Apartheid geography and murder in Cape Town

| Zackie Achmat
Members of Social Justice Coalition (SJC), Treatment Action Campaign, Ndifuna Ukwazi and Equal Education marching through the Cape Town CBD earlier this year to celebrate the release of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry’s findings and recommendations. Photo by Barbara Maregele.

Building a socially and racially integrated Cape Town will decrease our murder rate and other violent crime, writes Zackie Achmat.

At approximately 59/100,000 people per year, Cape Town has one of the highest murder rates in the world. What can we do about it?

There is a relationship between gangsterism, drugs, alcoholism, our violent cultures, poverty and murder in our city. But one of the most important factors, often ignored, is spatial injustice: the fact that many people essentially live in ghettoes.

We should be asking the question where are people murdered in Cape Town, and why there? Where people live – CBD, suburb, township or informal settlement – directly affects their right to life and chances of being murdered. Where you are murdered also increases the chances of an investigation.

Class and race inequality (meaning disparities in wealth, income and education) are vital to understanding murder. Related to this is geographic apartheid, meaning historical (and today’s) “dumping” of the poorest and most vulnerable people furthest away from CBDs and traditionally white suburbs.

The table below shows some of the safer areas in Cape Town.

Safer Areas in Cape Town Population (2011) Police:Population Ratio Murders (2004) Murders (2014) % Change Murder rate per 100k
Camps Bay 5,492 38 1 0 -100% 0
Claremont 30,866 281 3 0 -100% 0
Mowbray 10,671 94 1 0 -100% 0
Simon’s Town 14,382 212 4 0 -100% 0
Bothasig 25,551 263 2 1 -50% 4
Gordon’s Bay 16,757 155 2 1 -50% 6
Pinelands 20,357 199 5 1 -80% 5
Rondebosch 14,628 115 2 0 -100% 0
Sea Point 24,821 238 8 1 -88% 4
Fish Hoek 20,808 265 3 2 -33% 10
Kirstenhof 29,859 272 7 2 -71% 7
Strandfontein 28,440 349 2 2 0% 7
Diep River 38,848 355 4 3 -25% 8
Lansdowne 48,881 423 6 4 -33% 8
Wynberg 24,277 226 5 4 -20% 16
Total or Average 354,638 232 55 21 -62% 6

Suburbs such as Camps Bay, Claremont, Mowbray and Rondebosch are among the safest places to live in South Africa with no murders occurring in 2013-14. Areas such asSea Point, Bothasig and Pinelands had one murder each in the last year.

Why is this so?

They are also suburbs with the lowest unemployment rates, the highest incomes, owners of property and other forms of wealth. They include the best public and private schools, sports, culture and recreation facilities for a minority of Cape Town’s residents.

The wealthy, traditionally white suburbs also have five times more members of the South African Police service than the unsafest townships. In their report for the Commission of Inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha, Towards a Safer Khayelitsha, Justice Kate O’Regan and Advocate Vusi Pikoli found that African and coloured working-class townships bore the brunt of violent crime yet had the fewest human resources:

One of the questions that most troubled the Commission is how a system of human resource allocation that appears to be systematically biased against poor black communities could have survived twenty-years into our post-apartheid democracy. In the view of the Commission, the survival of this system is evidence of a failure of governance and oversight in every sphere of government. (p394)

Not only do wealthy suburbs have more police support but they also have armed private security personnel protecting people and property. Most wealthy homes and businesses are also equipped with sophisticated alarms, surveillance cameras and burglar bars. Cape Town’s southern suburbs are very safe places to live. Yet some kilometres away are some of the most dangerous places to live (where there is no war) in the world.

Where do murders happen most in Cape Town?

The murder rate for South Africa is 32 per 100,000 people per year, one of the highest in the world. This is an average, it combines the safest and most dangerous suburbs. Crime statistics tell us that Khayelitsha as a township has the highest number of murders in a township in South Africa – 353 murders occurred there in the 2013/14 year. But Nyanga has a higher murder rate (152 people per 100,000): 305 people were murdered in this township last year.

The data also shows us that murders in Elsies River trebled over the last ten years, while, in Mitchell’s Plein the number of murders more than doubled over the same period.

The fifteen safest suburbs had 21 murders for the year, while two township areas (Khayelitsha and Nyanga) had 658 murders between them.

Most Unsafe Areas in Cape Town Population (2011) Police to Population Ratio Murders (2004) Murders (2014) % Change Murder rate per 100k
Nyanga 200,913 1,419 263 305 16% 152
Mitchells Plain 282,054 3,240 77 158 105% 56
Harare 173,342 1,703 85 164 93% 95
Gugulethu 126,336 1,274 146 150 3% 119
Khayelitsha Site B 154,042 1,675 213 146 -31% 95
Delft 153,633 1,167 73 144 97% 94
Bishop Lavis 106,484 1,065 41 73 78% 69
Elsies River 70,974 640 20 60 200% 85
Ravensmead 61,373 677 20 44 120% 72
Lingelethu West 64,357 593 46 43 -7% 67
Steenberg 62,103 613 20 42 110% 68
Manenberg 82,903 801 31 41 32% 49
Langa 49,599 348 55 38 -31% 77
Atlantis 74,429 1 072 35 37 6% 47
Grassy Park 89,602 1,011 25 33 32% 37
Total or Average 1,757,144 1,153 1,150 1,478 29% 84

Why is Khayelitsha one of the most dangerous townships?

