Someone died today

Someone died today
Just round the corner at the small Woolworths mall in Klipfontein road
Most likely others died too
at the hand of some sordid human feud
Blooding the ground with futility
Not far away from here, not for any good reason

Some died today
not someone I know
I don’t know what she looked like
I don’t know her name
I don’t know her story

She died because someone decided to make a choice
They made a choice to use a firearm in a public space
They decided their outrage, their anger, their pain
was the only thing that mattered
And there she was in the crossfire
Meddling in the moment, her body simply moving as it always did, going about her business
no connection, no relation to the human holding the firearm
Sending a bullet meant for some other body

There was just that one fatality, I heard
And yet there were more today
I know this
because every day there are someones dying
for no good reason
for no good cause – as if there ever is
Every day somewhere there’s a mind failing itself, a heart strange to its own humanity

They die in violence
because we count the unimportant
we plague spaces with a presence devoid of love
Every day we fail our own humanity.

(By Khadija Tracey Carmelita Heeger)
(Image Credit: Cyprian Mpho Shilakoe: “Remember Me” / Revisions)

In Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa, the struggle for housing is a struggle for home

120-128 Bromwell Street

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa consists of a Preamble and 14 chapters. Chapter 1 provides the “founding provisions” and opens: “The Republic of South Africa is one, sovereign, democratic state founded on the following values: Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms. Non-racialism and non-sexism. Supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law. Universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.” It’s a promising beginning. Chapter 2 is titled “Bill of Rights” and begins: “This Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. The state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights.” Section 26 of the Constitution, located in Chapter 2, concerns housing and so much more: “Housing: Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing. The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right. No one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions.” This is one of only two occasions on which the Constitution discusses “home”. The other, Section 14, articulates the right to privacy: “Everyone has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have their person or home searched.” There’s a great deal, though not enough, of discussion these days of `homelessness’. Recently, that condition has been somewhat refined by calling the loss of housing the state of being unhoused. While a welcome intervention, this still doesn’t tell us what home is.

Beyond the right to access to adequate housing and the right to not be arbitrarily evicted or have one’s home arbitrarily demolished, what is the State’s responsibility to something they, the inhabitants, residents, neighbors, community, call home? This is a particularly poignant question in a country marked by a history of forced mass dislocations, a description as apt for the United States, Brazil, India, England, as South Africa. Nevertheless, when the authors of the South African Constitution codified the right to housing, they remembered, acutely, the dislocations, demolitions and deprivations of housing and home under the apartheid regime. And today? Consider a court decision rendered today by the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa, concerning the rights of residents in the Woodstock neighborhood of Cape Town. While today’s decision may mark a turning point, it is not the end of the story.

For some, the story would start on October 30, 2013, when The Woodstock Hub bought 120 to 128 Bromwell Street. On June 30, 2014, residents were served eviction notices and given a month to clear out. Residents, 26 in all including children, began organizing. They went to court. In 2016, the Cape High Court decided in favor of the landlord. The residents’ attorneys argued that at the very least the City had an obligation to move the residents into nearby and adequate housing. Instead, the City proposed to move them to Wolwerivier, far from the city center and with absolutely no public transportation whatsoever. Woodstock, on the other hand, is one of the most centrally located suburbs in Cape Town, and while it managed to avoid forced removals in the 1950s, its location has meant wave upon wave of gentrification, displacement, and struggle. With that in mind, the residents and their attorneys appealed the decision.

In 2021, five years later, the Cape Town High Court decided that the City’s plan for removal to Wolwerivier was indeed unconstitutional. The Court ruled the City must find the residents emergency housing as near as feasibly possible and within the year. In response, The Woodstock Hub appealed, and that’s where we are today. Today, the Court ruled the City plan is not unconstitutional, because the earlier decision “did not identify the extent of invalidity for the City to rectify in its order.” On the other hand, the Court did say the City must provide adequate housing “in a location as near as possible to where they currently reside” before the end of May. It’s a mixed decision. Whether the residents will accept or appeal is unknown just now.

120 to 128 Bromwell Street has been, and is, home to these residents. Brenda Smith is 82 years old. She was born in 128 Bromwell Street. Today, she lives in 128 Bromwell Street. Charnell Commando is 36 years old. She has lived on Bromwell Street all her life. In fact, her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents also were born and lived at her current address. Graham Beukes, 42 years old, has lived all his life at his current Bromwell Street address, where his parents lived for 50 years. What `value’ does their history, do their lives, have? What is home?


