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4 Uncomfortable Truths About Living in Cape Town

Cape Town Student Work
by Jessica Sjouerman Sep 28, 2015

1. Different races continue to live in spatial segregation.

It’s been more than 20 years since Apartheid ended, yet the decades of enforced division is only beginning to be undone. The engineered layout of a whites-only centre at the foot of Table Mountain, surrounded by black and coloured labour forces with minimal points of contact has hardly changed — and a drive along the N2 from the airport to the city will confirm that. Kilometers of corrugated iron roofs extend along either side of the highway, populated mostly by blacks in the townships of Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Nyanga and Langa and coloureds (the South African term for “mixed race”) in Mitchell’s Plain, Lavender Hill and many others.

The view of shacks lining the highway is so striking, in fact, that in the lead-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup the N2 Gateway Project replaced shanty-town shacks on either side of the highway with neat brick houses, deceiving tourists of the kilometers of dilapidated dwellings continuing beyond the façade. Even worse were the forced evictions that occurred because of it, a bitter reminder of savage reallocations during Apartheid.

In 1994, Nelson Mandela launched the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), one of the biggest state housing development projects in the world. But although 3.6 million new homes have been built across the country since then, it may have only fortified racial segregation, as non-whites are still relegated to the outskirts of the city. With well over 200 informal settlements in the Western Cape, the backlog on housing remains unclear. What is evident though is that many black people continue to feel like second-class citizens in Cape Town.

2. Cape Town ranks as the 14th most violent city in the world.

According to Mexico’s Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, Cape Town has 60 homicides per 100,000 people. The list includes countries with the top 50 homicides per 100,000 people, excluding combat zones or cities where information is unavailable. While other South African cities slip further down the list, Cape Town has become progressively more violent. The Mother City crawled up from 34th in 2012, to 27th in 2013, 20th in 2014 and now it’s the 14th. Durban ranked 38th, with 34.48 homicides per 100 000 people, and Nelson Mandela Bay at 35th with 34.89. Johannesburg wasn’t even featured on the top 50 list, having ranked 50th in 2012 but totally dropping off the rankings by 2013. No other African cities ranked in the top 20, supposedly making Cape Town the most violent city in Africa.

This information might be potentially misleading though, as the likelihood of a person being murdered in Cape Town is largely dependent on their gender, age, race, social class and area of residence. According to an analysis of crime hotspots carried out by the Institute of Security Studies, close to two-thirds of homicides occurred in just 10 of the 60 police precincts in Cape Town. The Cape Town regions of Nyanga, Mitchell’s Plain, Harare, Gugulethu and Khayeltisha continue to be the most violent, while regions such as Camps Bay, Rondebosche and Claremont remain below the global average murder rate of 6.9 per 100,000 people.

3. There are more than 130 street and prison gangs here, with larger groups continuously growing and smaller gangs constantly forming.

And there are reportedly more than 100,000 gang members in Cape Town. These numbers are estimates from the early 90s because more recent information is unavailable. Children as young as 10 years old are being recruited and 12-year-olds can often be seen with the motto of the Americans’ gang, “In God We Trust”, tattooed across their chests. Child soldiers are used to courier drugs and handle guns, while 14-year-olds are being arrested on gang-related murder charges.

In the 2013/2014 fiscal year, police confiscated 2,000 firearms, R122 million worth of drugs and 460,000 liters of alcohol. 18% of murders in the Western Cape are gang-related. Thousands are caught in the cross-fire and children in the Cape Flats are often too scared to go to school because of it all. According to a 2014 Institute for Security Studies report, members of certain communities in the Cape Flats are turning to gangs for security instead of the police, because there is so much corruption. It is thought that the relocation and segregation of coloured and black families from the city centre to the Cape Flats provided the conditions for street gangs to thrive in the early 80s, leading to the deeply structured gang units we’re still seeing today.

4. Institutional racism has continued well after the fall of Apartheid.

And two prominent universities in and around Cape Town are igniting a national discussion about it. Issues of racial prejudice and lack of transformation were brought to the fore by movements at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Stellenbosch University (SU) and are suggestive of the broader disparities across South Africa. A conversation around institutional racism was ignited earlier this year when a UCT student threw human excrement over the colonialist statue of Cecil Rhodes, the founder of UCT, on campus. Members of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign insisted that the removal of the statue was symbolic in addressing racial inequalities in the Rainbow Nation. In 2013, only 29% of the student body was comprised of black students and currently there is not a single black female professor at UCT. The statue was finally removed after a month of protest and other statues of white figures have since come under attack.

But institutional racism goes much farther than percentages. A recent documentary called Luister (the Afrikaans word for “Listen”) recounted the racial prejudices black students continue to experience at Stellenbosch University, a formerly whites-only university from where the theories of racial segregation behind Apartheid stemmed, and leaders of Apartheid were produced. Although marketed as a multi-lingual university, some have argued that Afrikaans is used as a tool for exclusion. In the documentary, several students describe being black as a “social burden,” with one student even saying, “It feels wrong to be black.”

“As the testimonies in Luister demonstrate, the culture of Apartheid is alive and well in Stellenbosch,” read a statement by Open Stellenbosch, the movement for transformation at SU. Students continue to march against “Apartheid Stellenbosch,” demanding lectures be provided in English and questioning why racial discrimination has been permitted to last even 21 years into democracy.

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