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Commentary News NEWS: Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies Uncategorized

“Greening” Spatial Apartheid: Op-ed article on “eco-estates” and urban elite spaces of South Africa

Bruce Baigrie and Henrik Ernstson have just published a critique of “eco-estates” in GroundUp (online magazine) based on an initial study in Nordhoek, Cape Town.

 

In this piece we do a first analysis of the making of an “eco-estate” in Cape Town and its social and ecological effects. These “eco-estates” enroll and depoliticise environmental arguments to create a “green” life-style choice for the rich. Often placed on pristine land outside the urban edge, these “eco-estates” represent a deeply problematic and pervasive urban development in South African cities. Not only do they exploit “green” arguments, consumes a lot of space—but they also form part of a “geographical escapism” that re-produces spatial apartheid (Ballard and Jones 2011) and what SA historian Premesh Lalu (2009) has called a “settler public sphere,” a public discourse that makes invisible ongoing violence and the wider reality of a country and neighbourhood of deep and racialized inequality.

 

For the GroundUp version, please go here, which is being reproduced under the Creative Commons licence below. If you like to re-tweet, please consider tweeting this ‘original’ tweet at @rhizomia. To cite this, use:

Baigrie, Bruce, and Henrik Ernstson. 2017. “Noordhoek Eco-Estates Protect the Rich from the Reality of Masiphumelele: Apartheid Geography Preserved behind a Concern for the Environment.” GroundUp, January 23. Accessed from URL: http://www.groundup.org.za/article/noordhoek-eco-estates-protect-rich-reality-masiphumelele/

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Noordhoek eco-estates protect the rich from the reality of Masiphumelele

Apartheid geography preserved behind a concern for the environment

Photo of Chapman\'s Bay Estate
Lake Michelle estate, surrounding the water body. The cleared land in the right of the section is part of Chapman’s Bay Estate’s property. Photo: Chapman’s Bay Estate website (copied as fair use)
By  and 

A stone’s throw from the working-class township of Masiphumelele, the Noordhoek mountains are being transformed into exclusive “eco-estates” which preserve apartheid geography just as the Group Areas Act did, write Bruce Baigrie and Henrik Ernstson

It is impossible not to notice the construction of Chapman’s Bay Estate as you drive into the Noordhoek Valley along Ou-Kaapse Weg. Splayed out over the mountain slope beside the road, it boasts stunning views, of mountains, beaches and the suburbs of Noordhoek and Fish Hoek. Wetlands glimmer, some with a fence around them, incorporated for exclusive use of the estate.

Further down the valley, in the largest wetland, the entire body of water has been surrounded by the luxury estate of Lake Michelle and made inaccessible to non-residents. Westward and across the valley, other estates stretch along the slope of the mountain, with more construction on-going.

The sheer scale of Chapman’s Bay Estate has drawn three private developers together, including a family trust. Greeff Properties, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, manages the sales, describing it as another of its “most luxurious and exclusive mandates in the Western Cape.” Future residents, who will pay between R3,5 million and R6,8 million for a property, will enjoy a set of newly built amenities. In late 2015, a Virgin Active gym was inaugurated as part of a new shopping mall, which also boasts of its green credentials. Both the gym and the mall feature as incentives in Greeff Christie’s promotional video for the estate, a video that conspicuously only shows white people, smiling individuals and families, doing activities associated with “the lifestyle that comes with Noordhoek.” As if it wasn’t clear already what demographic is desired and expected to live here, the video continues with animations of what it could be like to walk around and live in these houses, again only showing white-rendered people.

That the estate is intended to exclude is clear. On one of our visits in November 2016, two workers from the security company Innoza are running cabling along the bottom of the 3 metre high perimeter fence. CCTV cameras are being placed on even higher poles to produce live video linked into the guardhouse at the main gate.

For the private security industry as well as the banks and the developers, these estates are lucrative.

The development of the estate, originally known as the Dassenberg Residential Estate, has not been without controversy. Opposed by local civic and environmental groups, the initial application was turned down in 1997, only to be approved by a former ANC MEC Pierre Uys in 2009, during the dying days of his term of office. The new Democratic Alliance MEC, Anton Bredell, refused to challenge the approval, and after initial resistance to a rezoning request, the DA-led City of Cape Town abandoned its opposition much to the dismay of residents of the area, and despite the province’s Planning Advisory Board stating the development should have been “drastically scaled back”.

