OPINION | Brett Herron: Green Point and Greenpoint - A tale of two cities

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The sewage plume at Green Point. Photo: Jean Tresfon
The sewage plume at Green Point. Photo: Jean Tresfon

Two neighbourhoods in Cape Town are world's apart. Brett Herron writes that Green Point and Greenpoint symbolise a significant tear in the fabric of a society and not much is being done to fix up the one area.


Green Point is one of Cape Town's most picturesque and desirable suburbs. The view of lush green parkland surrounding the World Cup stadium, with Signal Hill and Table Mountain as a backdrop, Table Bay lapping at its feet, is among the most iconic images of our so-called Mother City.

Greenpoint, on the other hand, is among the city's most pitiful and under-serviced neighbourhoods. Located in Khayelitsha, sewerage flows through filthy and crumbling streets. Diarrhoea is a leading cause of death in young children. Last week, a toddler died after plunging into an uncovered manhole. Images of this Greenpoint don't appear in tourist brochures.

Separated by just 30 kilometres of asphalt, the two neighbourhoods are worlds apart. One of world-class infrastructure and services; the other the embodiment of under-development, daily struggle and decay. Together they symbolise a significant tear in the fabric of our society, an old tear by apartheid design and since left unattended – one that, left to fray further, threatens the city's sustainability.

A ticking time bomb

Among the greatest benefits of fixing diabolical living environments such as Greenpoint and creating a city in which all residents feel they have a stake will accrue to residents of places such as Green Point where significant property values will be maintained.

Conversely, depriving certain communities of basic rights to shelter, water and safe environments – perhaps to discourage poor people from seeking opportunities in the city – creates a ticking time bomb of injustice and inequality.

But the present city government doesn't see things that way. Instead of prioritising fixing Greenpoint's roads and sprucing up the environment, for example, it is spending R44 million on the temporary upgrading of the roads, lawns and parks in Green Point and surrounding areas in order to host a motor-car race.

READ | Get ready Cape Town: South Africas fastest racing cars are headed your way

When the race is done, the upgrades will be removed and Green Point will be returned to its present pristine shape – while Greenpoint will remain unfit for human habitation.

It's not about depriving Green Point of anything; we have the money to fix our city. It is about where and how we choose to spend it. This is about building infrastructure where it is most needed and about maintaining and repairing infrastructure that is already built.

Immoral spending priorities worsen already cavernous divides in one of the world's most unequal cities. Instead of bridging the fundamental social, economic, environmental and spatial injustices bequeathed by apartheid, they reinforce separation and division.

Failure to fix 

After two-year-old Imthande Swartbooi so tragically drowned in an uncovered Greenpoint sewer last Sunday, his uncle said community members had pleaded with the City for weeks to replace the manhole cover. The City eventually replaced the cover on Sunday night.

The Mayor of Cape Town later turned up at Imthande's home to "pay respect", the same mayor once caught on camera stating that people coming to Cape Town from the Eastern Cape are unable to think for themselves, and bemoaning having to spend ratepayers' money on "them".

WATCH | Cape Town mayor Dan Plato visits family of two-year-old who died in open drain

These are the two cities of privilege and exclusion that a generation of ANC and DA leadership have collectively failed to fix.

Beyond Green Point and Greenpoint, the picture is similarly dire.

Two months ago, 10-year-old Kayden Marco was playing in a children's playpark near his home in Roosendal , Delft. The dilapidated park equipment broke and the metal frame crushed him. Though terribly injured, he was still responsive after the accident – but frantic calls for an ambulance yielded nothing.

Eventually, members of the community took him to the hospital themselves, but he died an hour later. Like the drain cover outside Imthande's house, the state of the play park equipment in Kayden's neighbourhood was reported to the City, but left unrepaired.

It is unthinkable that such events would occur in Durbanville or Rondebosch, but it is not unthinkable in Delft.

Binary choices 

And it's not unthinkable that the City would fail to renew contracts leading to KTC residents' portable toilets left unemptied, or potable water not being delivered to informal settlements or the termination of public transport services to Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain.

The overwhelming majority of Capetonians are decent people who know in their hearts that no human beings should live in sub-human conditions. But they are trapped by what they view as a binary choice between either keeping the dominant party in power or keeping them out.

No-one can be expected to meekly watch their children dying around them – drowning in sewage, succumbing to diarrhoea or being crushed to death by unmaintained play park equipment.

No mother worthy of the title would treat her children so unequally and unfairly. The "Mother City" is thus desperately unworthy of its epithet.

- Brett Herron is the GOOD party's secretary-general, and a member of the Western Cape legislature. 

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