Income inequality is generally accepted to increase the rate of violent crime. In Khayelitsha, the majority of households have an income of less than R20,000 per year. In Camps Bay, the majority of households earned more than R25,000 per month. Unequal access to land and decent housing in socially and racially integrated neighbourhoods is increasingly seen as a serious co-factor for violent crime. The O’Regan-Pikoli Commission of Inquiry into police inefficiency in Khayelitsha said the following about history, location and inequality, this applies to most parts of our City and country:

Understanding the history, location … social and economic environment of Khayelitsha is central to understanding the task of policing…. Khayelitsha was conceived and established in the final contested days of apartheid, but most of its development has taken place during the democratic era. … Although service delivery has markedly improved… there is much to be done. Most residents live in informal housing, and many still have no access to water, sanitation or electricity within their households. Unemployment is widespread, and particularly acute amongst young people. … Khayelitsha has very high rates of contact crime, which means that people feel unsafe much of the time

The critical points in this statements can be easily overlooked because it sounds so ordinary and like the many documents produced by government. First, the townships with the highest murder rates (such as Khayelitsha, Elsies River, Mitchell’s Plein and Nyanga) are based on apartheid urban planning, pass laws, forced removals and police brutality. Second, instead of ending apartheid city planning, this spatial divide was deepened as new communities in Khayelitsha were pushed further and further away from suburbs and the CBD.

As the Commission notes in relation to Khayelitsha, “most of its development has taken place during the democratic era”. What does this mean for murder rates?

Murder rates and extremely violent crime happens in ghettoes. South African ghettoes also carry the historical burden of apartheid. Stated differently, over the last 20 years Khayelitsha (excluding Lingelethu-West) was mostly “developed” as a ghetto and its people excluded from housing and property development in the city or suburbs. People in townships such as Elsies River, Manenberg, Nyanga and Bishop Lavis also saw the neglect of their townships as no effort was made to bring them closer to the City by using existing state land for integrated and decent housing.

Most of the people who keep our CBD and suburbs safe and who clean, keep restaurants, shops, bars and clubs open, travel to and from dangerous spaces. Living in shacks, gang-land blocks of flats or RDP homes, most people in working-class townships feel unsafe because they often experience or witness violent crime.

Why the social and racial integration of CBDs can lead to a decline in violent crime especially murder

Currently, traditionally White suburbs and the CBD in Cape Town have between 0 and 50 people living on a hectare while in Coloured and African townships between 200 and 500 people occupy a hectare of land. Comparing the CBD and Khayelitsha will demonstrate why integration is necessary for safety.

The Cape Town CBD is one of the cleanest, well-maintained and functioning parts of our country. Every street is well-lit and has visible safety officers who support Metro Police and SAPS. There are also dedicated cleaners and car guards. Most are equipped with walkie-talkies. Every major office, residential or business complex has private security guards; traffic police are visible; more than 100 functioning surveillance cameras are located in the streets. Most of the 27,000 CBD residents feel safe on the streets at night.

Khayelitsha residents feel unsafe during the day and at night. They are unsafe in their homes, on the streets, in schools, shops, shebeens, communal toilets and public spaces. Visible policing in informal settlements largely does not occur because of lack of proper streets, density and unequal distribution of SAPS human resources. Street-lighting is sporadic and private security is confined to a few business complexes. Traffic policing is visible on the highway but not in the township. There are fewer than 20 surveillance cameras for 400,000 people.

Bringing working-class people into the CBD to live (where thousands already work) would mean that more of the social and safety infrastructure would be shared. Using state land owned by the City, province and national government, as well as, parastatals to develop decent rental housing will give people dignity and safety. Acquiring private land and buildings in the suburbs (if necessary through expropriation) to build mixed-income housing will also create safer and shared spaces.

The distribution of SAPS, Metro Police, the traffic department and even private security resources will be more equal. This will not only make people safer but be more efficient and effective.

Bogota, a city with 7.6 million people in Colombia reduced its murder rate from about 80 per 100,000 to about 17 per 100,000 last year. The dramatic decline was based on a number of actions such as police focussing on preventing aggravated robbery and banning the carrying of guns. However, one of the most important interventions was to ensure that a divided city became socially and racially integrated. Social movements and the Mayor of Bogota built their understanding on everyone’s “right to the city”.

The time has come to share our city and its wealth —particularly land— with its most vulnerable people to reduce violent crime especially murder. The right to life should not depend on where you live.

Achmat is the director of Ndifuna Ukwazi. Craig Oosthuizen assisted Achmat with data analysis.

TOPICS:  Housing Human Rights Murder

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

This is interesting and true. Half true. This narrative ignores the other half truth. The one where people work hard and take risks and use initiative and creativity to create wealth and a life for themselves. Where they were not given this on a silver platter. Thereby allowing for the provision of life-mobility and the ability to pay for security safety and so forth. Also the realisation that being helpful and cooperative gets one further than selfishless and pettiness. This is the case world wide. Robbing the rich to help the poor never works as it is shortsighted and ignores the above factors. Stealing hard worked for land is not the answer for the same reasons. The answer to help violence ridden areas is awareness education practical programmes and so on- to show people a better way with changes of attitudes. NGOs and NPOs can lead the way and Government too can help. Private individuals if they choose to may also help if they can.

Dear Editor

I agree wholeheartedly with Raymond Suta. Taking from the rich and giving to the poor is socialist/leftist principle. Socialism as a governing system hasn't worked where its been tried. Venezuela is now another perfect example of what happens. Prosperity lasts for a couple of years, then crashes into utter desperation.

We cannot ignore that crime occurs in areas where there is very low income, but how will crime be combated by giving people free stuff? If you simply give land (especially farm-land) to those who are not ready for it, you're setting them up to fail.

What we need is less government regulation so that the magic of the free-market creates new jobs and then make sure to remove ANY regulations/laws that prevents those vulnerable people from obtaining jobs.

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