Residents of the Peninsula and the wider Noordhoek valley now seem to have grudgingly accepted the development, though 20-year-old Shelby, who spoke to us from Sun Valley in November 2016, laments the loss of access to her neighbouring wetland and mountain. The mountainside that her family’s home looks onto has been cleared, while most of the wetlands are sealed off by stainless steel and electric fencing.

These “eco-estates,” often on pristine land lying outside the urban edge, represent a deeply problematic pattern of urban development in South African cities. With sustainability as a paramount goal, how do we understand the social and ecological effects of this type of development?

Sustainability is about a connection between ecological processes and social justice. Chapman’s Bay Estate only glaringly omits any such connections. Rather it exploits “green” arguments of sustainability into its sales pitch. This is clear in another video at the estate’s website. The lead architects from the local practice, Lennard & Lennard, proudly proclaim the “symbiotic relationship” that their design has created with the surrounding vegetation, but they omit for instance the destruction of vegetation and animal habitat that their design requires, and the way a once publicly accessible mountain slope is now fenced in. Surely this should be part of any truthful use of “eco” as in ecological?

The sales pitch also does not mention how the“eco-estate” consumes a lot of space and only provides housing for a few people, increasing the city’s footprint with low-density housing. The perimeter fence will eventually encompass 145 houses or “units” on a 45-hectare plot (only phase one appears to be complete). This means only 13 people per hectare if we assume four people in each “unit”. In comparison, fellow citizens in Masiphumelele, with around 17,000 residents in 2011 on 45 hectares, live with a density of 416 people per hectare – 32 times higher. High density and integrated housing development is crucial for Cape Town’s wider sustainability, but in its promotional video, the “eco-estate” turns low density into an argument to serve its sales. Future residents are promised they will “really have that feeling of space” around them.

The Chapman’s Bay Estate’s green credentials are certainly questionable, both in real material terms, and in the way the self-justifying language of conservation and ecology glosses over and waters down environmental and social justice arguments.

But beyond that, these “eco-estates” also serve as cogs within a wider machinery.

On one hand they reproduce exclusionary apartheid geographies. Using green-washing as part of the process, so-called market forces reproduce spaces just as the apartheid-era Group Areas Act once did, leaving behind residents of townships such as Masiphumelele.

The township of Masiphumelele (bottom), where metal shacks use what little space is available, is often described as encroaching on the wetland’s edge. In contrast, the Lake Michelle estate (top), which is completely built within the wetland and appropriating its heart, figures less in analysis of wetland problems. Aerial photo extracted from City of Cape Town maps

“Eco-estates,” the merging of nature with social exclusion, seem also to tap into a settler colonial mentality which dates back to the early 1800s and is difficult to stamp out in South Africa. Back then, the private garden—and, later, botanical gardens and game reserves—displayed settler identity and evoked a sense of accomplishment and home with the planting of European species imported to domesticate the “wild” African landscape. Fast forward to today’s “eco-estates,” where indigenous landscaping has become popular and replaced European “exotic plants” and which offer a tempting life-style choice for the rich: You are not simply buying a house, but you also protect nature.

But we cannot simply see these “eco-estates” in isolation. Rather, they form part of a wider appropriation of urban spaces by the elites. Authorities, finance capital, architects and security companies are providing exclusionary spaces where elite and largely white top-earners can live out what South African and British human geographers Richard Ballard and Gareth Jones have called a geographical escapism, a highly selective interaction with the surroundings. Moving from their securitised homes to spaces of elite consumption built on their behalf, such as the new shopping mall and the Virgin Active gym complex, they are cordoned off from a wider social geography. This renewed “settler public sphere” makes invisible the wider reality of a country and neighbourhood of deep and racialised inequality. Cushioned by a sense of environmental stewardship, residents can ignore the wider reality at their ease.

The Chapman’s Bay Estate, dressed up in artificially planted fynbos on previously undeveloped land, is part of a deeply troubling post-liberation urban development pattern. Part of our motivation for examining this particular estate was to learn how this happens. These exclusionary spaces and the connections between them are not simply “springing up” as if by chance, or as a “natural” consequence of things we cannot tackle. There are identifiable actors, agencies and institutions involved in their fabrication—from banks, municipalities, government agencies and environmental consultants, to architects and landscape architects who are using their knowledge, skills and “green touch” to produce these estates.

