One of the big tasks awaiting mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis and his deputy Eddie Andrews is to restart the stalled spatial transformation process in Cape Town.
Everything – housing policy, budget allocations, transport plans, economic zones and ICT nodes – are all dependant on the mayor and his deputy clarifying their spatial transformation vision and plans upfront.
We are either going to have five more years of the mud cakes and maze-wandering offered by their predecessors Dan Plato and Ian Neilson, or we will have a renewed focus on building a transformed city. Plato and Neilson will go down in history as in being given the opportunity to transform a great city choosing to stick to apartheid-pleasing their base by keeping apartheid spatial designs firmly in place.
Hill-Lewis’s challenge in stating his vision for Cape Town is to reject the binary, equivalency and extremist arguments he will be confronted with.
His predecessors lacked the bravery to confront the racist London-versus-Lagos arguments punted by investors and developers, with London being good for investment and Lagos being bad.
He will be confronted by investors and developers telling him: “Do you want a London or a Lagos? Well, if you want our money, boet, you better give us a London.” At that point, the mayor and his deputy will have their convictions and their courage tested to resist the London versus Lagos cabal. Because those binary, equivalency and extremist views are precisely the immature nature of the vision that has dominated the DA-led administration for the last 15 years that they have governed Cape Town.
Not only are these London v Lagos scenarios deeply racist, but they are also highly immature and unintelligent, unable to see cities in any other format than picket fences, flower boxes and neat traffic lanes. I have seen street parking in Rome and the London tube at peak hour, and it’s chaotic. The problem with embracing spatial transformation is precisely that: we are comfortable with our own known chaos, but we fear the chaos we don’t know.
Research shows that there are at least 66 residential communities within 1km to 10km of the city CBD. To reduce infrastructure costs, those 66 residential communities should be explored for inclusionary housing opportunities.
In about 2002, it happened in the community I live in – where an unused City field was utilised to develop housing for an income group lower than the average income group that lived in the area at the time. Today, no one even remembers it happening. I recall neighbours urging us all to sign objections to the development. We did not. And the community has prospered.
We want a city that works for all the people, not only for some people. The big mistake political parties make is to assume that smiling, dancing people in townships and informal settlements during election campaigning are happy people. They are not. If you haven’t woken up without food or wearable clothes or under a tarpaulin, you will easily mistake that smile or dance for happiness. It’s not. It’s a coping mechanism. It hides deep trauma. And it will snap – one day.
As citizens of Cape Town, we must reject the London v Lagos arguments. We live in an African city called Cape Town. I want my city to celebrate this country and this continent. Our duty is to make this city the greatest place to live in for all who live here.
Cape Town needs a mayor who can restart the spatial transformation dialogues with significant earnestness and intelligence instead of inertia.
If Hill-Lewis has the intelligence and courage to lead this city through the necessary chaos of spatial transformation, he will leave a legacy for future generations on what an inclusive, globally-competitive city should look like, and he will not share in his predecessors’ legacy of ignominy in that they kept apartheid spatial planning alive.
* Lorenzo A Davids.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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