Faranak Miraftab is a full professor in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Illinois. I do not know if I have had the pleasure of meeting of Dr. Miraftab; I do not think so. But I have always very much enjoyed her work, and today I am going to be talking about a recent entry into her very fine record of scholarship found here. I am reading:
Miraftab, F. “Colonial Present: Legacies of the Past in Contemporary Urban Practices in Cape Town, South Africa.” Journal of Planning History. 11(4) 283-307.
The assumption guiding most western understandings of South Africa and its apartheid and post-apartheid regimes concern this idea that neoliberal urban strategies originated in the global north and became applied everywhere else, including post-Apartheid South Africa. Miraftab challenges this idea in Cape Town, where the roots of neoliberal forms of urban development are much deeper. Colonial forms of urban exclusion and control, developed much earlier, created a convenient spatial, zonal logic upon which subsequent waves of power and control become applied to Cape Town’s settlement patterns.
Her history begins roughy at 1840, two years after slavery was abolished the city. The queen paid slave owners for property loss with the decision to abolish the practice, and flush with cash, those large landowners contributed to the fast development of Cape Town’s historic core, and that this historic core remained the focal point for higher levels of services. The second boom comes in 1869 with the discovery of diamonds, which prompted big infrastructure developments, including the port and inland roadways, that positioned Cape Town to benefit from the diamond trade and its supporting industries.
With the increase in wealth and controversies over controlling Cape Town, landowners set themselves up with a sweetheart voting rights law: they allocated votes according to the value of their property: If you had land valued in excess of 1,000 pounds, you got three votes rather than one or two. This strategy predictably created a lock on municipal resources, so that members of the three-vote set were able to add value to their land by adding amenities on the public dime.
Municipal Commissioners during this period looked to Europe for models of urbanization, and those were dominated by narratives around sanitation and hygiene. In Cape Town, those came with a twist. The “Clean Party” was a group of predominately merchant class business owners with UK backgrounds; the “Dirty Party” were landlords and other landed proprietors, mostly Afrikaners and Malay. The creation of sanitation dialogues connected the mercantile class to global capital in ways that didn’t favor the other groups as those became fodder for improvements implemented by large construction firms. The other groups didn’t oppose districting for sanitation; they simply wanted the districts to cover more of Cape Town outside of the mercantile areas. But the assignment of “clean” and “dirty” to particular ethnicities, with UK colonial on top, and what spatial zones they may occupy, continued through racial segregation of Apartheid. Narratives of dirt and disease framed itinerant and often impoverished African and Chinese laborers as health risks, and provided the intellectual rationale for segregating by race.
The clever part of this paper is the comparison across time. Miraftab stops at when Apartheid begins to loom, and then takes up the history again after the regime changes. After Apartheid, urban commercial interests again moved to create special districts; this time out, they are Commercial Investment Districts. Boom! More concentrated public investment, more millions to be made by selected real estate elites…and more exclusionary behavior enacted via securitization of those districts. Race and class structures of exclusion, all enacted without the legal support of the Apartheid rules. There is nothing new under the sun, as my beloved colleague, Martin Krieger, notes.