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: Rejul Bejoy / GroundUp) (Photo Credit 2: Ashraf Hendricks / GroundUp)

His father returned

His father returned

Goods stolen
we bite the hand
that feeds
(same old story)

His father returned
whatever his son
brought home
from his (and others)
ransacking expedition

A ransacking expedition
they bit the hand
that helps others
in their time of need

His father returned
items his druggie son
(same old story)
took without permission
from the Gift of the Givers

His father returned
as many others did
from the community
and the surrounds

one wishes others
would do so too
from wherever

and from whoever
they have liberated
worldly goods
and the like

His father returned

SAFM radio’s Beyond the Headlines presenter – and many others – express disbelief at the ransacking of the Gift of the Givers’ office (Tuesday afternoon, 11 January 2023).


(By David Kapp)

Image Credit: Radio 947)

In South Africa, the Court decides wealth cannot override the fundamental rights of First Nations Peoples


For the past few years, Amazon has said it’s building its new African headquarters in a neighborhood of Cape Town called Observatory. The site, known as the River Club site, is at the confluence of the Liesbeek and the Black Rivers. It’s a flood plain that had been zoned for Open Space and conservation. None of that mattered to Amazon and its partners, who proceeded to purchase property, permits and politicians, and three years ago began development of an urban park filled with ten-story buildings, the Two Rivers Urban Park, or TRUP. That flood plain is also sacred space for the indigenous Goringhaicona Khoi and San First Nation peoples. On Friday, March 18, Western Cape Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath temporarily but fully stopped all development and construction on the site. Why? The developers failed to consult with the Goringhaicona Khoi and San First Nation peoples: “There had not been meaningful consultation with First Nation groups.” Some version of that statement figures repeatedly throughout the discussion and conclusion.

Judge Goliath’s conclusion begins, “The matter ultimately concerns the rights of indigenous peoples. The fact that the development has substantial economic, infrastructural and public benefits can never override the fundamental rights of First Nations Peoples. First Nations Peoples have a deep, sacred linkage to the development site through lineage, oral history, past history and narratives, indigenous knowledge systems, living heritage and collective memory. The TRUP site is therefore central to the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the First Nations Peoples. I am of the view that the fundamental right to culture and heritage of Indigenous Groups, more particularly the Khoi and San First Nations People, are under threat in the absence of proper consultation, and that the construction of the River Club development should stop immediately, pending compliance with the fundamental requirement. I am satisfied that the Applicants had established a prima facie right, and a reasonable apprehension of irreparable damage and imminent harm if an interim interdict is not granted. I am further satisfied that the balance of convenience favour the granting of an interim interdict, and is the only appropriate remedy in the circumstances. In my view, Applicants have shown, on the evidence and the law, compliance with all the requirements for interim relief … I am accordingly satisfied that it is constitutionally appropriate to grant an interim interdict.”

The developers tried everything, from creating tension among First Nations Peoples to claiming they had conducted an impartial consultative and review process. None of that worked in Judge Goliath’s court. What mattered was the evidence and, equally, that the dignity of the First Nations People be respected.

In 1510, on the site of the Two Rivers Urban Park, wherein River Club is located, a Portuguese party tried to steal cattle from the Goringhaicona Khoi. The Khoi repelled them. A larger Portuguese force returned, to `teach the Khoi’ a lesson. The Khoi warriors soundly defeated the Portuguese, killing 64 Europeans, including their leader and eleven captains: “This devastating defeat put pause to Portugal’s run of victories in Africa and Asia.” In 1659, on the same site, the First Khoi-Dutch War ended with a resounding defeat of the Khoi. This established the rule of the Dutch East India Company, and began centuries of dispossession, immiseration and enslavement for the Khoi Peoples.

From the first announcement of Amazon’s intention, representatives of the Khoi and San Peoples argued that these specific sites are “holders of memory”. On Friday, Judge Goliath agreed. Khoi, San and their allies are celebrating and preparing for the next stages. As Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council Commissioner Tauriq Jenkins said, “We are celebrating at the epicentre of liberation and resistance in defence of our country. We welcome everyone who would like to join us as we acknowledge the halting of the current destruction on the site.” There is no reconstruction without consultation. Spread the word far and wide: Wealth and power cannot override fundamental rights.