We need to work out how we can use our democratic institutions for more inclusionary urban development where sustainability and ecology is tightly wedded to social justice. We need to follow the lead of so many skilled organisers, activists and scholars of this country, now recently under the banner of Reclaim the City.

The way our cities emerge is not set in stone; what seems “natural” can always be contested and ultimately changed.

Baigrie has a Masters in Conservation Biology from the University of Cape Town. Ernstson is a researcher at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. Both authors write in their personal capacities.

Views expressed are not necessarily those of GroundUp. © 2017 GroundUp. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and GroundUp, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

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Announcements Commentary News NEWS: Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies Uncategorized

1 Table 2 Elephants: a film essay about bushmen bboys, a flower kingdom and the ghost of a princess (5 min teaser)

Check out a 5 minute ‘teaser’ of the film “1 Table 2 Elephants” that we are finalising in 2017. Filmed in Cape Town in 2015, it deals with ways of knowing urban ecologies in postapartheid and postcolonial cities. It’s created by Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson, produced in collaboration with KTH and UCT and funded by Formas.

Many-layered city-nature

Entering the city through its plants and wetlands, the many-layered, painful and liberating history of the city emerges as we meet how biologists, hip hoppers, and wetland activists each searches for ways to craft symbols of unity and cohesion. But this is a fraught and difficult task. Perhaps not even desirable. Plants, aliens, memories and ghosts keep troubling efforts of weaving stories about this place called Cape Town.

The film tries to be a vehicle for more general conversations about history/histories, post/de-colonization and the caring for nature, city, people and oneself. Its directed towards a wide audience, from the general public to students and scholars. When ready during 2017 it will be 75 minutes long. Watch the 5 minutes ‘teaser’ below.

https://vimeo.com/201715483

A wider repertoire for doing urban political ecology

The film forms part of an effort to build a wider repertoire of practices on how to approach urbanisation, cities and environmental politics, a repertoire we have called Situated Ecologies [1]. This is a multi-faceted approach that includes historical research and ethnographic practices, but also collaborations with filmers, artists, philosophers and designers. We believe these collaborations can help to trouble more conventional social and natural scientific practices, and create different ‘outputs’ or artefacts to facilitate wider, richer and thoroughly political conversations about urban ecology.

This film explores ontological politics and urban political ecology in postcolonial and postapartheid contexts. But it also speaks beyond its own local context. As often through the medium of film, the peculiar—and in some cases, the utter strangeness of Cape Town—becomes something that can travel and be translated. The film tries to be this ‘vehicle of translation’ from one context to another and provides material for discussions about our own cities, lives and collective struggles.

The film will be ready during 2016. Keep checking this space (or @rhizomia or @SituatedEcologies) and we will let you know. We have screened early work-in-progress versions in South Africa, California, Sweden and soon in Namibia.

 /Henrik and Jacob.

Facts about “1 Table 2 Elephants” : Created by: Jacob von Heland and Henrik Ernstson. Produced by: Telltales Film in collaboration with KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory and the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Photography: Johan von Reybekiel. Sound: Jonathan Chiles. Funded by: Swedish Research Council Formas. Production coordination: Jessica Rattle and Nceba Mangese. More info: situatedecologies.net/projects.

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[1] This is a blog post and not a scholarly text, but to outline some of the inspirations behind ‘situated ecologies’, I can mention: Donna Haraway’s crucial work on situated knowledges from 1988; Urban Political Ecology and its use of socio-natures, cyborgs and its interest in emancipatory politics (Erik Swyngedouw, Matthew Gandy); postcolonial and decolonial scholars (e.g. Gayatri Spivak, Dipesh Chakrabarty); global South urbanism (AbdouMaliq Simone, Ananya Roy, Jennifer Robinson and others); and work on ontological politics, material semiotics and actor-networks (Isabelle Stengers, Sarah Whatmore, John Law, Ann-Marie Mol, Bruno Latour). 

Formas logo

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ACC Logo full text 2014

 

 

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Commentary News NEWS: Ways of Knowing Urban Ecologies

“Somos Sur” :: The need to think, analyse and act from the South—and hip hop as radical democratic practice.

