CAPE TOWN: Build a city that reflects our history

This is my opinion piece, which appeared in the Cape Times this morning.

Dear WhatsApp Security Group

When I arrived at Simon’s Town, I imagined that I would enjoy friendly neighbourliness. Instead, our WhatsApp security group has brought out the worst in us.

The first time I saw a post about passing “vagrants” I was horrified, because they were not given the benefit of the doubt, even for a moment. They were not men, not homeless people, just a menace. When I dared to post something about not losing our humanity, a neighbour nearly bit my head off. If I “needed to be perceived as” liberal, why didn’t I buy them tickets back to the Eastern Cape? I was apparently starting a ghetto.

Actually, one of the men told me he came from a Boland farm and during the drought he regretted it, because now he was often thirsty. He said that the Grootbaas, pointing to heaven, must know what he was doing, but he didn’t understand it. He was like a child.

I remember my Cape Town childhood, with the flower-sellers in Adderley Street and vendors selling fruit and fish from their horse-carts. I remember District Six alive, and how easy it was to exchange banter in the streets. What bitter irony, now that apartheid has gone, that our city is moving towards more perfect apartheid – and by design. I would have expected far more happy integration by now, with skin colour becoming ever less important.

Instead, I am assaulted by images of families weeping for homes they are losing; still being evicted. Hang your head in shame, Cape Town. What monster could conceive of a place like Wolwerivier, while at the same time the powerful are assisted? It is an open secret that the present authorities have a plan: Cape Town is to become a city for the rich.

Salt River and Woodstock are the District Sixes of the DA. Quaint and beautiful semi-detached homes of working class people are a hallmark of that area, and should be protected for their historical interest. But then, incredibly, not even the Bo-Kaap, our beautiful little Malaysia, was granted heritage status.

Further evidence of the nefarious plan to gentrify the whole of Cape Town is the neglect of the established areas for people of colour.  The on-again off-again promises to develop the hopelessly over-populated Masiphumele is a case in point – it has been dragging on for 15 years since the first promises were made!

On Heritage Day I heard Felicity Purchase talk to people in St Francis Church, Simon’s Town. Most of the people in the packed church had been bussed in from Gugulethu to commemorate the forced removals about 50 years ago. She said, “We should never lose the love we have for each other, even if you have been moved far away.” It was breath-taking hypocrisy. She said that apartheid had been “indefensible” but did not offer a shred of comfort or recompense from the present powers-that-be. She was prepared to exploit the generosity of spirit of the people and not prepared to examine her own behaviour for what was indefensible or lacking in love.

Cape Town was inhabited by the Khoena when Europeans arrived, and its history is one of streams of arrival: from Europe, from further north in Africa, from India, from West Africa and Madagascar, from St Helena, from Indonesia and Malaysia, and all these streams of diverse people, whether they came as servants of a commercial company, slaves or free men and women, built up the city we know today.  Who are we of this generation to decide that it will now be a playground-cum-dormitory for the wealthy of the world? Every one of the groups that were thrown together here should have a space, and our city should be helping them all, but especially those who need it most. Let us build a city that reflects our history, and our post-apartheid heart.

Melanie Steyn
Lecturer, Cornerstone Institute