Mapping neoliberalism

The recent release of crime statistics by the national Minister of Safety and Security Nathi Mthethwa has reaffirmed Cape Town as the most dangerous city in the country.

Most South Africans, however, still think that Johannesburg and Durban are more dangerous. This is in part because of the effective media machine that is the Democratic Alliance (DA) – a political party so effective in its propaganda that even people who vote for the African National Congress often think that Cape Town is “well run” and its residents better off than throughout the rest of the country.

But it is not only the DA which has bequeathed upon us this perception. The entire discourse of post-Apartheid neoliberalism posits the merits of the ‘liberal’ city of Cape Town. This has always been the city held up as the least suited to Apartheid; the city most adverse to the Afrikaner-dominated National Party; the bright torchbearer for liberalism.

Thus, most South Africans still think that life in Joburg is more treacherous than Cape Town. Middle class whites are terrified of stopping at red robots at night for fear of getting carjacked in Gauteng. Yet one rarely ever hears such horror stories in Cape Town.

And yet, if there is any city in South Africa most suited to be labelled the ‘apartheid city’, it would be Cape Town. The Mother City as we call it has given birth to the most spatially segregated city in the country.

The recent publication of dot maps of South Africa’s racial distribution by Adrian Frith shows how despite the intense segregation in all South African cities, poor black South Africans are most crammed into Cape Town’s ghettos than anywhere else. Viewing the mappings, the extremely high density of shack settlements are most obvious on the Cape Flats, particularly along the N2 Freeway corridor. Khayelitsha, Nyanga and Langa in particular stand out.

And this is not just an accident. Liberalism has engineered it thus. The protection of private property (which is in fact either unused government – and therefore actually public – property or fallow corporate property being kept until it becomes profitable) is most intensely defended in Cape Town.

Not that the monetary value of land in Joburg and Durban does not remain sacrosanct. Both these cities spend millions to evicted land and building occupiers every year. Joburg has the notorious ‘red ants’ and Durban has the Land Invasion Unit. People get evicted from their homes and get punished for being poor and landless all the time.

Yet in Cape Town, evicting poor people has become the most important function of Law Enforcement. The City’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit is the best funded unit in the entire department and it sadly gets its money directly from the housing budget itself.

This explains a lot about the above maps and viewing the city in this way therefore makes it unsurprising that Cape Town remains so violently unequal that people can spend nearly their entire lives without leaving townships such as Mitchells Plain, and why drug addiction and alcoholism are worse here than in other metropolitan areas.

Cape Town’s massive inequality (not only measured purely through income levels) is the primary reason why residents are 1.8 times more likely to be murdered in Cape Town than in Joburg. This according to the most recent police statistics.

Still, because of this massive inequality, not all Cape Town residents are under significant threat. In reality, only those who live in the poorest and most ghettoised areas such as Nyanga, Gugulethu, Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha are at constant risk of being murdered. As the Institute for Security Studies puts it, “almost two-thirds of the Cape Town murders took place in just 10 of the 60 police station precincts”.

If one where to create a similar mapping, but this time map the location of murders in Cape Town, one would be pretty certain it would look quite similar to Adrian Frith’s maps of racial segregation in the City.

If it’s no coincidence that inequality leads to crime and other social blights, then why do people still think that putting more police on the streets will make people safer? Dismantling the apartheid city must be the first step in any real crime fighting initiative.

We can thank Premier Helen Zille for calling for the army to be deployed in Cape townships rather than doing anything to dismantle the legacies of apartheid.



  1. What’s neoliberal about any of this? Your argument doesn’t seem to revolve around neoliberalism at all, at least not as you’ve explicitly spelled it out here. Instead, you’re arguing that Cape Town exemplifies a new or extended form of late apartheid policing and urban policy. So where does neoliberalism come in?

  2. This is an unusually weak article for AIAC. Where is the rest of the analysis? As much as I hate to defend the DA, there’s a rather significant gap in the analysis here:
    – Cape Town was more integrated in the late 80s and early 90s than it is now. Class and race segregation started mid to late 90s along with gentrification, which was when the ANC was in power, not the DA.
    – For all its talk, the ANC supports and drives neoliberal policies at the national level, and in the cities it governs.
    – The DA runs the province as a whole, not just Cape Town, so why the exclusive focus on Cape Town? Because of high crime rates in poorer communities? Fine, but there are many poor communities in the province (also DA-run) which don’t have quite the same problems. While the DA’s policies are largely anti-poor, the party itself is only part of the story. What is happening in the rest of the province and why?

    Neoliberal policies are anti-poor, imperialist in their origins (thank you US & EU-dominated WTO, WB and IMF!), and exacerbate class, race and gender divides. But can we please stop fucking kidding ourselves that the ANC is pursuing some sort of socialist economic policy?* The only difference between the DA and ANC is that the DA is more open about the fact that they are protecting the propertied classes & economic elite, while the ANC likes to pretend it adheres to the economic ideals of the Freedom Charter. Both parties are in serious denial, and so are we as South Africans if we think the political and economic elite give a fuck.