“Somos Sur” is a rap and hip-hop song by Chilean-French artist Ana Tijoux. To me it insists that this world needs thinking, analysis and action from the South. 

The song vibrantly also features Palestinian-British rapper Shadia Mansour and provides hip hop and rap at its best—constructively angry; ruthless in speaking back to power. But also in joining dots; rhythmically it enfolds and unfolds wider geographies of solidarity. So, in solidarity with the people of Gaza, listen to it!

Somos Sur, Hip Hop and Cape Flats

“Somos Sur” also speaks through its registers of rhythm and movement to our own academic project around situated urban political ecologies (SUPE)—and to southern urbanism; and in making use of experiences and intellectual traditions from ‘the elsewheres’ of this world in order to assemble departure points for critique and radical democratic practice.

The song links directly to what I have learnt from my meetings with Capeflatsian hip hoppers Emile YX? and Mixed Mense. Their hip hop and pedagogic work in Cape Town can certainly be described as a democratic practice in that it shifts how, and who can speak into the future of Cape Town.

Over the last couple of years I have reported on how their hip hop performs deep differences to call into being the possibility of agency and new imaginaries of democracy, in spite structural oppression. See for instance my texts on their performance at Princess Vlei, in the magazine Urban Wetlands: South Asia; and here in conversation with Emile at Stanford. Their hip hop has flowed into my critique of ‘ecosystem services’ and other technologies of de-politicisation that environmental discourse is often wrapped up in (listen to this argument in my webinar from Portland State University).

Hip hop as tool of critique and pedagogy: documentary from Cape Town

In regards of what hip hop can do, as a practice to critique and engage structural oppression, I can here mention a recent documentary film about the Cape Town hip hop scene created by US-based Kareem Alston.

The film features the many nationalities of hip hoppers in Cape Town that share their talent and devotion to hip hop as a tool of critique and pedagogy. It goes a long way to animate discussions how  democratic practices can be developed from the felt sense of equality, and not from handed down ideas of simply voting every fourth or fifth year. As such of course it revives the deep democratic experiment and tradition from Cape Flats of the 1980s when United Democratic Front and other collectivities developed street-based direct democratic practices in the height of onslaught and struggle (see for instance writings by Jeremy Seekings). Another contribution from the film is that it shows how Cape Town is worlded across the continent through these hip hoppers. (30 min long.)

In solidarity: Palestinians, Mapuche and Capeflatsians

So, listen to “Somos Sur” in solidarity with Palestinians, Mapuche, and Capeflatsians. As my friend Oddveig wrote to me in fighting spirit when recommending “Somos Sur”, herself latina living in Cape Town, “doesn’t this just make you happy!”



 
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Announcements Conferences News NEWS: MOVE Cape Town Presentations

MOVE Project organises: The Cape Town Civil Society Conference, 6 June, 2015

Dr. Henrik Ernstson is organizing a major Civil Society Conference in Cape Town on 6 June, 2105. The conference is a result of his 3-year MOVE/CIVNET research project on civil society networks with Professor Mario Diani and Dr. Lorien Jasny. The conference gathers over 100 organisations that mobilise on the urban environment to debate and discuss the project’s findings, the autonomy of civil society—and democratisation of this once apartheid-divided city. 

CIVNET-Conference-logo-129k

This conference invites Cape Town’s civil society organzations to reflect and share their experiences in mobilizing and influencing the urban environment, from struggles around housing and service delivery, to the protection of habitat and biodiversity. Researchers are invited to discuss alliance building, movement formation and the democratization of urban space, including legacies from apartheid and contemporary challenges. Central is to give space for break-out groups, discussions and networking.

Read more at our website.

If you are civil society group in Cape Town, please go to the website and sign up to participate on the red RSVP button.

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Commentary News

With the death of Mandela—Focus on South Africa

Screen-Shot-2013-12-20-at-08.17.37Two top geographic journals have posted links to their articles dealing with South Africa—before and after Apartheid—in remembrance of the death of the freedom fighter and first black South African president Nelson Mandela, both including articles by our own Mary Lawhon.

