Slums of Cape Town

Khayletisha Slum Google Images
Khayletisha Slum Google Images

At first glance of Cape Town, South Africa the city looks absolutely beautiful and would seem to have no issues with poverty. This, however, is not the case and there are many problems of poverty and shanty towns in Cape Town, just as there is all over the world. A shanty town is a slum settlement (sometimes illegal or unauthorized) of impoverished people who live in improvised dwellings made from scrap materials: often plywood, corrugated metal and sheets of plastic. Shanty towns, which are usually built on the periphery of cities, often do not have proper sanitation, electricity or telephone services. Shanty towns are mostly found in developing nations, or partially developed nations with an unequal distribution of wealth. Mike Davis explains in Planet of the Slums that there has been a definite rise in the level of slums and a substantial decrease in quality of life amongst many major cities. At its current position it seems as though it could not become much worse though it is expected that by 2030 or 2040 that there should be at least 2 billion slum dwellers. In the 1980’s in Cape Town, Mike Davis explains that, “…the most significant shantytown uprising in world history (the “civics” movement in the black townships), was forced to dismantle the totalitarian system of controls, the Pass Law in 1986, then the Group Areas Act in 1991-that had restricted African urban migration and residence…resulting in metropolitan Cape Town, where the black African population more than tripled.” Davis says that this is becoming a widespread and ubiquitous phenomenon everywhere.

Cape Town Township photo by Daniel Massie (Flickr.com)
Cape Town Township photo by Daniel Massie (Flickr.com)

 

My research of news and scholarly articles reveals that while slum populations are massively undercounted, the slums of Cape Town currently shelter nearly 3 million persons. Characterized by overcrowding, poor and informal housing, minimal transportation and personal safety, inadequate access to safe water and sanitation, and insecurity of tenure, the fast-growing slum districts of Cape Town arose from the pattern of eviction of the poor from the exponential growth of the city and the continuous gentrification of the metropolitan area. Currently Khayelitsha and Nyanga, are two of Cape Town’s poorest African suburbs. Non-neo-liberal policy alternatives have been largely ignored, abandoned or intentionally shut out by the majority of senior decision-makers in the city, making for a self-reinforcing loop of neo-liberal discourse and practice at different levels of government in South Africa. Due to global elites and major decision-makers the African population was banished to suburbs under Apartheid. They bear both the impoverishing effects of the legacy of Apartheid and the failure of the post-Apartheid economy. They are both dependent on the city’s economy and deeply marginalized within it. According to De Swardt in “Urban poverty in Cape Town” Apartheid social engineering, spatial planning and rural-urban migration have created urban sprawl and the expansion of racialized economic geographies. Urban migration from Eastern Cape to Cape Town has been unabated because of increasing levels of monetization and the marginal and underdeveloped nature of agrarian livelihoods. Until recently, this urban edge of the city simply catered to the labor needs of Cape Town’s white population. Now the city has acquired an identity as an economic hub of its own. However, jobs are still scarce and the majority of people live in poverty and are thoroughly incorporated into an urbanized and monetized economy. 

 

Slum, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Theo Scheffler Google Images.
Slum, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Theo Scheffler Google Images.

Unlike Khayelitsha and Nyanga, which are situated on the Cape Flats and separate the wealthy from the lower-class housing, new strategies in 2008 have risen in Cape Town. In her article “Environment and Urbanization”, Charolotte Lemanski points out that while middle-class suburbs traditionally oppose informal settlements because they are perceived as diluting the value of their “elite” area, which is likely to be less of a problem for those barricaded from their poorer neighbors. This means that walls and gates now characterize these fragmented neighborhoods. Furthermore, the “poor” area in this case study is a formal settlement, officially awarded low-cost housing, and thus not an illegal invasion to which wealthier residents can object (Lemanski, 2008). Lemanski points out having low-income housing next to the wealthy or gated-communities is one of the new strategies the national housing department adopted so that they can integrate rich and poor areas. This seems to raise the question whether people prefer to be close but separated by walls or in distant non-gated spaces. This integration is supposed to be beneficial to slum-dwellers but it seems to be further segregating communities by the polarization of the populations. Davis also speaks of "the slow accretion of shantytowns to the shell of the city has been punctuated by storms of poverty and sudden explosions of slum-building."

Lemanski explains some of the opportunities of placing low-income housing next to gated-communities: advantages such as being located in greater proximity to economic opportunities and social facilities, something that is crucial in overcoming the dominance of Apartheid’s spatial legacy. Unfortunately, this has caused a lot of problems within the community. Many slum residents feel as if they are not a part of their own community because they are hidden within the development and few people know that they actually exist. There has been some social and commercial success, but for the most part the elites and slum-dwellers are not happy with the new strategy.

Cape Town Slums in a township. Google Images
Cape Town Slums in a township. Google Images

Over population and development in Cape Town has caused problems with the housing capacity in the community. For example, hospitals and houses for the homeless have had to be relocated in order to accomodate  incoming development. Most Black African residents of Die Bos, which Lemanski studied, have moved to Cape Town from distant and poor rural areas such as the Eastern Cape and only a handful came from local Cape townships. Thus, they were coping with the novelty of city life, as well as the hardships of minimal sanitation facilities, no electricity and irregular employment. African residents had a much longer history in Cape Town, having moved to Westlake almost exclusively from the Cape Flats. According to a demographic consensus in 2001, 47.5 percent were African natives and 3 percent Angolan immigrants, while in the gated communities 49.5 percent were white residents. Although residents lived alongside one another with relative ease, differences in language and political affiliation, predominantly tied to racial identity, severely hindered the potential for cohesion or unity. Thus, the conceptualization of Westlake as a community was hindered and many lower class people were fragmented along the lines of divergent agendas. According to Lemanski this is not very typical of other communities besides Westlake, because the National housing department wanted to test the new strategy first.

Recent news sources document that the rapid urbanization and privatization of Cape Town has produced many challenges for the lower class natives of Cape Town, including inadequate basic infrastructure, low potable water supply, traffic congestion and transportation issues, insufficient waste, and urban violence. Cape Town’s exponential growth and increasing population has put a tremendous amount of pressure on the slum-dwellers of Cape Town. Finally, Davis asserts in the book The Planet of Slums that without access to schools, children become ideal recruits for street gangs and paramilitaries, escalating the urban crime rate and further diminishing the quality of life. Ruthlessly striving to achieve their utopian city, the Capetown State government plans to continue their transformation of Cape Town for the purpose of boosting the economy and turning the city into a financial hub. Many corporations continue to "upgrade" the infrastructure to enhance the environment and improve on the aesthetic beauty of the community. Most of the time these efforts do not include the slum communities, resulting in the many struggles and conflict between slum-dwellers and global elites.

Two epitome videos, one of the slums in Khayelitsha and the other the metropolitian area of Cape Town.