Why Reclaim the City?

Cape Town is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. More than twenty years since the beginning of democracy in South Africa, it remains one of the world’s most unequal and segregated cities. Today, nearly half a million families do not have access to decent housing.

A dot map representation of households according to neighbourhood and race in Cape Town shows how the racial segregation of apartheid continues into the 21st century (Graphic: Adrian Frith)

Apartheid spatial planning still defines most residents’ experience of their city. Every morning, tens of thousands of poor black African and Coloured people embark on long, dangerous and costly commutes to work (or search for work) in and around the Cape Town inner-city. The communities where they are from – ghettoes established by racist urban planners and informal settlements which have sprung up on the urban periphery – experience a scourge of violent crime, substance abuse, overburdened services and unemployment.

Explore: Adrian Frith’s dot map showing racial distribution and segregation in Cape Town

In the inner-city, the prices of homes continue to rise at well above inflation – permanently excluding poor people from accessing housing in the city’s well-located suburbs and near their place of work. 

Wealthy, formerly ‘whites-only’ suburbs remain as exclusive as they were under colonialism and during apartheid. This, while wealthy people encroach and displace poorer families from formerly working class suburbs.

Families who cannot afford increases in rates and rents are evicted and removed to the Cape Flats, in a new wave of relocations from the city. The City of Cape Town government builds relocation camps far from the city, like Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier, to which they take families evicted from their homes in the name of ‘urban regeneration’.

This is not only an injustice meted out on the poorest residents – segregation and urban sprawl hurts our economy, and our society’s prospect for racial reconciliation.

This deepening housing and segregation crisis is not inevitable. It exists in spite of government planning policies and laws which say that the opposite should have happened. The state’s implementation of these policies have been a dismal failure, and private developers have captured the land and property market around our city’s most important economic node – the Cape Town CBD – making it ever more exclusive, white and unaffordable.

Reclaim the City is a movement of Cape Town residents, drawn from across barriers of class and race, who recognise the injustice and pain caused by spatial apartheid in our city. We advocate for state-subsidised, affordable housing development in the inner city, and demand that poor families’ homes and rights to remain near the city are protected.