On 15 April, Young Urbanists sat rapt in a beautiful setting (the Lower Cable Car Station) and watched four films that probably cannot be found anywhere online. Their cumulative impact was nearly winding. Two were propaganda reels for High Apartheid, presented in lurid Technicolor to the bombastic strains of a full orchestra.
One is from the 1950s, and presents striking images of the British-influenced Cape Town that vanished so quickly through the 1950s: Union flags alongside the Oranje-Blanje-Blou, municipal rents paid in pounds, shillings and pence, plummy RP tones declaiming the wonders of decentralisation, fresh air and light, and internal ablutions for the poor. The second such film was set in 1980, in the final heroic phase of the building of Mitchell’s Plain. What is immediately disturbing about both is the planning language deployed by men in horn-rimmed spectacles as euphemisms for banishment.
This planning language is our planning language today. Their degrees are our degrees. Their planning outcomes are our starting point – epitomised by a memorable sequence in which a white hand draws the outlines of Tomorrow’s Nyanga in crayon, a sort of 1950s infographic. That unfettered crayon line became a road; the road became another fragment of our country’s gift to the world – punitive urbanism, carceral urbanism, retributive urbanism.
Our profession has much to answer for – how do we know that our current integrated development plans and sectoral plans and regional spatial frameworks are not so many velvet gloves for capitalism? What power do we really have? What tools of history do we possess that can make the broader case for why inclusive transport, radical material redress, and spatially equitable and integrated communities are a condition of survival for this country? I think our tools are blunt. Our view of history is hazy. Our grasp of politics is vague.
The films remind me of Wescape, and other settlements proposed and being built on the edge of our cities – promising a “dream life” and “great amenities for kids”. And yet in the face of history, which has showed us otherwise, current politicians and local governments, fall into the same trap, lured by the same language and marketing spin and economically impossible figures and statistics. Overriding their own policies, plans and frameworks, which their own departments spent more than 5 years preparing.Perhaps someday we will have leaders who acknowledge the urgency, to transform, to know better. At least that would be a start. And it’s the future generations who will pay. It always is. – Rashiq Fataar
Watching this incredible series of films – which included a Black Sash documentary made on the eve of the first removals under Group Areas in Cape Town, and a contemporary work in progress comparing gentrification in Woodstock, CT and Brooklyn, NY – has whetted an appetite for actual detail that I had almost forgotten I had. We cannot unmake Apartheid until we know how it was achieved in spatial terms.
This film night was an incredible first step and by far the most important intellectual event of my degree so far.