[DEBATE] : On Cape Town
eharvey10 at telkomsa.net
Wed Sep 12 16:00:17 BST 2007
I am one of the poor souls! Still a student! So please send me a copy. I
look forward to the book.
From: David McDonald [mailto:dm23 at queensu.ca]
Sent: Wednesday, September 12, 2007 7:48 AM
To: 'debate: SA discussion list '
Subject: [DEBATE] : On Cape Town
A great article Sean. I too, have lived in Obs off-and-on for many years
and it has gotten worse as it gentrifies further. This, of course, reveals
(neo)liberalism for what it really is...sound progressive but act
My book on Cape Town is coming out next month for those interested in
reading further. I've attached the cover info below.
Because it is being published in New York it is quite expensive, but I will
have some copies available for free for people/organizations that cannot
afford to buy it. If you know of a person/organization that you think would
be suitable please send me their mailing details ASAP.
World City Syndrome: Neoliberalism and Inequality in Cape Town
David A McDonald
Routledge, New York, 2007
The literature on world cities has had an enormous influence on urban theory
and practice, with academics and policy makers attempting to understand, and
often strive for, world city status. In this groundbreaking new work, David
A McDonald explores Cape Towns position in this network of global cities
and critically investigates the conceptual value of the world city
In some respects, Cape Town is an ideal world city, reflecting the
service-oriented spatial economies of new global systems of production and
consumption. And yet, the world city framework is an inadequate tool for
understanding uneven capitalist development. Drawing on marxist urban
theory, McDonald argues that Cape Town must be understood as a neoliberal
city, wracked by the socio-spatial inequalities inherent to market-oriented
reforms. Despite the pro-poor rhetoric of local and national government in
post-apartheid South Africa, Cape Town has arguably become the most unequal
city in the world, due in part to a world city syndrome that deepens these
inequalities and plagues its urban planning.
Drawing on more than a dozen years of fieldwork, McDonald provides a
comprehensive overview of the citys institutional and structural reforms,
examining fiscal imbalances, political marginalization, (de)racialization,
privatization and other neoliberal changes. The book concludes with
thoughts on alternative development trajectories.
"This is a theoretically pathbreaking, if politically heartbreaking, account
of post-apartheid Cape Town and the betrayed promises of integration and
equality. It also offers a formidable, often brilliant, overview of the
debate on neoliberalism." -- Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums,
Professor of History, University of California, Irvine.
McDonalds aim of merging his scholarship with the concerns of real people,
struggling over real issues, is impressive. In this book he advances our
understanding of the challenges facing a new Cape Town in a new South Africa
by eloquently exemplifying the sensitivity and insight that sustained
commitment and rich experience on the ground can give rise to. A sobering
but deeply illuminating account. -- John Saul, Professor Emeritus, Social
and Political Science, York University, Canada.
With rigour and precision, McDonald takes apart the neoliberal model that
dominates Cape Towns post-apartheid trajectory. He shows how this so-called
development strategy sets us on the path to increased social, spatial and
economic inequality. But it is really in the alternatives that the book
comes to the fore. Drawing on a sophisticated reading of Marxism in
conversation with Keynesianism, McDonald presents an agenda for reforming
Cape Town that directly challenges the present received wisdom and
foregrounds a raft of eminently sensible strategic counter-hegemonic
interventions. The book is at once compelling as it is intellectually
courageous and builds on McDonalds pioneering theoretical expose on urban
neoliberalism in South Africa. -- Ashwin Desai, Research Fellow,
Institute of Social and Economic Research, Rhodes University, South Africa.
David A McDonald is Associate Professor and Director of Global Development
Studies at Queens University, Canada.
From: debate-bounces at lists.kabissa.org
[mailto:debate-bounces at lists.kabissa.org] On Behalf Of Sean Jacobs
Sent: September 11, 2007 7:16 PM
To: debate at lists.kabissa.org
Subject: [DEBATE] : On Cape Town
[Note: this piece appeared in the Cape Times today, Sept 11, 2007. This
is the version before I sent it to the paper's op-ed page -- Sean]
The Curve was a club on Lower Main Road in Observatory, a neighborhood
with pretensions of being the home of bohemian Cape Town. A strange
place, was how Ntone Edjabe, a DJ whose long sets of Fela-tinged
Afrobeat were the highlight on Saturday nights, described The Curve.
What made it unique, according to Ntone, was that it was,
vibe in a joint owned and frequented by whities who feel there should
be a darkie vibe in their neighbourhood.
