'Disingenuous and backward': Fallout after Zille's 'better to be poor in Langa' comment

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  • In a radio interview, Helen Zille claimed to be poor in Langa is "100, probably 1 000 times better than being poor in many of the townships in the rest of the country".
  • The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance says it is "disingenuous"to compare service delivery in Cape Town with other parts of South Africa "without acknowledging that the perpetuation of apartheid spatial planning is a driver of inequality, poverty, and financial distress in our city and province".
  • When approached for an interview regarding her statement, Zille, in a message, responded: "The facts speak for themselves."

"Disingenuous and backward."

This is how the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance described the comments of DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille who, in an interview, said to be poor in Langa was "100, probably 1 000 times better than being poor in many of the townships in the rest of the country". 

Zille, a former Cape Town mayor and Western Cape premier, in an interview on 702 on Tuesday was responding to a question about the difference in the reality of those who live in the suburbs compared to those who call the city's poorer communities home.  

"People come to the Western Cape absolutely poverty stricken in search of jobs, in search of schools, in search of health facilities that all work. And even if you live in a shack, you're far more likely to have electricity, close access to running water, sewerage and all of those things than people have anywhere else in the country," she told host Clement Manyathela. 

"It's not a matter of conjecture or a matter of speculation as to whether life is better for the poor in the Western Cape. Life is much better for the poor in the Western Cape than it is for poor people in the rest of the country because access to basic services works."  

Manyathela pointed out not all townships and informal settlements were experiencing these governmental responsibilities.

READ | Opposition wants temporary homes for Langa fire victims

Zille argued the "vast majority are, and far more than any other place where poor people congregate in South Africa".

When approached for an interview, Zille, in a message, said: "The facts speak for themselves."

The deputy chairperson of the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, Lester September, told News24 it was "disingenuous" to compare service delivery in Cape Town with other parts of South Africa "without acknowledging that the perpetuation of apartheid spatial planning is a driver of inequality, poverty, and financial distress in our city and province".

He insisted:

The further you travel from Cape Town CBD to the peripheral areas spoken about, the worse the levels of service delivery, poverty, and financial distress. Covid-19 has exposed even more glaring fault lines in our society that politicians and political spin can no longer hide.
      


"It is quite distasteful and backward to try and measure suffering and despair as a means to coat over faults, failings to address the apartheid city…    

"We should be encouraging a more kind and humane response, where it is a disgrace that informal settlements remain as it is, unhygienic degrading cesspools of human suffering 28 years into our democracy."

Bevil Lucas of Reclaim the City, which advocates for what it calls the desegregation of Cape Town, labelled Zille's comments as insensitive and uncompassionate.  


"It is so inhumane to even consider their conditions to be better than other parts of the country. I was in Langa a few minutes ago. If you go through [the streets] towards the Joe Slovo camp, you ask yourself: 'What has changed for these people? What improvement have they seen in post-apartheid South Africa'? There is no evidence of what has improved for working-class and poor communities, especially for those who have been forced to live in informal settlements," he said.

READ | Zille opens assault case after she is 'frog-marched' out of voting station

"What we need to understand is the manner in which particularly the Democratic Alliance over the years as a political party has treated working-class and poor people, with so much disdain, that it begs the question: what type of political party do we have in the administration of our city?"

Zille was among those who have failed to deal with the city's housing crisis, Lucas charged, questioning what inroads she had made during her tenure to deal with the backlog.

Almost 800 people were left destitute after a fire broke out on Saturday in the sprawling neighbourhood of Langa, about 10km outside the city centre. A total of 260 homes were destroyed, according to the City of Cape Town.


Meals and sanitary packs were being handed out to those affected by the blaze by the SA Social Security Agency and Gift of the Givers.

According to the City, 10 chemical toilets were expected to be delivered to the site later this week.

Census data collected in 2011 indicated 58% of Langa's then-17 400 households lived in formal structures, while 67% had access to piped water in their dwelling or yard. A total of 72% of households had access to a flush toilet connected to the public sewer system, 94% of households had their refuse removed at least once a week and 98% of households used electricity for lighting.

At the time, 72% of households had a monthly income of only R3 200 or less.


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