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: GroundUp / Marecia Damons) (Photo Credit 2: Leon Lestrade / African News Agency / Weekend Argus)

(2020) you’ve taken away enough

(2020) you’ve taken away enough

A community in pain
out in Eldorado Park 
a youngster the victim
where crime and drugs rule

A community in pain
out in Oudshoorn 
a doctor on the frontline
the victim of our pandemic 

you’ve taken away
enough from us
a teacher-friend’s remarks
could be a world-wide echo

from the Eldorado Parks
to the Oudshoorns
from Africa to Asia 
to the Americas and beyond

you’ve taken away
enough from us

The youngster brought comfort
The doctor brought comfort 

Comfort well needed
in schools
in communities

you’ve taken away
enough from us


(Photo Credit: The Conversation)

Self-care is not synonymous with selfishness, but is necessary for survival.

Since we’ve been back at school, I’ve managed to wake up before the alarm every single day. Yesterday I woke up with a fluttering heart just after 5, and after 6 today. Not cool for a weekend. Especially not when you have to be at your full senses, on high alert for the coming week. Being positive, encouraging the kids, telling them how brave and wonderful they are, because they are, staying in touch with the kids who are still home, teaching in the real and virtual world, trying to teach, be expressive and animated with a mask on, watching which board marker you pick up, using the same pen for everything, not being able to walk to a desk, hand on child’s shoulder and explain. Coming home, absolutely famished because you only drink the coffee which the hubby packs, because you had a sandwich at school once since being back, but you didn’t know which side plate to use and it was embarrassing having to raise and lower the mask everytime someone came into the staffroom and you imagine the virus lurking in every surface which you know has been sanitized.

Watching these amazing teenagers listen intently, take in every single word we say, fear for their future, ask if they will have to repeat the grade, be afraid to even speak to each other. I miss their quick retorts, funny quips, and especially their random, offbeat questions and comments. We used to ‘get’ each other. Now we’re just afraid of getting the virus from each other.

Watching your friends and colleagues struggle with their own fears, speaking to parents’ concerns about their child at school, their child at home, their child with a co-morbiditiy, their child without a co-morbiditiy, but with vulnerable family members. The parents’ huge and understandable irritation and then their ensuing vitriolic expression when Ministers and MECs don’t say the same thing. Being at the receiving end of that expression, but using diplomacy and exercising patience when you yourself are ANGRY! Watching our principal try and do the right thing by everybody, carrying what seems too much on those slight shoulders. Being available to parents at odd hours because questions, fear, anger and confusion knows no school hours.

Since Lockdown started, we’ve repeatedly told the kids and their parents ‘We’re in this together and we’ll get through it together’…. Now I’m not so sure. What will we come out as? Resilient, tenacious and ALIVE, or defeated, overwhelmed…

I remind myself, as I remind any other teacher and parent reading this, we can only take it one day at a time, and most importantly, this is the time to have and exercise an active and living faith.

Wishing you a blessed Sunday. Do what makes you happy. Be kind to and gentle with yourself. Self-care is not synonymous with selfishness, but is necessary for survival.

(Photo Credit: Phando Jikelo / African News Agency / Cape Times)

We didn’t get to finish

Tembinkosi Qondela

We didn’t get to finish

We didn’t get to finish
a social media dialogue
in between the music
I sent TQ to keep
our spirits up

We didn’t get to finish
he asking leading questions
in response to my saying
that I miss the schoolchildren

What will you do he asks
when most are infected 
the school has to close 
and you can’t even 
visit them at the hospital 

Children whose nutrition 
and immune system 
is compromised are also 
vulnerable and then they 
bring it home to those 
who are more vulnerable

Whizz Centre suspended classes 
for 60 of their learners 
who were a major source 
of the Centre’s income
putting people’s health first

This is the TQ we knew
health before profit
health before economy 
not economy before health
he maintained you cannot sacrifice 
people’s health for the economy

Then he asks me
what is this economy 
we are talking about  
are we talking about 
food or gold

We didn’t get to finish


(Photo Credit: Facebook / Tembinkosi Qondela)

Apartheid gentrification haunts Cape Town and the world

Last Monday, Reclaim the City reported, “Reclaim the City has been approached by a woman (who wishes to remain anonymous) whose rent has been increased by the City of Cape Town (‘the City’) by more than 2000%. She has rented a City council home in Salt River from the City of Cape Town since 1995. When her and husband moved in, they signed a lease agreement with a rental of R220 per month. The house was an uninhabitable mess. Over the years, they improved, fixed and maintained the property at their own expense. Due to minor rental increases, her rent is now R243.81. She has never defaulted on her monthly payments and has lived happily in her home for the last 24 years. In August 2019, the City of Cape Town sent her a letter saying they are increasing her rent to R5 500 per month. This is an astronomical increase from the R243 she is currently paying.” For millions across the globe, this is an all too familiar story, but what exactly is the story? In what world is it acceptable that anyone receive a rental increase notice of more than 2000%?