    Overall, this article is very muddled, and it is unclear exactly what point is trying to be made.

  3. @Chantelle: The DA is an explicitly market-liberal / ‘open opportunity society’ party, i.e., they’re unashamedly neoliberal. Just thought I’d underscore a point you made towards the end of your post. Also, one can certainly point fingers at the DA specifically for the ongoing use of the anti-Land Invasion Unit and similar structures/policies, as the article rightly does.

  4. Ok firstly, crap piece. Secondly, what is this obsession with the term ‘neoliberal?’ the DA is a LIBERAL party. There is NO SUCH THING as ‘neoliberalism.’ If you can explain the difference between ‘neoliberalism’ and classic liberalism please explain it to me. Using the prefix ‘neo’ is only used by some writers because of the connotation with “neo-Nazi.’

    The examples you have given clearly show that you have a complete lack of understanding when it comes to the real challenges facing the city of cape town. The reason why the informal settlements (btw Mitchells Plain is not a township – don’t be so ignorant) are growing at such a rapid rate, is because more and more people are flocking to Cape Town to live and work because it IS better run than Joburg and Durban. Service delivery for all is undeniably the best in the country and Cape Town has the lowest unemployment stats by far.

    Crime is a NATIONAL GOVERNMENT competency. SAPS is controlled by the ANC-led national government. SAPS at both a national and a local level have refused to cooperate with the DA-led city and province on a regular basis. City law enforcement and metro police are there to deal with traffic, public safety and by-law issues, which is why they are so concerned with policing land-invasion. Do you think land invasion is a good thing? It is important to remember that the investigation and prosecution of violent crime, which you lay at the feet of Zille and the DA in fact has NOTHING to do with the DA.

    Do some research before you let fly with comments about Apartheid spatial planning and what the DA is doing to address this. I’d suggest looking at the rollout of the IRT, the free broadband going to the Cape Flats in the next couple of months, the World Design Capital projects, the VPUU programmes or any of the other initiatives aimed at helping to bridge the divide and create a more integrated city.

    These things take time but at least the city of cape town is moving in the right direction.

    By the way, you’re SO cool!

      1. No, this proves my point exactly. If you (or the author) read that definition you will understand that ‘neoliberalism’ is a defunct concept which does not actually exist. To quote your definition “The term neoliberal is now used mainly by those who are critical of legislative market reforms such as free trade, deregulation, privatization, and reducing government control of the economy.” It is not an actual basis for any political ideology and as a liberal, I have never met anyone who defines themselves as a ‘neoliberal’. Just use the term ‘liberal’ and if you have a problem with liberalism then say so. To reiterate, ‘neoliberalism’, especially the use of it in this article is a complete load of crap. Btw, care to comment on any of the other points I’ve raised or does that require more than google?

        1. Ermm…you’re kind of missing the point. Nobody said that people self-identify as neoliberals; the term is used just as the article you quoted explains: to describe the policies of political and economic institutions that operate using the principles of modern market liberalism. But hey, please go share your wisdom with all those other poor misguided fools who use the term erroneously, like Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and so on.

          I mean seriously dude…

          As for the rest of your ‘points’, well, they’re breathtaking in their naivety and really not even worth responding to, especially given that the very article we’re debating under already has already responded to most of them (not that you’d notice if you’re not even able to concede that neoliberalism, a term with almost two million Google search results, is actually widely used). I’d look up the logical fallacy you’re employing but, frankly, I couldn’t be arsed.

      2. Not missing the point at all. It is all about identity. Neoliberalism is a term used by scholars and excitable journos like yourself. It is NOT a political movement that people identify with and therefore you trying to define an entire govt as neoliberal is nonsense. If anything, the DA falls somewhere between conservatism and liberalism with a sprinkling of socialism. Either way, it seems you are unable to come up with anything to rebut my ‘breathtaking naivety’ and would rather argue about semantics. Typical neo-Marxist.

        1. One does not have to identify as something in order to be reasonably *identified* as something. Yes, I know ‘it is not a political movement that people identify with.’ That’s besides the point. Seriously, learn to read.

      3. Did I hit a nerve? Look, you still have been completely unable to rebut any of the REAL points I’ve made in my initial paragraph. I know it’s common practice on this site to try and lose critics of the thinly researched and inaccurate articles by trying to lose them in semantics and definitions. The same level of vitriol should be directed at the ANC and their populist, criminal leader who are the real failures. When one scrapes the surface of most of the attacks on the DA on this site, it becomes clear that these are usually fuelled by either contrarian white-middle class agitation, a blatant underlying racial prejudice or the blinkered black-nationalist agenda. By failing to address any of the real issues in my post you have proved this to be the case yet again.

        1. “Did I hit a nerve?”

          No, I gave up. Why waste time with someone who thinks ‘neoliberal’ is a term used only by a handful of contrarians seeking to associate liberalism with Nazism (yes, that really is what you said). It would be as pointless responding to your ‘REAL points’ as it would be to respond to a climate denialist making ‘REAL points’ about Arctic ice sheet size fluctuations.

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