Fortress Cape Town (pt 1)
First in a series of excerpts from my undergraduate thesis on urban planning and development in post-apartheid Cape Town, South Africa.
In South Africa, societal divisions are so overt that they can be viewed quite literally in black and white. Twelve years after the release of Nelson Mandela, the country now faces deep challenges of implementing policies of sustainable, integrated development and planning. Significant challenges also arise within the historic, political and social context of South Africa’s simultaneous transition to democracy and neoliberalization of its economy in the 1990.
Cape Town is situated on the Cape peninsula on the Southern tip of Africa, surrounding to the West by the Atlantic Ocean, and False Bay and the Indian Ocean the East. The Central Business District and affluent neighborhoods are located on the northern-most part of the peninsula. The Cape Flats, home to the majority of the city’s residents lies on the outskirts of the town, consisting mostly of former townships. Nestled between the sea and the mountains, Cape Town is a beautiful city with a rapidly growing tourism sector. But the narrative of Cape Town is much more complex than the tourist brochures make it out to be. This is a city deeply divided by race and class. Spatially, Cape Town is grappling with the legacy of apartheid planning policies.
Heritage Park, at 200 hectares (494 acres) slightly bigger than Monaco, is resolutely middle class. Of 1,500 residents, 1,495 are white. Beyond the fence are three townships, home to tens of thousands of poor black people and coloureds, the term given to those of mixed race. It is a brutal juxtaposition: inside the fence, pastel-coloured two-storey homes in Cape Dutch, English Tudor or Tuscan styles, neatly divided into seven suburbs with names like Beaulieu, Cape Heritage and Tuscana Close. Walk outside the wire and within metres you are in a sea of tin shacks and low-cost government-built houses.
During the period of apartheid, the systematic spatial, social and economic segregation of defined racial groups, cities were the highly contested centers of authority and protest, control and dissent. It was in the cities where power was played out and systems of oppression were most highly managed. 1950 saw the enactment of the Population Registration Act, the compulsory classification of the entire population of South Africa into three main, distinct categories: “Natives‚” or ‚”Bantus‚” (later ‚”Blacks”), “Coloureds” (those of mixed racial background, heavily concentrated in Cape Town) and ‚ÄòWhites.‚Äô Apartheid marked the establishment of a system of ‚Äòracial capitalism,‚Äô where racial oppression and capitalist exploitation came to feed on and reinforce one
For planning policies, the most significant acts of apartheid were seen in the passing in 1950 and enforcement in 1955 of the Group Areas Acts. This series of acts led to total spatial separation of the population groups defined under Population Registration Act, re-ordering already segregated urban areas into distinct hypersegregated apartheid cities. The model apartheid city maintained a white urban center, surrounded by white residential areas, while Africans, Coloureds, and Indians were to live in newly constructed areas beyond the lower income white neighborhoods. Between the different areas set aside for certain groups were mandated ‚Äòbuffer areas‚Äô of open land at least 30 meters wide. The areas claimed for whites were ‚Äòpurified‚Äô of those living there, resulting in the displacement of some tens of thousands of people. In Cape Town, the demolition of former Coloured neighborhood called District Six was the most notorious of the purifications of apartheid. Beginning in 1968, the neighborhood was declared first a slum, and then a future white group area under the Group Areas Act. It was then leveled, leaving a vacant wasteland filled with only a few remnant building. Recent claims on the land have restored ownership to those displaced, but the area remains vacant to this day.
New ghettoes, called ‚Äòtownships,‚Äô were constructed on the fringes of cities to house those displaced. The construction of the townships was rudimentary and reproduced on a massive scale. They were organized into clusters of housing and limited transportation nodes, separated by buffer zones and linked to other areas often through only one or two routes. These housing projects had a distinctive ‚Äòmodernist‚Äô feel, featuring free-standing buildings surrounded by open space as the basic building block. While claiming to be informed by the idea of an ‚Äòurban village,‚Äô townships were really elaborate means of social control. They served to justify massive displacements and were designed to prevent black uprisings. Wide streets and solitary entrances, for example, allowed for military intervention in the township revolts that occurred throughout the 1970‚Äôs and 1980‚Äôs.
Apartheid cities were conceived as being highly ordered spatially, subsequently achieved through massive exercise of political power both coercive and administrative. Pass laws dictated the daily movement of people, and resistance to these laws were tragically marred by violence, such as at Sharpesville Massacre, when police kill 67 anti-pass laws demonstrators. A police state were created in the townships: in 1976 alone, at least 575 people were killed in confrontations between Africans and the police in Soweto and other townships.
Planners during this time period had only marginal control over the policies that were dramatically altering the shape of South Africa‚Äôs cities. Given the wide span of time during which the segregationist policies of apartheid were in place and the expansive variety of experiences across the country, it is difficult to generalize the motives and ideals of apartheid-era planners. Still we can identify two distinct types of planning. Enabling planners worked for segregation and consisted mostly of people who wouldn‚Äôt classify themselves as planners: technocrats, politicians, and civil engineers. They enabled the processes of apartheid to be constructed and continued. Abetted planners, generally composed of those who would identify themselves as planners, dealt with classic planning issues, such as zoning or transportation planning. These planners viewed themselves as apolitical, though because their actions worked in accordance with the apartheid state, they were in essence working to maintain the separatist power structures of the National Party.
Link to the Heritage Development website
Originally presented at the American Planning Association’s National Conference, 2003