Mapping neoliberalism

if there is any city in South Africa most suited to be labelled the 'apartheid city', it would be Cape Town.

Ante Hamersmit, via Unsplash.

The recent release of crime statistics by the national Minister of Safety and Security Nathi Mthethwa has reaffirmed Cape Town as the most dangerous city in the country.

Most South Africans, however, still think that Johannesburg and Durban are more dangerous. This is in part because of the effective media machine that is the Democratic Alliance (DA) – a political party so effective in its propaganda that even people who vote for the African National Congress often think that Cape Town is “well run” and its residents better off than throughout the rest of the country.

But it is not only the DA which has bequeathed upon us this perception. The entire discourse of post-Apartheid neoliberalism posits the merits of the ‘liberal’ city of Cape Town. This has always been the city held up as the least suited to Apartheid; the city most adverse to the Afrikaner-dominated National Party; the bright torchbearer for liberalism.

Thus, most South Africans still think that life in Joburg is more treacherous than Cape Town. Middle class whites are terrified of stopping at red robots at night for fear of getting carjacked in Gauteng. Yet one rarely ever hears such horror stories in Cape Town.

And yet, if there is any city in South Africa most suited to be labelled the ‘apartheid city’, it would be Cape Town. The Mother City as we call it has given birth to the most spatially segregated city in the country.

The recent publication of dot maps of South Africa’s racial distribution by Adrian Frith shows how despite the intense segregation in all South African cities, poor black South Africans are most crammed into Cape Town’s ghettos than anywhere else. Viewing the mappings, the extremely high density of shack settlements are most obvious on the Cape Flats, particularly along the N2 Freeway corridor. Khayelitsha, Nyanga and Langa in particular stand out.

And this is not just an accident. Liberalism has engineered it thus. The protection of private property (which is in fact either unused government – and therefore actually public – property or fallow corporate property being kept until it becomes profitable) is most intensely defended in Cape Town.

Not that the monetary value of land in Joburg and Durban does not remain sacrosanct. Both these cities spend millions to evicted land and building occupiers every year. Joburg has the notorious ‘red ants’ and Durban has the Land Invasion Unit. People get evicted from their homes and get punished for being poor and landless all the time.

Yet in Cape Town, evicting poor people has become the most important function of Law Enforcement. The City’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit is the best funded unit in the entire department and it sadly gets its money directly from the housing budget itself.

This explains a lot about the above maps and viewing the city in this way therefore makes it unsurprising that Cape Town remains so violently unequal that people can spend nearly their entire lives without leaving townships such as Mitchells Plain, and why drug addiction and alcoholism are worse here than in other metropolitan areas.

Cape Town’s massive inequality (not only measured purely through income levels) is the primary reason why residents are 1.8 times more likely to be murdered in Cape Town than in Joburg. This according to the most recent police statistics.

Still, because of this massive inequality, not all Cape Town residents are under significant threat. In reality, only those who live in the poorest and most ghettoised areas such as Nyanga, Gugulethu, Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha are at constant risk of being murdered. As the Institute for Security Studies puts it, “almost two-thirds of the Cape Town murders took place in just 10 of the 60 police station precincts”.

If one where to create a similar mapping, but this time map the location of murders in Cape Town, one would be pretty certain it would look quite similar to Adrian Frith’s maps of racial segregation in the City.

If it’s no coincidence that inequality leads to crime and other social blights, then why do people still think that putting more police on the streets will make people safer? Dismantling the apartheid city must be the first step in any real crime fighting initiative.

We can thank Premier Helen Zille for calling for the army to be deployed in Cape townships rather than doing anything to dismantle the legacies of apartheid.

Further Reading

An unfinished project

Christian theology was appropriated to play an integral role in the justifying apartheid’s racist ideology. Black theologians resisted through a theology of the oppressed.

Writing while black

The film adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel ‘Erasure’ leaves little room to explore Black middle-class complicity in commodifying the traumas of Black working-class lives.