By 2001, a multiracial (still mostly white) crew of journalists, NGO
workers, graduate students and émigrés, would gather there for the
regular fix of worldbeats. By then the club had gained so much colour
that whites began to stand out like Cape Town in a post-94 South
But by mid-year the owners were rumoured to be getting uneasy. Ntone
remembers an eventful evening that year when word got to him that Mr
Curve did not like these developments: Only the vibe was supposed to
be darkie, not the crowd. Right before me, he passes his index finger
across his throat in a self-explanatory gesture. For a second Im
tempted to obey the order. Literally. Then my co-DJ steps in and Fela
lives 30 extra minutes. Only until 3 am. The following week the Curve
will host a trance party instead.
I lived in Observatory at the time and was a regular at the Curve. The
gig represented for me what I began to like about the city I barely
tolerated until then (I grew up on the Cape Flats, went to a still very
white University of Cape Town and had also lived briefly in Chicago and
Boston). Unlike most of Johannesburg, on the surface the citys
downtown and nearby suburbs such as Woodstock (well, the section above
Main Road) and Observatory, appeared to be thriving, both during the
day and at night. (This was, of course, before tourist-driven economic
growth or gated markets were at the center of developments projects in
The time felt right (we were mostly in our late 20s and early 30s) and
we rode the wave of a national mood of opportunity, interaction and
upward mobility. The afterglow of liberation and the remarkable
transformation of South Africa was still something to marvel about.
Since 1994 the size and relative wealth of the black elite and what
passed for a middle class had expanded rapidly. And from our vantage
point, this was also happening in parts of Cape Town and its surrounds
where spaces stubbornly reserved for whites, even long after apartheid
had ended, were slowly opening up to multiracial (well, our) crowds.
We were certainly a very political crew (many of our jobs demanded it;
I worked at the Institute for Democracy or Idasa, for example), but
leaving that Tamboerskloof-Observatory stretch would often bring back
the reality at the heart of Cape Town, which visited us only
occasionally in the form of a manager at the Curve.
We understood that our reality, for all its mixing, was an exception in
Cape Town. And still is.
In fact, most of us were aware that many people who might like to party
at places like The Curve would not be able to get there late on a
Saturday night since public transport, as under apartheid, basically
existed (as it does now) in order to ferry large numbers of mainly poor
black people from the townships or inner city to the city center and
the suburbs for work (domestic work, the service economy, office
cleaning, etc) or to do their shopping. One survey reports that 46% of
households in Johannesburg spend more than 10% of their disposable
income on public transport. I cant imagine it being any different for
Cape Town. At any rate, public transport is clearly not about
convenience or leisure.
Bus and train services under apartheid and since 1994despite huge
subsidies (about R5 billion a year)are not designed as a convenient
means to get people around. In fact, a minibus taxi industry, one that
is barely regulated, carries the bulk of the responsibility for public
transport -- it is estimated that the minibus taxi industry carries
more than 65 % of passengers a day.
We also knew (and still do) that the minibus taxi system as it is, is
very lucrative but, more importantly, very precarious: characterized by
unsafe and unlicensed drivers, frequent accidents, violence between
rival operators, and arbitrary change of routes (not much has come from
the states effort to recapitalize -- overhaul the permit system and
replace the broken down fleet of taxis on the road). And that system
basically shuts down at night. If you dont have a private car, you
cant get around.
And if you are spending all your money on transport, are too tired to
go out or dont feel too welcome in the former white suburbs, then the
changes are less that youd enjoy Observatory, Woodstock, or Long and
Kloof Streets in central Cape Town (Unless, you wanted to frequent the
strip-mall parts of the Waterfront with its long line of fast food
joints. But even there, where people ostensibly mix, they dont really
Today, six years after the demise of the Curve, Cape Town sadly still
lacks a coherent local government public transport policy.
So while young, black professionals like my myself and my fellow black
partiers at The Curve -- a very small part of the population -- can
integrate white middle class neighborhoods and parts of downtown, the
same can not be said for larger integration.
And no real changes seem to be in the works. I have not seen any of the
citys more recent plans for a public transport system, but if there is
a stopgap effort, I bet it is linked to the 2010 World Cup. And I
suspect that the security and comfort of visiting fans, rather than
that of local residents, will be a priority of the government and
I now live in Brooklyn, New York, but still regularly visit Cape Town.
