In 1994 when South Africa turned into a democracy, South Africans especially Black residents thought they would be free. Free from the oppression they were right about, but financial freedom still isn’t a reality for many. The perception that the rich have access to and can live in the most beautiful and expensive areas – enjoying the mountain and ocean views, the poor are still located in townships. The current reality though is that if you are able to afford it (irrespective of your color), you are able to own a piece of this paradise. The City of Cape Town, however, seems determined to restructure the spatial development infrastructure through social housing developments they have been proposed.
The City’s five-year plan for human settlements looks at improving the economic and social development for all citizens. The development of Maiden’s Cove is one of the most significant housing projects that the City is working on as they intend to spend millions, to make the inner-city areas more accessible and affordable.
The proposed plan for the Clifton Precinct Development is to build 52 affordable and sustainable residential properties, retail and a hotel space. Many residents, who work on the Atlantic Seaboard, spend over 40% of their salaries on transport to get to work, from the outskirts of the city. If this development received the green light, it would help to bring residents closer to economic opportunities. The Maiden’s Cove project is one of the proposed projects that aim to make Cape Town a truly inclusive city, in the right sense, by undoing apartheid spatial planning. Residents, who will be able to benefit from this proposed development, will be able to save or spend money on improving their lives and those of their families.
The City has long acknowledged the issue that spatial segregation also affects the economic development of poor communities. People who are poor tend to live far from jobs and are excluded from well-located land. High commuting costs and lengthy travel times affects households, reducing the time families spend together, affecting health, children’s development and the social fabric of communities. Together, these act to perpetuate economic inequality, creating areas of concentrated poverty with higher barriers to accessing opportunities.
The City has committed to right the wrongs of the past but can only do so if all role-players are on board. Having a mindset of ‘social housing not in my backyard (NIMBY) needs to fast change, or we will never make progress and uplift the poorest of our residents. The City has budgeted around R 230 million for social transformation through housing projects. We can only hope that the excruciating reality of poor townships that undoubtedly welcome tourists and investors to Cape Town will soon be history. The City’s vision has included the exploration of the central business district (CBD) and near-inner city areas – for potential subsided and social housing initiatives for low- to medium income-earning residents, in well-located parts of the city.
The public was granted the opportunity to comment on the project. While many were worried about the project blocking the ocean view of residents and tourists- others were questioning the possibility of this initiative benefiting the lower and middle class – as it may be framed. However, what brought disbelief to the community about this action is the fact that private sector developers were given the opportunity to tender for this project. Residents seem to believe that the City will be selling their vacant land to these private contractors when all they will be doing is leasing out portions of the area to sustain and maintain the public infrastructure. After a few years of studying in South Africa, it seems the people of this country are so used to the government disappointing them that anything that appears to be good, will always be titled ‘too good to be true.’
I think, as a young resident, the real change should start with government – right at the top. If there is a government that can be trusted, then residents will be more trusting. The government needs to show that these projects are indeed being done with the poorest of communities in mind and not the politician’s interest.