Society and Space: Environment and Planning D headlines Post-apartheid geographies – a virtual theme issue and writes:

The global outpouring of grief for this ‘giant of history’, as Barack Obama has called [Nelson Mandela], is simply extraordinary. Amidst the sadness, of course, there has been a deluge of commentary on Mandela’s legacy. Along with commemoration, there has been much critical reflection on the contradictions, exclusions, and disappointments of the post-apartheid era that he, among many others, shepherded into being and indelibly impacted.

They continue:

As Slavoj Zizek asserts in a commentary for the Mail and Guardian, “if we want to remain faithful to Mandela’s legacy, we should…forget about celebratory crocodile tears and focus on the unfulfilled promises his leadership gave rise to.” The boos that met current South African President Jacob Zuma when he took the stage at Mandela’s memorial exemplify this statement’s potency.

Articles being placed into this virtual special issue includes articles from 1989 and early 1990s by Susan Parnell, Jennifer Robinson, Jonathan Crush, Sophie Oldfied up to 2013 by our own Mary Lawhon.

 

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Antipode is the other journal that has gathered articles in their Spotlight on South Africa. They also have included a 2013 article by Mary Lawhon, and then features articles from 1991 and onwards by Andries Bezuidenhout and Khayaat Fak

ier, Anne-Marie Debbané,  Gillian Hart to Nigel C. Gibson’s article on What Happened to the “Promised Land”? A Fanonian Perspective on Post-Apartheid South Africa by Nigel C. Gibson (2012, 44[1]:51–73).

 

 

Adding to their list from Situated Ecologies and SUPE projects

To their list we can add some articles from our own projects in South Africa dealing with how various groups relate and rework the urban environment in the post apartheid city of Cape Town.

Battersby, J. (2012) Urban food security and the urban food policy gap, Strategies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality: Towards Carnegie 3 Conference, Cape Town 3-7 September 2012

Graham, M., & Ernstson, H. (2012). Comanagement at the Fringes: Examining Stakeholder Perspectives at Macassar Dunes, Cape Town, South Africa—at the Intersection of High Biodiversity, Urban Poverty, and Inequality. Ecology and Society17(3).

Ernstson, H. (2013). Re-translating nature in post-apartheid Cape Town: the alliance of people and plants at Bottom Road. (R. Heeks, Ed.)Actor-Network Theory for Development: Working Paper Series, (June), 1–35. Retrieved from http://www.cdi.manchester.ac.uk/resources/ant4d/documents/ANT4DWorkingPaper4Ernstson.pdf 

Ernstson, H., & Sörlin, S. (2013). Ecosystem services as technology of globalization: On articulating values in urban nature. Ecological Economics, 86, 274–284. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.09.012

Battersby, J. & McLachlan, M. (2013) Urban food insecurity: A neglected public health challenge, South African Medical Journal, Vol. 103, No. 10, pp. 716-717

Battersby, J and Marshak, M. (2013) Growing Communities: Integrating the Social and Economic Benefits of Urban Agriculture in Cape Town, Urban Forum 24 (4) 447-461

And more is coming on South Africa from Marnie Graham, Jonathan D. Silver, and from those others mentioned, Mary Lawhon, Jane Battersby and me, Henrik Ernstson.

Further reading

For those interested, I posted on my own blog In Rhizomia clips and commentaries from different news sources about Nelson Mandela. In particular Al Jazeera‘s coverage was good, reflecting the wider complexity of Mandela and the wider movement of which he was part, that he shaped and that shaped him. Also Mail and Guardian had good coverage, for instance in having digitized all their articles on Mandela since 1980, amongst others one by Susan Sonntag from 1986. A well-balanced short report is from South African critique Richard Pithouse who teaches politics at Rhodes University and who writes for the always useful SACSIS – South African Civil Society Information Service.

I also captured some of the debates on Sweden’s role during the antiapartheid struggle (scroll down i the post). Maybe few Screen-Shot-2013-12-20-at-09.07.22know that the Swedish state gave in total some 2.5 billion SEK to ANC, according to Pär Wästberg, a long-term antiapartheid activists, writer and journalist. Sweden was then governed in large periods by the Social Democrats under in particular Olof Palme and later by Ingvar Carlsson and together with all parties except the conservative party was in favor of trade boycott and to actively support the liberation struggle, alongside all other European and international activists.

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