Will segregated residential areas ever be a thing of the past?

2016-03-30 20:36

Exactly 65 years ago, on the 30th March, 1951, with the approval of the British Crown, the Apartheid Government's Group Areas Act commenced in the Cape, Transvaal, and Natal. The law made it unlawful for South Africans to live in a residential area that was not designated for their race group.

This effectively meant that the most developed residential areas would be designated for white people only and other race groups would be dumped in townships such as Gugulethu with the same conditions as the Langa Township established for black people in the 1920s prior to Apartheid. Similar townships for coloured people were established such as Bonteheuwel, Manenberg and Mitchells Plain.

The results of such legislation is what you see in many parts of South Africa today. A few years ago I was invited to a small town in the Western Cape called Riebeek-Kasteel, named after Jan Van Riebeeck, and gave birth to Jan Smuts the 2nd Prime Minister of South Africa and DF Malan, Apartheid's first Prime Minister. Its a beautiful valley but ugly legacy.

In Riebeek-Kasteel you find blacks (all inclusive) living in a Twonship and Whites living in their own leafy part of the town. I spent the night in the nicer part of town. I was there to celebrate a friend's birthday but I could not help observe the arrangement in the town. And I assumed blacks would come to the leafy part of the town for work in the nearby farms then go back to the township where they belong. Or they could be invited by friends to celebrate their birthdays.  The residents may or may not be racist but they live in a society where race to a great extent, decides where your home will be. You can work where white people live, dust your master's jewels but you will never own such jewels nor will you ever be your master's neighbour.

Riebeek-Kasteel may well be compared with Constantia in Cape Town or Kildare Road, Newlands. Racially segregated residential areas are still a feature of post-Apartheid South Africa. Granted you have a few Mamphela Ramphelas who call Camps Bay home but for many, the Gugulethu established by the Apartheid government for Blacks will forever be their home and the current government has continued with development along the established racial lines so Gugulethus, Mitchells Plains have been expanded to keep black homes hidden away from the beautiful picture of Cape Town.

I recall Gogo sharing a story of how she used to walk from her aunt's place in District 6 to work in Town. A walk that took her only 10 minutes. Forcibly removed from District 6, she had to learn to commute to work from Gugulethu where the family had been dumped by DF Malan's Apartheid government. Gogo had fond memories of District Six with a mix of races living in the inner City.

Today, Gogo's children and grandchildren, like her, commute from townships to their workplaces. While many of those who live on ill-gotten land continue to prosper and are opposed to the idea of building say RDP houses at Rondebosch commons. They need that piece of land to walk their dogs and such houses would devalue their property which would be a blessing to many black middle-class people who are kept out of the white residential areas by property prices. A few black millionaires like Mamphela are tolerable, we are reconciled but God forbid we cannot have many black people living amongst us. Sure they can scrub our toilets for a living, for life without pension if needs be but nah we cannot live together because DF Malan was right, the idea of races mixing is just awful.

It is hard to imagine that any of our politicians would actually change this nasty legacy of Apartheid. Premier Zille thinks selling State owned land to private companies for housing development will benefit people with a houshold income of R3 500+ per month which are mainly black (all inclusive). The aim is to bring working-class people back into the inner City. But this is just smoke-screen because as soon as construction starts, prices go up and suddenly applicants are told the minimum household income must be R8 000 or even R10 000. We have had many such projects that were supposedly meant to accommodate those who earn too little to qualify for a bond but too much to qualify for an RDP house. But many remained excluded. Once a private company owns, then they run it, and you know the markets, prices escalate like the Nkandla costs.

So generation upon generation, life in many parts of South Africa will be characterised by racial segregation. Young black professionals may rent in the leafy parts but buying will probably remain an elusive dream. The dream Gogo had of a South Africa where black, coloured, Indian, and White people lived together was destroyed with racial segregation laws such as the Group Areas Act.

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