1995, Cape Town. Apartheid is officially ended, and, across the country, the new South Africa is on everyone’s lips, minds, and hearts. Reconstruction and Development Programme community flora are meeting everywhere … or almost everywhere. There’s a new President, a new Parliament, and a new dispensation.  A rainbow hovers over the nation and over the Mother City, as Cape Town is called.

While some of this picture is accurate, missing are the plans to “re-develop” Cape Town, to turn Cape Town into a thriving “global city”, replete with a metropolitan economy largely driven by real estate development. In the midst of all this, a couple move into public housing, twenty-four years ago, in the working class neighborhood of Salt River, a neighborhood known largely for second-hand shops, a diverse array of working class communities, and Community House, a center for community and labor organizing. It’s also known for the empty textile and garment factories that closed during the 1980s, when the apartheid regime invested heavily in Export Processing Zones that gutted the vibrant garment and textile economies of the Western Cape.

So, this couple moves in, signs the lease, fixes the place up (at considerable expense to themselves), never misses a payment, makes a home for themselves and for their neighbors. This couple survives and makes a life of dignity and self-respect. For their great labors and contributions to the municipality’s well-being, they are rewarded with amounts to an eviction notice. 

The couple have appealed, Reclaim the City and their supporters are organizing to help them remain in their home, the City continues to threaten eviction. Given the recent pattern of “spiraling” evictions in the Cape Town region, this comes as no surprise. As Reclaim the City notes, “If anyone needs more proof that the City is anti-poor and anti-black, this woman’s exorbitant rent hike is case and point.”

Anti-poor, anti-Black and committed to growing inequality as the key to urban development. For millions across the globe, and especially those living in so-called urban cities driven by service sector economies and predatory real estate development, this is an all too familiar story. But what exactly is the story? Remember, this working-class couple in Cape Town live in public housing. Their landlord is the City. The City raised their rent by over 2000 percent. When they responded and asked for help, the City threatened them with eviction. In this instance, eviction is exile, because a couple seeking to pay less than 300 rand a month won’t find anything anywhere near livable in Cape Town. 

What is public housing, if this is how the State acts? What is the public, if the State has committed to exploiting, oppressing and, if all else fails, assaulting the working populations who make it possible for the Public to function? What exactly is the story? That question has been answered recently in the streets of Ecuador, Sudan, Chile, Lebanon, Hong Kong and beyond. This story is not yet over, neither the local one in Cape Town nor its global counterpart; the struggle continues. Apartheid gentrification, gentrification that condemns working people to forced removals to distant regions, haunts the world. In what world is it acceptable receive a rental increase notice of more than 2000%? Our world. Another world must be possible.


(Photo Credit: Twitter)

What are you worth (children of Valhalla Park)

What are you worth (children of Valhalla Park)

Valhalla – the palace of immortality
in Scandinavian mythology –
where rests souls of heroes slain
and there are statues and the like 
to the memory of illustrious individuals

What are you worth
children of Valhalla Park 
(might some even say
children of a lesser)

I know folks out there 
a computer literate mother 
of many offspring who 
I’ve not seen for a while

(how might they be
are they on the straight
and the narrow path
are they safe there)

What are you worth
children of Valhalla Park 
and the immediate surrounds
of your fertile growing minds

Are you worth more
or less than the biologically 
blue-eyed and blonde souls
wherever they find themselves

Are you worth more
than your counterparts
in the Palestines Yemens Syrias
of our globalized earth-ghetto

(what of the girl-child
forever at the bottom 
of the feeding queue
voting fodder cannon fodder
for politicians and spokesmen)

What are you worth
children of Valhalla Park 

What are you worth children 
anywhere and everywhere

Penned after a social media condemnation of the recent slaying of children in the area.


(Photo Credit: Voice of the Cape)

Water Crisis: Can Cape Town act collectively to generate a new eco-politics?

Flamingos on the Black River

A journalist sent me an email recently, asking for comment on the Cape water crisis. His email was titled *Will Cape Town survive the deadliest water crisis?* Here’s my response.

