Should Blikkiesdorp move, or the airport?

| Alison Tilley
Blikkiesdorp. Picture by Ashleigh Furlong.

Apparently, it was Benjamin Franklin who said, “You fail to plan, and you plan to fail.” This axiom was repeated to me by a Blikkiesdorp community member.

Blikkiesdorp isn’t exactly a case of best practice town planning. It is formally known as the Symphony Way Temporary Relocation Area in Delft, Cape Town. It is a relocation camp made-up of corrugated iron shacks, surrounded by an impressive concrete wall. The first group of shacks were made of batons and nails.

“Skollies can take a scissor and cut the walls. The newer ones are made of zinc, and they use a screwdriver to unscrew the nails,” says a community member.

Ablution, sanitation, and water facilities are shared between four structures. Most the people living in Blikkiesdorp were evicted from other parts of the City.

It may be a bit misleading to talk about ‘a community’ in this place. There are no community facilities. Each block of shacks is mostly made up of a group who were moved here from elsewhere.

Johnny Steinberg describes it in A Man of Good Hope as “the ultimate ghetto, its residents hemmed in by distance, by poverty and their own personal history.”

Even in his book, with the protagonist living in Blikkies, the place features briefly as the background to another story. It’s Nowhereville.

Except for the people who live there. For teenagers, it is all they remember. They moved there from 2007 onwards, moved on from places they mostly didn’t want to leave.

There is no incentive to improve the structures. Rumour has it that the City won’t allow this as it works against the ‘temporary’ nature of the area. But whether this is true or not, how can you begin to improve where you live unless you have some kind of stake in it, unless you believe it will still be there in a year or in five years?

People do make improvements, of course. Fences go up to keep dogs and children in and out. Metal is hammered onto walls to stop the skollies getting in. Plumbing is fixed, to bring water inside to sinks. But there are no gardens. The ground is sand, and only the hardiest fynbos and alien vegetation survive. The City built a park, which just further confused matters.

So is Blikkies home? Yes, and no. The residents were told that it was a temporary relocation area, and that they would be moved to more permanent houses. They were also told that the Cape Town International Airport needed a new runway and therefore they would have to be moved. The scarcity of reliable information in this place is a whole different kind of poverty. You would think information is virtually free – but it takes an interpreter like an NGO such as the Open Democracy Advice Centre to crunch the 1,300 page environmental impact assessment on the airport changes, to point to the documents held by the City and ACSA (Airports Company South Africa) that tell the story, and tell people about hearings for the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment).

Partners like the Development Action Group (DAG) and Legal Resource Centre (LRC) have examined and interpreted piles of paper, ironically generated in the interests of the environment.

So ACSA would like to build a runway upgrade in Cape Town, and possibly a second runway. Since 2010, ACSA has been in discussions with the City regarding Freedom Farm and two other informal housing settlements, Blikkiesdorp, and Malawi Camp. The discussion between ACSA and the City has been captured in a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). This says that land will be “made available” along the western edge of Symphony Way for an integrated development corridor for light industrial, commercial and residential developments.

According to the MOA, ACSA will buy land in the Symphony Way Development Corridor for commercial and industrial development. The development will include housing, and public facilities. There will be 2,738 housing units, but the question remains as to how people will be allocated these houses. Freedom Farm will be moved first; they are on ACSA land.

Where people from Blikkies can’t be relocated to this Development Corridor, officials will “find an alternative solution”. Deon Cloete from ACSA has confirmed, in an open meeting with the community, that ACSA says they want proper housing for people, all the ones that are moved, irrespective of the housing policy, so that everyone would be accommodated in decent housing. He appears to believe that that is what the MOA with the City says. The MOA refers to people being moved to housing where they qualify. But many of those in Blikkies don’t qualify.

There is no indication as to how people will be allocated houses in the MOA. Out of the pool of those who qualify, does everyone get a house? It is not clear what happens if people don’t qualify for a house. And of course, the hardest question – who will pay?

The bill will not only fall due for Blikkies. The second runway will put 400,000 houses in harm’s way. The noise levels will go up to levels considered unacceptable by the World Health Organisation. This will include those from Freedom Farm, Malawi Camp, and Blikkies. Who will pay to ensure that sleeping babies are not woken up, and that tired parents will be able to go to sleep, as planeloads of tourists and business travellers roar in to fuel our flagging domestic economy? Well, at least those who manage to comply with our new visa regulations.

Well, that’s the trick. ACSA promises decent housing, but it is not their dime. They disclaim responsibility for housing issues arising from their business; they run airports after all, and not housing developments. And the City? Their original spacial development plan says something else entirely – they imagined the airport moving up the West Coast. But the airport is an asset to the City, and moving it would mean tangling with a big income generator.

Is this the misdirection beloved of magicians – we all stare carefully at Blikkies, and don’t even realise the question may actually be, isn’t the land the airport is on better for housing, not planes? Maybe Blikkies needs to stay where it is, and the airport move. We need to get past the smoke and mirrors, and actually get to the credible information, which people need to plan their lives.

Alison Tilley is Head of Advocacy at Open Democracy Advise Centre. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. No inference should be made on whether these reflect the editorial position of GroundUp.

Blikkiesdorp. Picture by Ashleigh Furlong.

TOPICS:  Housing

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