development food power & power relations reclaim writing

writing the city: community newspapers

Then came the 2010 World Cup, which helped us fast-track a number of urban developments: public spaces were upgraded, public transport rollout was fast-tracked, pedestrian corridors were created, the city became more user-friendly seemingly overnight. We were on our way to becoming truly “world-class”, a “liveable city”. Off the back of our World Cup success – realising how big deadlines can help accelerate urban change – we drove the city’s successful bid for World Design Capital 2014.

Looking back, these were some of the game changers that took us from ghetto to a gentrified space. But there have been unintended consequences to our exuberance and the rate of our success. When you are so focused on getting the basics right, so much energy goes towards ensuring that the place is clean and safe that people tend to become an afterthought.

Looking back, I think part of our challenge was that we became so caught up in projects like urban upgrades, cycle lanes, cranes on the skyline, pursuit of titles like “world-class city” that we lost sight of our unique context, in Africa and South Africa. We lost sight of the people all the urban improvements were for.

Cities were the theatres where apartheid played out. They were designed for separation rather than integration. They were centres of forced removals and purified and curated experiences for a privileged white community.

Even to this day most of our citizens continue to live far away from our urban centre, spending 10-20% of their income just on getting to and from work everyday. People come downtown to work every day, but our residential population is still small and fairly elite. And there’s still a sense that the city is not owned by the people who use it – that it belongs to someone else, not to them. It is for this reason that our next five years as Cape Town Partnership will be focusing on putting people first. On enhancing and surfacing the soul of the city, which is its people.”

Cape Town Partnership CEO Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana at the International Downtown Association’s World Congress, “People. Places. Partnerships”, in New York on 7 October 2013.

One of the initiatives that I came to know, was impressed by and wrote about during IHP was City Views, a monthly thematic newspaper published by both the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) and the Cape Town Partnership. I talked about the importance of highlighting stories about the Cape Town CBD and how City Views made it possible for Capetonians to have an alternative narrative of the CBD. It was a comparative paper in which I considered another story-telling initiative in New Orleans- the Neighborhood Story Project that also challenges stereotypical narratives of African Americans and the places they make home in New Orleans through the stories they tell and publish of their neighbourhoods.

One of the things I had hoped City Views could do, however, was to include more than the CBD in their focus to further address the legacy of apartheid in Cape Town in addition to changing the image of the CBD as being for only white South Africans.

I happened to check the website recently and discovered that the CCID and Cape Town Partnership will now be publishing two separate bimonthly papers. That by the Cape Town Partnership is called Molo, which is a Xhosa greeting. Many of the black Capetonians have isiXhosa as their mothertongue. From the name, it was immediately clear to me that in this paper, the focus would be on the whole of Cape Town.

I browsed through the paper, which is available in digital format, and on the first pages is a feature on a Nigerian immigrant who runs a restaurant. Another win. In 2008, various South African cities saw a wave of xenophobic attacks on immigrants and people thought to be immigrants. Being the largest economy in Africa, it is no wonder that a lot of immigrants move to South Africa for work opportunities. I think immigrants just as much as city residents contribute to making a city beautiful, more economically powerful as well as diverse. So to see them being featured in Molo, assures me that CEO Bulelwa truly means it when she talks about highlighting stories of the people that make the city- all of them.

The rest of the paper whose theme for September/October was food has stories that draw in Phillipi, Langa township, Woodstock and (memories of) District 6 in addition to the CBD. Both the formal and informal economy of Cape Town with regard to food are featured. On the last page of Molo, I noticed the familiar face of a(n immigrant) trader I made friends with when I was in Cape Town in a spread asking Capetonians what they eat for lunch- I will be reading more of Molo for sure (and encourage you to too!); and am looking forward to Cape Town already.

(read Bulelwa’s full speech here)

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