It would be easy to be consumed by Jacob Zuma and the fallacy that is his Presidency, captured by his own self-indulgence and that of the Guptas, but our concern should extend beyond his Presidency and to how we can change the way our cities and communities function. Little has changed over the past decade except that poverty, inequality and the disproportionate allocation of resources has intensified. It would be easy to forget this in the current climate of the bizarre, which has highlighted how misguided, self-indulgent and corrupt leadership can be.
The urban and spatial landscape of our cities should trouble us deeply as should the absence of resources and opportunities in the rural parts of our country. The skewered and deplorable thinking of apartheid planning continues to pervade our urban landscape and this is strikingly noticeable in my home of Cape Town.
After 22 years, Cape Town and other parts of our country remain trapped in the same tired thinking around planning with development for the marginalised taking place on the fringes of our urban landscape and society. Somehow people cling to the idea of “trickle-down” bullshit. Cape Town carries the scars of the forced removals (meted out to my own family and many other families like them) as well as the subjugation of black South Africans.
Despite our tragic history and the shared painful memories, politicians are trapped in a cycle of making bad decisions yet claiming to be focused on addressing the issues of the poor and marginalised. All of this while South Africans remain trapped in an urban landscape that continues to perpetuate the worst kind of design that apartheid was focused on delivering. People remain dispossessed, forced into settlements that do not speak to their best interest and confronted with uncaring, unfocused and self-indulgent politicians and officials, who are only concerned with platitudes and electioneering.
These things matter. Education on its own is not going to transform our societies but rather our human settlements should be redesigned, shaped and configured in such a way that the values of our Constitution and this hard-fought-for democracy are honoured. This is not only the right thing to do but it is essential if we are ever going to confront the demons of our past (and the present).
Only a fool would think that this does not matter. Last week, I had the privilege of talking to a young South African who is pursuing her commitment to shape lives in her community of Mitchells Plain as a teacher. I was left with this haunting remark from her that “gunshots have become the lullabies of so many at night and the alarm clocks of the community the next morning”.
Things have deteriorated and our communities and families are fractured because we as a society and, important, our government have failed to ensure access to opportunities has been made real. These calls are not isolated, they ring true in the communities of Langa, Gugulethu, Manenberg, Heideveld, Kalksteenfontein and far beyond the metro that is Cape Town.
It is not enough for politicians to preach righteously that more money is spent on the poor. In this void, we are forced to see the scars of District Six, the temporary relocation area called Blikkiesdorp that has stood for almost a decade, and the stark contrast of the well-lit Sea Point promenade and the lack of street lighting in Khayelitsha. Yet there are many among us who pretend that these things do not matter or, even worse, exist.
Instead, we need to remind our elected officials that their rhetoric is a paper tiger, which does not fool us, nor does it address the structural reality. All the more reason why the current campaign by organisations like Ndifuna Ukwazi and their Reclaim the City campaign are critical to addressing our broken society.
If we ignore this reality, we will continue to see the shocking contrast of how the stories of Franziska Blöchliger of Tokai and Sinoxolo Mafevuka of Khayelitsha are dealt with. It is not simply about how the story is told but is a serious warning to us all of what our inaction can do and how it destroys hope and the promise of South Africans.
This is not who we are. Cape Town, my home, is broken. It is a city that makes exclusion possible, it is a space which allows commercial interest to dominate the space and it is obsessed with aesthetics instead of focusing on the reality and about forging a path together. We can only pursue a better life if we are compelled to do so with the ultimate goal of really reclaiming the space. This is after all our home. DM