Thanks for writing. I worry about your email headline though: this is not “the deadliest” water crisis and yes of course the city can survive it, if the narrative we work with is productive. Making it about “survival” (presumably v extinction) and “the deadliest” generates scripts for individual survivalism — and therefore that kind of story becomes self-fulfilling. My PhD was on journalism and narratives of crisis and conflict in KwaZulu-Natal in the 1990s. I feel very strongly about the role of the media in generating responsive, responsible stories. See for example Ben Okri’s incredible booklet on stories and storytelling — “A Way Of Being Free” — where he sets out in pithy and quotable numbered phrases how we become the stories we tell ourselves. So you have a role too, in facilitating the kind of narrative that can enable collective action.

That is not, of course, to punt “sunshine journalism” or pretend that all is well, or no criticism is allowed. Far from it. This is a terrible situation, that’s arisen not only from some terrible decisions but also from a lifestyle that is the ideal of city living. Like any other terrible situation this can bring the best out of us (if we learn how to work together and transform how we live as households and as a city — a feminist ethic of care) and the worst (if we work on “my-household-uber-alles” survivalism — the patriarchal principle).

The greatest failing of the political management of the crisis so far has been the failure of leadership to offer a narrative that encourages people to pull together. But perhaps — if I think as a social scientist — that failure is not just an oversight but symptomatic of the broader problem: and that is the idea that “experts” will solve this. There are two problems with this:
* like weather forecasting in a time of climate crisis, expertise discovers its limits when the predictables are no longer predictable.
* Expertise that is based on the patriarchal and militaristic “command and control” is based on the idea that expertise has no limits.

Spot the loop?

As a feminist scholar who reads a lot of decolonial thinkers’ work, I think there is something very important to think about here: that both our modes of “I know everything” expertise, and modes of collective organising (command and control) — reach their limits in a time of crisis.

So experts and decision-makers have two choices: either carry on pretending to have complete expertise and have everyone but themselves see the hubris of that, or work with people to say — “look: we were totally wrong to assume that rainfall patterns would stay high. We’ve made choices in those years to spend funds on other pressing priorities (this is what they were; we will put together a commission of enquiry to try to learn what went wrong with water sciences, and /or the communications between our water expertise and decision-making.) But right now we have a crisis to solve — and we can either fight with one another, or address this using what we have learned in the past about collective action. So let’s create a water crisis committee with all public sectors involved, and create street committees on every street, and work out how we can partner together poor and rich areas so we can ensure we can get through the next 180 days together.”

The key is to move from “command and control” approaches to implementing expertise to an ethics of care, of relationships – because relationships and collective action are the only way we can do this.

South Africa in general, and Cape Town in particular, have a strong history of collective action in opposing apartheid. We need to reclaim that, and bring the best of UDF-style leadership into this. “Each one teach one”; street committees to ensure care for those on your street, and partnerships to care for sectors far away. For example, middle class and elite and working-class street committees could work together to put up a number of water filters and rain water tanks at poorer schools, or sponsor a couple of roller barrels. Or work with NGOs like Habitat for Humanity to facilitate work parties to construct compost toilets — which are NOT expensive to put up, but need to be done properly and managed well. Or churches or Rotary style organisations or specific districts could also offer a truck or sponsor truck hire for people living in areas without transport to fetch water. And yes, there will be conflicts — but if you remember the Peace Committee structures of the 1990s there were teams available to help resolve conflicts.

South Africans are incredibly divided and this kind of crisis will either force the faultlines wide open — an earthquake-style catastrophe — or offer an opportunity to step over the city’s dividing lines and start to fill the cracks.

How you do that is not via command and control relationships, but by drawing the best out of people. Encouraging relationships of care: knowing that what matters to one, matters to all. The labour power available through mass mobilisation of generosity based on care for the bigger picture is what gets you through tough days. While it is going to be difficult to persuade the racist, nationalistic, individualistic and patriarchal among us (and often inside us) to do this, the situation is dire: either we work together as a city, based on care and noticing needs, or we destroy our possibility of being a collective, which is what a city is. The question everyone has to think about is what does it mean to be a collective, in this situation? In that way we rediscover politics — and more specifically, an ecological politics: that we all depend on everyone’s wellbeing; that everyone depends on our capacity to create a workable ecology for homes and services and businesses. What is normally scoffed at as “utopian” in the “strongest individuals survive” mentality promoted by neoliberalism, is now a basic and necessary home truth. The democratic social contract only works if you create a functioning ecology. The city’s ecology has broken down because of low rainfall: human collective effort is now needed to supply what “ecosystem services” have done for free.

