Political parties’ architectural ambitions

Are politicians frustrated spatial planners at heart? We’re tempted to think so following their recent election campaigning. 

The DA in Cape Town wants to turn the estate that houses parliamentarians into low-cost housing. It sends all the right signals: housing 400 MPs costs almost R70 million per year. But we can’t take the party seriously. It’s  notorious for allowing poor people in Cape Town to be ousted in favour of pricey property developments, as in the Bromwell Street evictions. Start with the Bo-Kaap issues on your own doorstep, guys. DA mayoral hopeful Geordin Hill-Lewis got into a spat with Minister of Public Works Patricia De Lille over the issue, during which she hilariously called him “stupid”. 🤭

De Lille is a former DA Cape Town mayor herself, before she fell out with the party, and says her party, GOOD, will release well-located City-owned land to deliver affordable accommodation. Buuuut given many of the aforementioned issues that happened during her tenure, we’re not convinced.

Gayton McKenzie’s Patriotic Alliance got in on the action too, proposing that Cape Town Stadium and golf courses in the city be demolished for affordable housing. But it was Julius Malema’s suggestion that he and the EFF would build RDP houses in areas like Sandton that got the most attention. Some critics cheekily asked whether he would start on his own street in the affluent suburb. 😝

Malema is being shallow in his analysis. Of course people of all incomes should live in main business nodes like Sandton. The legacy of apartheid spatial planning, which forced working class black South Africans into far-flung areas, means workers today still pay more than their counterparts in most countries to get to work. The solution isn’t space-hungry RDP houses but rather smart thinking around mixed-use developments and densification. There are loads of great innovations already being trialled in SA and we need more: in Johannesburg, former mayor Herman Mashaba initiated a project which saw derelict and hijacked buildings expropriated for public use in the form of subsidised housing. 

This issue is not specific to South Africa. Recently, voters in Berlin, Germany voted to expropriate property owned by large real estate companies for affordable housing. 

Calling for RDP houses was just old Juju’s way of hogging the headlines – and hey, it looks like it worked! 🤷🏽‍♀️

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 30 September 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.