UCT doctors join campaign for Tafelberg housing

Open letter to PremierHelen Zille

Photo of Reclaim the City supporters

Reclaim the City supporters call for affordable housing on the Tafelberg site in Sea Point. UCT’s Department of Public Health Medicine has supported their call. Photo: Naib Mian

By Tolu Oni and Leslie London

8 June 2016

Dear Premier Zille,

Today, more than 50% of the world’s population live in urban centres, with rapid urbanisation in many countries including South Africa. The need to create healthy cities for all inhabitants will be one of the biggest public health challenges of the 21st century. Doing so successfully depends not just on providing medical care, but on preventing ill-health, promoting health, and improving the living conditions of billions of people.

Twenty years after the end of apartheid, Cape Town remains one of the most spatially divided cities in the world. This presents many adverse personal and societal consequences, not least on public health. Like most South African cities, Cape Town is characterised by great health inequity, and this inequity is closely linked to where people live. Historically disadvantaged Black African and Coloured communities on the urban periphery experience the worst health outcomes. A vital means of progressively addressing this lies in government promoting more mixed-income neighbourhoods in well-located areas.

We know much - from local and international research, experience and best practice - about what healthier communities look like. The most important of these lessons in Cape Town’s context include:

The Tafelberg site in Sea Point provides a prime opportunity to implement the above recommendations. A great many people commuting into Sea Point each day to work would benefit greatly from having a home nearby. Workers already living in Sea Point often reside in overcrowded and poorly ventilated “Maid’s Quarters”. Residents have shared accounts of living underground with inadequate air circulation, broken doors, rats running about, lack of electricity and very insecure tenure. They should not have to choose between these conditions, and living 90 minutes away. Furthermore, Sea Point has some of the best public spaces, social services and amenities in the city - perhaps the country - which should be accessible to residents across income groups. Consistent with the City’s own densification policy, greater socio-economic urban integration is not only a priority for development, but also a contributor to enhancing social capital, thereby contributing to enhancing the overall health prospects of Cape Town’s diverse residents.

The Tafelberg site could provide homes to hundreds of working families, and serve as a transformative model to improve health outcomes and promote equity among residents and the neighbourhood, which could be replicated elsewhere. It would be an evidence-based decision and one which might enable Cape Town to join other South African cities in leading by example in South Africa. We urge you, Madam Premier, to grasp this timely and important opportunity.

Dr Tolu Oni is senior lecturer in the Division of Public Health Medicine and Professor Leslie London is head of the Division of Public Health Medicine at the University of Cape Town.

UCT’s City and Regional Planning Honours and Master’s students have also submitted a letter to Premier Zille. 

Views expressed are not necessarily those of GroundUp.