Cape Town’s make-believe politics

Cape Town’s local politics seems to be getting more and more distressing. Last week the Rondebosch Common, a public plot of open land in the leafy suburb of Rondebosch in Cape Town showed a bit more activity than usual. Cape Town’s city council – run by the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s official opposition with 16 percent of the national vote – and the police cracked down on a proposed “people’s jobs, housing and land summit” entitled Occupy Rondebosch Common. The city police acted in a show of force that even the centrist ‘liberal’ media called excessive, and others compared to Apartheid’s suppression of dissent. The police even sprayed blue dye to disperse the peaceful protest. Around 40 people, mostly women, were arrested on site at the common and chief organizer Mario Wanza of the organization Proudly Manenberg was detained before he could even leave the Cape Flats. Mayor Patricia De Lille (a former trade unionist) was quick to call Wanza and his colleagues “agents of destruction.”

The city claimed the protest was illegal, as the organisers didn’t have permission to gather, allegedly because they turned up late for a meeting with the council.

What was interesting was that the Occupy group, which loosely consists of members of a number of organisations (including the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the small Institute for the Restoration of Aborigines of South Africa (read my post on Hangberg for a primer on postapartheid identity politics in Cape Town) are also using the logo and posters of the United Democratic Front (UDF), a crucial coalition of 400 different organisations that came together in opposition to the apartheid government during the 1980s but was disbanded after the ANC was unbanned. Some are criticizing this as a appropriation of a nostalgic bygone era… but judging by the way the city dealt with the issues, have we truly moved on since then? Cape Town remains one of the most racially and economically segregated cities in South Africa, and there aren’t many signs of things getting better.

A friend of mine was amongst those who were arrested. She said that upon arrival at the police station she was verbally forced by police to sign a statement saying she committed “public violence”, even though she was peaceful and did not resist arrest. The arrestees were detained until around midnight, all day unsure of whether they would have to sleep in the cells. They appeared in court on Monday, where all charges were dropped. Clearly the city was using heavy-handed scare tactics. This is not the first time, as seen recently in the violent clash over housing in Hangberg, Hout Bay, in early 2011 and which I documented in a documentary film.

All this plays out against ample favorable press for the DA, not only at home, but also abroad. Like this breezy article in The New York Times on Lindiwe Mazibuko, the DA’s first black leader in parliament. The article never mentions what Mazibuko’s actual politics and views are, besides the homily that government “empowers people to help themselves.” Other than that we learn more about her hair. The writer also positions Mazibuko as the key to the DA shedding its “white” image, yet as far as I have experienced, Mazibuko is no drawing card to black middle class. Meanwhile it turns out that the DA youth wing’s “interracial couple kissing” ad campaign was worse than Benetton politics. The ridicule was deserved. They bought the picture – part of a series by the same two models – for about $20 off a New York City-based stock photo site.



Dylan Valley

My DVDs weigh a ton. Capetonian in Johannesburg. Also Film and Video Editor at Africa is a Country.

  1. I watched your documentary last night and it left me with a sad and scary feeling. Personally, there were no clear moral high-ground holders.
    Firstly, the SAPS actions were uncalled for and unprovoked and brought back bad memories of the past. No-one can blame the community for reacting the way they did by throwing stones. The SAPS blatant aiming for the face is great cause for concern!
    Secondly, contrary to what the interviewed persons state, the meeting with Zille was NOT orderly and the continual heckling was of no constructive use and one can not blame Zille for leaving.
    Thirdly, it appears that there is no spokesperson or committee representing the community.
    Fourthly, the SAPS is a National organization and can in no way follow orders from Zille, if they did, charges should be laid against the senior SAPS officers, and so to if no court orders were issued.
    Lastly, we all know the horrific fires that plague the Western Cape and therefore firebreaks have to be in place so as to manage and fight these fires and proclaimed nature reserves belong to the entire nation and should be conserved at all costs. The failure by government to remove the building materials is just utter incompetence by the authorities and Zille should take responsibility for that.
    There is a housing crisis in the country which needs to receive a higher priority than it currently is but the invasion of land is not going to solve the problem but only add to it. By all means occupy but don’t invade. Anarchy is not even organised chaos, it is just pure chaos.
    There is one other avenue that can be persued, support the Dagga Party which is active in Cape Town. Unfortunately, as we all know, politicians cannot be trusted, ever!!!

  2. @Egte Safrican: in South Africa, we care more about funbos than people. A massive building is going to be constructed on Chapmans Peak drive but we can’t accomodate the people who live in Hangberg, who depend on being close to Hout Bay harbour for their liveleihoods? Perhaps we should move them to Blikkiesdorp so they can spend 4 hours per day travelling and their kids can get snatched up by the local gangs… At least that keeps the problem away from all the scared affluent inhabitants of our country, and of course… the very precious fynbos.

  3. Unfortunately this article comes across as thinly-veiled politicking. As in the documentary, you raise some very critical points that need urgent addressing, but the bias that underpins this article removes all credibility from your argument. I get that you’re anti-DA and that’s obviously fine, but don’t expect to win over any fence-sitters like myself without at least presenting both sides of the story adequately.

  4. Interesting article. One question – you mention “Cape Town remains one of the most racially and economically segregated cities in South Africa” – compared to where – Joburg?

    From the few brief visits I’ve made there, is seemed more intergrated racially then other SA cities – say, Durban.

  5. instead of cracking down on people peacefully protesting and discussing ways to improve lives, the DA should be placing more emphasis on eliminating racism of the sort that non-white capetonians experience when patronising local establishments (like asoka) and when trying to rent property (vis-a-vis “whites only” ads on Gumtree and the like)

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