Amandla! interviews the campaign to Reclaim the City and the movement to occupy the inner city
Amandla! Issue No.52 | MAY 2017
The movement formed in Cape Town in February 2015 to right the wrongs of the Group Areas Act and other apartheid policies that led to the forced removal of black, coloured and Malay people from District 6 and other areas. Reclaim the City recognises that many black and “coloured” people in Cape Town remain displaced even 23 years after democracy. The movement therefore aims to bring back the right to the city for these people.
Recently the Western Cape Provincial government decided to sell the Seapoint site of Tafelberg school for private development rather than social housing. Reclaim the City’s demands include reversing this decision.
Our primary objectives are to:
1. Desegregate Cape Town
2. Address the spatial inequality and spatial violence
3. Put an end to urban evictions and reverse the gentrification that pushes people to the outskirts of the city
4. Fight for land for people not for profit; an end to private-public partnerships
5. Bring back people to the inner city through a social housing program
6. Secure a firm commitment and timelines for social housing from government.
Apartheid spatial planning does not just mean that poor people live far away from the city centre. It also leads to socioeconomic exclusion. We ask ourselves how long will black and “coloured” people be displaced and excluded from the cities and from the economic centre of the city?
Currently the movement is occupying Woodstock Hospital and the Helen Bowden Nurses home, also potential sites for social housing. We
are focused on urban evictions and occupation because of scope and lack of capacity. However there is a deep sense of solidarity with farm workers and those in rural areas who experience the same struggles. The struggle to Reclaim the City is not confined to the areas where we are occupying. The movement exists to desegregate the whole of Cape Town.
Occupation is a peaceful strategy which we will continue to use in this fight against spatial inequality and injustice.
Occupying land has been part of land struggles in South Africa for centuries – pushing the boundaries of private land ownership and demanding land to address the pressing housing needs of people. Land occupations through setting up shack settlements are part of the history of our urban and peri-urban landscape. Occupying vacant or derelict buildings happens across inner cities, to address the lack of affordable, well-located housing. There are even some buildings in the inner city of Cape Town that are being secretly occupied. This occupation is not something new. We are using the occupation as a way to leverage broader land and housing demands of Reclaim the City.
We want to remind government of its obligation. Section 26 of the constitution states that everybody must have access to adequate housing. Government must therefore provide the policy and plans, with timelines, to demonstrate its commitment to providing adequate housing for all. There are vacant public buildings in the inner city. Therefore it is our task to remind government about its commitment to provide adequate and affordable housing.
We have written over 900 letters to provincial government to remind them of their own plans. We have demanded that the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements use the Tafelberg site for social housing. Government has even done a feasibility study that indicated that the social housing project is in fact financially viable. The reason government does not want to develop social housing in the inner city is not economically related.
The activists are occupying at great personal risk. We are seen as trespassers, so we could be arrested. Government has tried to demobilise the movement. We are adamant that we want to continue struggling for adequate and affordable housing for all.
We know that we cannot win this fight alone so we welcome help. We don’t want to burn or destroy. We want to learn and build. We are calling for mass support and mobilisation in solidarity, so that the movement evolves into a mass movement that has the power to demand adequate and affordable housing for all South Africans.