Auriol Cloete, the Tiresias of Hangberg

Auriol Cloete

Sometimes a dune is a dune is a dune (thank you, Gertrude Stein). And sometimes … it’s not.

The Cape Times reports: “The city council has created a Frankenstein’s monster by planting grass on the Hout Bay dunes to stabilise them.” Here’s the story, in a nutshell. Until the 1940s, the winds between Hout Bay and Sandy Bay created a mobile sand dune. Then, people built houses. Then, homeowners demanded the dunes be stopped. And so the City started grassing the dunes. Now, Sandy Beach is just about disappeared, and Hout Bay has a second dune that is literally devouring roads, houses, and more. And there’s more to come. It’s the urban development eggplant that ate … Hout Bay.

This would be a laughable parable of urban `development’ if it weren’t for other recent Hout Bay news: toilets. A little while ago, 14 new toilets were installed in the Hangberg informal settlement. In 2010, Hangberg was the site of ferocious engagements, as the City Council, the same one that has created the second dune, did its best, or worst, to pound the location into smithereens. That resulted in the uprising of Hangberg.

Since the Hangberg Peace Accord, according to Auriol Cloete, the number of folks living in Hangberg has tripled. Who’s Auriol Cloete? Here’s a report from 2010: “Hangberg resident Auriol Cloete made breakfast for her children, saw two of them off to school and felt proud as she sat in the house she had built for them. Hours later the mother of four was partially blind, cowering on her bed, bleeding from the left eye, and screaming at her children to keep lying flat on the floor as police and residents clashed outside…. She was injured…when violence broke out between residents and police who had entered the settlement to escort workers contracted by the City of Cape Town to demolish about 20 unoccupied dwellings erected illegally on a firebreak. Residents threw rocks and petrol bombs and fired distress flares at officers who used rubber bullets in retaliation. A rubber bullet hit Cloete in the left eye… Cloete ran back into her house as it was too dangerous to try to get to an ambulance… Later, she was taken to hospital with another resident, who was apparently also shot in the left eye, and who is now unable to see because his right eye has become infected… Cloete, who worked whenever she could secure a job, has lived in Hangberg all her life and had spent more than R60 000 on a home for her children.”

Auriol Cloete is the Tiresias of Hangberg, and what she sees today are 14 toilets that, after three years and untold injuries, somehow signify welcome.

Here’s what Cloete might see in the future. Sometimes a dune is a dune. And sometimes a toilet is a toilet. And sometimes, urban development isn’t development at all. When nature and populations are seen as problems to be controlled, when – in the name of well being and prosperity – the histories of shifting sands and populations on the move are ignored or worse, expect the worst.


(Photo Credit: Thomas Holder / Independent Newspapers)