, urban inequality is – like the shacks along Cape Town’s N2 – an eyesore; a “thing” to be dealt with by government by providing the bare minimum services and infrastructure, or better yet, eradicated by evictions.
What would it take for us to view urban inequality as a challenge for us all to plug into?
A new case for urban governance
An interesting focus in the 2014 State of Cape Town Report is the chapter on urban governance. As the report notes, the notion of urban governance is increasingly gaining prominence in cities around the world. This idea is based on the fact that many cities now have expanded mandates. The work of local government is no longer limited to service provision and the enforcement of by-laws alone, it now includes aspects pertaining to human settlements, transport and many other things. Urban governance also involves acknowledging citizens as active agents in the development of the city.
That said, successful urban governance is highly dependent on maximising public participation and shifting the perception of local government as an enforcer of by-laws and regulations to an entity that, through partnership with other stakeholders, steers the urban environment towards inclusive development.
The consolidation of 61 entities, including 19 white local authorities, six local councils, 29 “coloured management committees” and seven “black local authorities” into a “unicity” in 2000, was a key development in setting Cape Town’s framework for urban governance. This consolidation gave birth to what we now know as the City of Cape Town, a post-apartheid metropolitan with diverse sub-councils and 111 wards spread across the metropole.
As the report notes, there are some serious achievements that this move brought about, including: a single Economic Resource Planning (ERP) platform that has reduced costs and improved service delivery; 10 consecutive unqualified audits from the auditor general; and an Aa3 credit rating from the rating agency Moody’s– the highest that a South African municipality can get.
While these achievements are worth noting, the persisting socio-economic challenges tell a different story.
One of the most alarming indicators from the report was the fact that Cape Town had the highest overall crime rate in 2012/13, namely 8 514 per 100 000 people, which is more than double the national crime rate for the same reporting period. Added to this, crime continues to be largely concentrated in the poorer areas of the city.
This year saw the successful end of the Khayelitsha Commission Inquiry into Policing. The commission was tasked to look into allegations of police inefficiency and breakdown in relations between the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the community in Khayelitsha.
Despite the occasional disagreements between the SAPS, the City and the community, the commission was a good test-case on how citizen engagement for a contentious issue like crime can be structured. Through a long-standing campaign by the Social Justice Coalition, the recommendations of the Commission’s report are now being implemented, with nine sub-forums set up to individually tackle pressing safety and crime concerns in the township. This is all being done through the collaborative energy of the SAPS, the Western Cape Provincial Government, the City of Cape Town, and NGOs and CBOs like the Social Justice Coalition.
As the year draws to an end, many of us will look back with much appreciation for what South Africans have achieved over the past 20 years. In the same vein, this appreciation should encourage us all to collectively take responsibility for building a more equitable and just country. And it starts in our cities, the living environments closest to us. DM
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Sibusisos interests lie in understanding how citizen-activism and innovation can help solve the challenges faced by a post-Apartheid city like Cape Town. He is always interested in learning more about the intersection between urbanism and politics. Sibusiso currently works for theCape Town Partnership.
"We spend the first year of a child's life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There's something wrong there." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson