Heritage and Housing: How Apartheid infastructure and spacial planning continue to exacerbate the social challenges in Manenberg
In celebrating Heritage Month and Heritage Day, it is important to celebrate how much improvement we have made as a nation, but also what and whom we have seemingly left behind in our journey forward. The Cape Flats is no stranger to the conversation of what government has left behind in its journey to realise true democracy and equality. Manenberg, the birthplace and home of BRAVE, was officially established in 1966 by the Apartheid government for low-income Coloured families in the Cape Flats and District Six. Thirty years after the dawn of democracy, the people of Manenberg have been granted their basic human rights of access to housing, public service delivery and safety and security. However, these rights have not been realised. Manenberg’s community is negatively affected by the Apartheid spatial legacy, like most areas that were deemed ‘non-white’ neighbourhoods under the former government. The spatial conditions of Manenberg – how the homes and streets are organised and structured – plays a large role in providing a fertile ground for gangsterism and drug-related crime which dominates spaces and affects the community members’ everyday life. Part of the Apartheid planning legacy is the large number of wide, open and unstructured a spaces such as fields and long stretches of streets with no street lights. These spaces are currently used as battle grounds between rival gangs.
Most of the public housing in Manenberg was built between the late 60s and early 70s. The housing materials have degraded over the decades, making the living conditions of many residents unsafe. Looking at the houses, one sees makeshift roofs, gates and doors out of various materials like wood, aluminium and plastic. Such ‘macgyvers’ are especially unsafe during Cape Town’s periods of unprecedented stormy weather, as September has shown to be. The public housing consists of 2 or 3 storey flats, with about 46 units per block of flats. The two-bedroom houses are too small, considering the average household size of 5 people. According to the 2011 Census, Manenberg was comprised of just under 62 000 people. This number would have only increased over the last decade, and the City of Cape Town and government at large have failed to meet the needs of the growing population. Many homes are overcrowded, forcing families to extend their 2-bedroom units with additional informal structures, to accommodate backyarders and/or family members.
There is also the issue of the appalling waiting time residents go through to receive the housing promised to them by the State. Housing Assembly, a social movement that seeks to address housing inequality across South Africa, has launched a campaign looking into the housing waiting list. In Manenberg, there are people who have been on the waiting list since 1997 even though there have been three housing developments.
It appears that the housing crisis is a global phenomenon as we battle with inflation and increasing financial gaps between the rich and poor. It is disheartening to see how government fails to keep its promises, a fact one can see the further you travel outwards from the city centre. With elections coming up in 2024, it is important to keep in mind all South Africans, and whether parties are serving all of us as a nation, or a select privileged few. Manenberg is just one community dealing with overcrowding, poor service delivery and degraded infrastructure – issues that need to be addressed urgently. Despite being handed the short end of the stick, the people of Manenberg establish wonderful pockets of safe spaces for one another – something that BRAVE contributes to and works hard to maintain. The perseverance of the human spirit is inspiring, but the strength of the people of Manenberg should not be used as an excuse to ignore their calls for justice. In this last week of Heritage Month, I urge you to think about how and under whose leadership will we address the legacy of our troubled past, so that we may bring all South Africans with on our journey to equality?
by Traci Hurling
The History of the Establishment of Manenberg, Cape Flats: sahistory.org.za/place/manenberg-cape-flats
Manenberg’s Public Investment Framework Draft by Western Cape Government: https://vpuu.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/MANENBERG-PIF-REPORT-COMPRESSED.pdf
Cape Town’s Housing Crisis: https://www.iol.co.za/capeargus/opinion/at-the-heart-of-the-human-crisis-in-cape-town-is-housing-8f1dd4f1-a477-4462-9b6a-c46442866b95
On the Housing Waiting List: https://elitshanews.org.za/2023/04/28/corruption-of-cape-towns-housing-waiting-list-being-investigated/