CAPE TOWN – Gentrification is a process in which areas which the upper class begin buying up properties in low-rent areas, thus inflating property values, displacing residents and fundamentally altering the culture and character of the neighbourhood.
It’s no surprise that neighbourhoods which experience gentrification are disproportionately populated by people of colour, therefore they are the ones who are disproportionately displaced. And they are typically displaced by the influx of white people.
Not only are residents directly displaced, they are also excluded and disenfranchised from their own community when it becomes unfamiliar to them. Shops become more expensive as smaller businesses are pushed out, friends and family move elsewhere.
Well, what’s wrong with improving a neighbourhood?
Gentrification is not characterised by an improvement of buildings and public infrastructure. The markers for gentrification are the displacement and exclusion of lower-income households by the gentry. Gentry means elite, hence the term gentrification.
The gentrification of areas like Bo-Kaap, Salt River and Woodstock is not a new phenomenon. These areas are close to the CBD and have a unique heritage and aesthetic appeal to them because of the churches, schools, community health hospitals and mosques – cultivated over time by the working class residents.
“There are some people who love the cultural, almost quaintsy kind of feel of all of these elements that some of the working class supposedly bring to the area. But they don’t actually like the working class.” said Bonita Bennet of the District 6 Museum
The City of Cape Town claims that the displacements are a natural and inevitable cost of the improvement of the areas. They claim the higher end businesses will create jobs for residents and that they have made provisions for those who have been evicted. They are referring to the notorious gated “Temporary Residential Facility”, Blikkiesdorp, almost 30km from the City. Blikkiesdorp is plagued by awful living conditions and social ills, and residents are yet to see the houses they have been promised.
The City claims that they will provide affordable housing opportunities elsewhere in the CBD while continuing the “regeneration” of Woodstock. However, the land which the City promised to develop into affordable housing units has been sold to private investors. After protest action by campaigns such as Reclaim the City, the City reasoned that the income made from the sale of this land would go to cross-subsidize more housing facilities. This was again proved to be untrue after information was leaked revealing the intentions for the money to fund the construction of a mega office block in the CBD.
These relocations are eerily reminiscent of the forced removals of District 6. The movement of PoC from the CBD to the peripheries of Cape Town perpetuate the neocolonial reality of spatial Apartheid. As lower-class households are forcibly excluded from the city, the dichotomy between rich and poor grow more defined.