You asked what I meant about seeing this crisis as an opportunity to build a greener and more climate resilient city. The rise of cities since the 1960s has been extraordinary, and cities are only possible because of sewage management and bulk water, bulk energy and bulk food supply, and waste removal. But the ecological costs of bulk supply are enormous. Cities are extraordinarily wasteful infrastructures because they are built on the idea of bulk supply only, removing the responsibility of all to live ecologically. Most urban design gives barely a thought to water or energy. So whole new developments go in as if they are alien spaceships and have nothing to do with the ecologies that sustain them. Hard surfacing means water runs off very fast, as stormwater, and doesn’t seep into the soil. Result: no aquifer recharge; flooding; lowering of water table; drier soils; loss of large trees; higher temperatures on streets; more aircon, more fossil fuels, greater climate change. Simple water-wise solutions would change this. So: this crisis makes it evident that water-sensitive urban design must become mandatory for EVERY new development.

I think it is entirely appropriate to look at Cape Town (and Port Elizabeth, for that matter — also facing a day zero) as an example of an evolutionary limit of a city based on that kind of “eco-thoughtless” design. At some point the system collapses in on itself, whether through poor planning (in one large city) or through changed climate (from so many large cities). But consider rainfall in relation to roof area in Cape Town. If every rooftop was harvesting rainwater, we would be well on the way to saving the water that falls locally — and it is a lot — we would be storing local downpours as well as the water that the faraway dams collect. The city can and should be looking at localised water solutions, at household level. There should be a subsidy system for water tanks and guttering into them. That would build more climate change resilience for the coming years.

Consider sewage. Cape Town has a massive problem with sewage going out to sea. We could be recycling about 50% of the water from sewage, I’m told by engineers, and ensuring that pharmaceuticals and organic pollutants are removed. Again, this will lead to greater climate resilience. Compost toilets are also very useful — I’m installing one in my home — but there too, I worry about persistent organic pollutants getting into soil and the water table or aquifers, so I’m not convinced these are a long term solution for a major city on major medications, and using the kind of toxic cleaning products that supermarkets push.

There’s another whole discussion there: Why do we clean our houses with toxins and call them clean? Surely we need to rethink “clean” beyond “shiny” to consider the health of the whole household — and its ecology. The word “ecology” comes from the Greek word “ekos” (oikos, if you use the correct spelling). “Ekos” means HOUSEHOLD. It is also the root word of “economy” and “ecumene”. This ecological crisis in which we find ourselves has come about because we have split ecology from economy, thinking of economy only as finance, not natural flows, growths and cycles. And we have split ecology and economy from ecumene, or society: forgetting that the three depend on each other, and come together in how we live, how we make our homes.

Then let’s look at the city’s rivers. The Black River, the Liesbeeck, the Eerste, the Kuils, the Keyser — these should be clean, and should be sources of water that we could use in this crisis. It is scandalous that they flow every day but that their waters are so filthy the city can’t even consider using them for drinking water. It is true that the flamingoes are back on the Black River, and that is the accomplishment of a team of under-resourced fresh water ecologists who’ve done extraordinary things. But the rivers are still terrible. That needs to change. We need to reclaim our relationships with rivers, and care for them and their water like we care for the health of our own arteries. Collective clean ups of the river are possible. They flow through communities rich and poor. River clean ups can be vital spaces of collective care and attention across race and class divides.

Spring water: that the city is finally re-piping some of its springs into dams is brilliant. Bravo. A small but vital step towards climate resilience.

The above infrastructural interventions span short and long term. The point is that through this crisis, the political will towards ecological solutions is being rediscovered. We are discovering that the city is not a spaceship. It is part of planet earth, and we need a politics that works with local planetary processes — which is what local ecologies are. In this, we can, if we choose, recognise the limits of individualism, and rediscover the power of collective action. In an era that has come to be defined by anti-politics, reclaiming this kind of collective, public-minded, ecological politics is what will make the biggest difference. Philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers has written a great deal about science and politics in the coming climate crisis. The translation of the title of one her recent books is “In times of crisis, resist the impulse to barbarism.”

Can Cape Town act collectively to generate a new eco-politics? That’s the issue.


(Photo Credit: UCT News)