Opinionista Dalli Weyers 8 March 2019

Street lights and ward allocations: Discrimination on the basis of race and poverty in the City of Cape Town

An objective look at a map detailing the allocation of public lighting across Cape Town reveals that the allocation is unequal. Poor working-class black and coloured communities are predominantly provided with high-mast spotlights, whether they are formal or informal. Wealthier, predominantly white and coloured communities are provided with street lights on every street. This amounts to discrimination on the basis of race and poverty.

The City of Cape Town’s Design and Management Guidelines for a Safer city (the Guidelines) state that “(g)ood lighting is one of the most effective means of increasing levels of safety and deterring crime”. The Guidelines characterise good lighting, “effective public lighting”, as lighting on poles approximately 3m high and at intervals of 8m to 10m. The Guidelines pointedly state that “high-mast spotlights that cast dark shadows” should be avoided. The City currently places these 40m high high-mast spotlights at 300m intervals.

In Khayelitsha, all formal areas and the vast majority of streets have no street lights. What Khayelitsha has and will continue to get from the City’s capital budget is the high-mast spotlights the apartheid government deemed appropriate for poor working-class black townships.

Public lighting in Khayelitsha, where all formal areas and the vast majority of streets have no street lights.

In the City’s city-wide capital budget for 2018-19, it planned to spend R52.58-million on new street lighting. None of which was intended for Khayelitsha. In the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, the City has indicated it plans to spend R62.5-million on new street lights in 2019-20. None of which is intended for Khayelitsha. For 2020-21 the City plans to spend R65-million on new street lights. None of which is intended for Khayelitsha.

In a report on public lighting in Khayelitsha, made available to the Social Justice Coalition in February 2019, the City states that the only lighting that will be provided to Khayelitsha over the next five financial years will be 33 more high-mast spotlights.

What is abundantly clear is that the City of Cape Town has no intention of remedying the historical and ongoing unjust provision of ineffective public lighting provided to poor working-class black and coloured areas through its city-wide capital budget. Ward councillors at a local level, using their limited ward allocation budgets, however, do.

The Local Government: Municipal Structures Act of 1998 stipulates, in Section 73 (5) (d), that a “municipal council may allocate funds and resources to enable ward committees to … undertake development in their wards”.

The option to allocate funds and allow wards to “undertake development” is not meaningfully expanded on in legislation. Ward allocation projects are to be decided by ward committees which themselves are optional functionaries that only certain municipalities may have.

It would appear that mostly Democratic Alliance (DA) governed municipal councils have decided to give substance to this option by including ward allocations in their budgets.

In 2015-16 the wards covering Khayelitsha spent R727,550 on street lights in their wards. Predominantly coloured wards serving Grassy Park, Ottery and Macassar also spent R182,000 on public lighting. No other ward councillors identified a lack of street or public lighting as an issue that required addressing.

In 2016-17 wards covering Khayelitsha spent another R630,000 on street lights. Ward 40 covering Gugulethu spent R40,000. Ward 84 in Somerset West spent R40,000 on public lighting in Radloff Park which includes a dog park, a croquet club, a squash club and a cricket club and is to be found in a predominantly white middle-class suburb. No other ward councillors identified a lack of street or public lighting as an issue that required addressing.

In 2017-18 wards covering Khayelitsha spent another R1,674,270 on public lighting (R1,349,270 on street lights and R325,000 on high-mast spotlights). Ward 110 covering Grassy Park spent R110,000 on high-mast spotlighting. No other ward councillors identified a lack of street or public lighting as an issue that required addressing.

The fact that ward councillors in Khayelitsha are clearly trying to remedy apartheid-era inequalities and the ongoing provision of apartheid-era high-mast spotlights by the City, by using their limited ward allocations for street lights, undermines the City’s claims of “pro-poor budgets” and problematises ward allocations.

You cannot claim to have a pro-poor budget if you are outsourcing the delivery of basic services in areas that are poor and historically underdeveloped, to be delivered by those same wards that are poor and historically underdeveloped. Doing so merely serves to extend the burden of past injustices into the present, hampering new development in the now and in so doing extending unequal development into the future. In relation to public lighting, this has implications for who gets to be seen, feel safe and be safe.

R12,5-million, or 24%, of the City’s city-wide capital budget for 2018-19 for the installation of street lights (referred to above) was budgeted for street lights in Ward 112 which covers Durbanville. The street lights were specifically for streets in the predominantly white and wealthy Durbanville Hills. In the same budget, Ward 112 indicated that it would spend some of its ward allocations on the upgrading of public open spaces (R50,000), additional mowing of lawns (R50,000), maintenance of pots/plants/shrubs (R20,000) and a rent-a-cop (R220,000).

The expectations of what ward allocations are meant to cover across wards clearly differs. It differs based on the level of services communities received in the past and since. What predominantly white middle-class suburbs have historically taken for granted or see as a given to be provided now, black and coloured poor working-class wards have to try and secure for themselves. This amounts to discrimination on the basis of race and poverty. DM

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