One of the best-known quotes of the 19th century American author, Herman Melville, revolved around poverty….
‘Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most, the criticisms made on the habits of the poor, by the well-housed, the well-warmed, and the well-fed,’ he said.’
I was reminded of this following a week of floods in the Western Cape, in which parts of the Cape Flats were particularly badly hit, and in which I criticised the DA-run City of Cape Town on my Twitter page for doing virtually nothing to alleviate the plight of the poor.
Indeed, at the back of my mind was that in winter especially, the City has developed a habit of driving out homeless people from areas that at the very least afforded them SOME shelter.
Many residents of Cape Town who responded supported what I said – but as many viewed me as an utter idiot and a bleeding heart for siding with whom they described as a migrant group who, to be honest (according to them) should have stayed in the Eastern Cape, where they originally came from.
The majority of those who slated me, took what I saw as a 1950s stance towards those whose houses were flooded – along corporal punishment lines of ‘if you don’t listen, you must feel the pain’.
They argued that shacks that were flooded were illegally built on a ‘floodplain’.
‘You can’t blame the DA for this,’ they said.
And, loading a barb dipped in arrogance, and shooting it at me, a Tweeter called GD pointed out: ‘If you can’t understand that, then maybe take an engineering course.’
As I read the comments, a thought struck me (not for the first time) based on this question: ‘How many of you have actually set foot in Khayelitsha, Lavender Hill, Bonteheuwel, Manenberg and Heideveld, or in just a few of the almost 450 informal settlements dotted around Cape Town?
I’ll put my head on a block and say most of you haven’t.
And I speak with some experience….
Years ago, when one of my sons played cricket for his school at Under-14 level, guess which parents ‘withdrew’ their sons from the team, whenever it was scheduled to play in Khayelitsha or one of the other townships?
These are the types of people, I’m prepared to bet, who will always be first to want to tell those living in informal settlements or townships what is best for them.
These are the people, who with smug arrogance, will be first to insist the DA is doing a marvellous job for all the residents of Cape Town.
And these are the people who will jump up and say, without a jot of proof either way: ‘The DA is doing a better job than the ANC.’
So, here’s my question to these ‘law-abiding, experts’: What did you do or say when hundreds of thousands of black people were kicked out of their homes in terms of apartheid legislation?
How did you show your opposition when black people were forced to carry passes – and what did you say when those without these documents were sent ‘back’ to places such as the Eastern Cape.
Yes, I thought so – Nothing. Zilch. Fuck all.
In fact, I bet most of you showed your appreciation to the apartheid National Party by voting for them again, and again, and again.
Of course, some of you who responded to the plight of flood-hit people in Khayelitsha by calling on them to ‘go back to the Eastern Cape’ were yourselves kicked out of your homes in terms of apartheid legislation.
One such person who responded to my Twitter post had the temerity to say many informal settlement dwellers deliberately built their houses on flood plains, because they knew the authorities would house them in better areas.
Another person described people like me as ‘bleeding hearts’.
All I can say is, ‘Shame on you’.
In 2015, the Mail&Guardian newspaper pointed out that flooding is an annual winter occurrence in many parts of Cape Town. ‘The poorest have little choice but to build their informal homes in areas that are seasonal wetlands and floodplains,’ it said.
‘And when winter rains come, shacks are soaked from the ground up.’
Aditya Kumar, the executive director of the Development Action Group (Dag), a non-profit organisation advocating for affordable housing, said successive governments in Cape Town were unable to deal with the issue of housing and winter flooding.
‘During apartheid, most of Khayelitsha and neighbouring Mitchells Plain were built on an historically wetland area that was filled up with soil and earth to make it inhabitable, at least in certain sections.’
People know the risks, but they don’t have a choice, Kumar pointed out.
Shamefully, since then, nothing has been done to improve the situation.