My most recent visits were in December last year (for one month) and in
June this year. On this last trip, my younger brother David and I drove
to the township where we grew up. I hadnt done it in a while. I was
struck again by the unemployment, the drug abuse (my brother estimated
that at a troubling number of young people in the street where we grew
up, are using tik). But most of all I was depressed by the housing
crisis. The housing stock has been neglected for a decade or so.
Overcrowding is rife. Shacks and extensions of either plastic, wood or
tin to two-bedroom council houses (built in the 1970s for nuclear
families), are a necessity for families with grown children. Many of my
peers, now married, divorced, or single parents, still live with their
parents through no fault of their own. No new houses have been built.
Certainly the provincial and city governments are aware of the housing
In March this year, for example, the provincial government announced
statistics that would be a scandal in any other democracy. According to
the province, by conservative estimates (an annual growth rate of only
one percent), Cape Town housing backlog was expected to reach 460 000
by 2020. That same report also suggested that if the city spends
R1-billion every year on building houses, the demand for formal
housing would only be met by 2033. Should the city spend half of that
amount every year, the demand for site and services (meaning squatter
camps with a standpipe and electricity supply) would only be met by
2017. Waal [STET] Street also announced that 51 percent of housing
applicants lived in shacks, 31 percent in backyards and 12 percent
shared homes with other people. These peoples positions are made worse
by poverty and unemployment. Of the applicants, 79 percent earned less
than R1 500 per month and 18 percent between R1 500 and R3 500.
Finally, the report noted that 63 percent of applicants listed their
status as unemployed.
City and provincial officials would be quick to point out that they
(well private firms supported by banks) are building plenty of low cost
houses: in Delft, Khayelitsha and near Blue Downs. Anyone with
knowledge of Cape Town and its jobs knows this is a daily commute of
two hours. It is also de facto racial segregation and class-based
apartheid. Apart from privately developed gated communities close to
the city, Cape Town has a habit of expanding existing racial ghettoes.
And the end of apartheid has not stopped this practice. So another
coloured ghetto is built next to an existing one. Another African
ghetto is constructed next to an existing African ghetto. Urban sprawl
appears to be criteria for successful tender. Moreover, what results is
that poverty--manifested by unemployment, bad schools, and
gangsterism---is trapped in the townships far away from the city center
and the op-ed pages of the main newspapers or the talk shows on AM
Radio. (By the way, as my friend Herman Wasserman who is researching
the rise of the tabloids reports that, ironically, they cover the
townships more sensibly than most of the real papers). Its worth
mentioning that police statistics, reportedly, prove that the homicide
rate has dropped in almost all urban areas of the country, except the
Western Cape and are mostly concentrated in these townships.
This month my brother is visiting me in Brooklyn. This has presented
ample opportunity for me to go on about price hikes and service
problems with the public transport system and the broken schools, warn
him about New Yorks overeager police and lament the destruction of
thriving neighborhoods by gentrification.
David instead minds the walking (he misses his car), but cant stop
talking about the use of public space. Watching working class families,
hipsters, professionals and young students, all share the local parks
on weekends, or accompanying my daughter and me to the park daily where
we chat with other families, some of whom live in the nearby housing
projects, he remarks on how this is completely absent in Cape Town.
Sadly, in tackling the real problems of Cape Town, one cant count on
its recent and current political leadership. The ANCs new friends in
business seduce the party (Brett Kebble paid its electricity bills and
disputes over the allocation of tenders appear to drive wedges among
provincial party activists and Nelson Mandelas name gets affixed to
Cecil John Rhodes). Its leadership contests degenerate into ugly
ethnic politicking and the party papers over its deficiencies with
empty slogans (example: Home For All). The Democratic Alliance,
meanwhile, governs (if you can call it that) with a cynical eye on the
mainstream media (which loves press statements and stunts) and the
white suburbs. In doing this, they poorly imitate Nicolas Sarkozy and
Tony Blairs politics by media, for the status quo and in the interests
of the middle and upper middle classes.
Ntone, by the way, kept his creativity intact and now publishes and
edits Chimurenga, a small, but growing literary magazine out of Cape
Town that is gaining props for its off-center takes on postapartheid
South Africa and the continent. Late last year, Ntone decided to do an
issue on Cape Town. The cover of the special issue, except for the
magazines masthead and its slogan (Who no know go know culled from
Fela of course) was pure white. As for the owners of The Curve, they
moved to Johannesburg and opened the Colour Bar. It too closed soon
* Sean Jacobs teaches African Studies at the University of Michigan in
Ann Arbor. He blogs as Leo Africanus. He misses Cape Town whenever he
is not there and sometimes when he is.
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