The term Gentrification was coined in 1964 by the sociologist Ruth Glass to signal the displacement of a working-class urban population by the middle class, but this view was challenged in 1984 by the Marxist geographer Neil Smith in his book Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space in which he argued that gentrification was much more to do with capital’s search for profit than anyone with a well-groomed beard. In subsequent studies, Neil Smith furthermore acknowledges that certain cultural processes, like art studios and galleries, can “smooth the flow of capital” back into these “recycled” areas. But it’s capital, not culture, which is driving the process. In Cape Town this is evidenced by the spate of new murals that have been daubed on walls throughout the CBD and surrounding suburbs in recent years and executed by otherwise credible artists. One such example officially titled The Harvest, which is located in District Six along the De Waal Drive Service Road and that was produced “to create a community level change through the duality of art-based social impact” and further claims to connect people and places that are otherwise very disconnected. The artist Faith 47 in her statement refers to “the feminine spirit that is nurturing and life giving, bearing crops – a symbol of fertility and abundance” with a background that “is subtly adorned with sacred geometry; the Flower of Life gives shape to a golden tapestry radiating from her umbilical centre”.
The mural is located in a historically charged neighbourhood that was zoned as a white-only area in 1966 and where over 60,000 residents were evicted. The entire area was razed, except for some houses and the few blocks of flats along De Waal Drive Service Road, but in this post-Apartheid dystopia, having survived the now infamous forced removals does not guarantee tenure. The City of Cape Town was recently embroiled in a controversy with this community when the City served evictions orders to more than 100 families – some of whom have been living there for more than 60 years – and when this was brought to the attention of the artist, no response was forthcoming. The world renowned Italian street artist Blu returned to Berlin where he blacked-out two of his own murals in protest against the ongoing gentrification of the area while in Cape Town artists like Faith47 are by extension sanctioning and contributing to the urban renewal project that is responsible for post Apartheid evictions in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The irony is that The Harvest was created in partnership with a City of Cape Town project (that was initiated with funding from the German Development Bank), with the aim of raising enough money to install lights on a pathway in an informal settlement in Khayelitsha on the Cape Flats where Mayoral Committee Member for Community Safety JP Smith refuses to deploy additional metro police units because residents there “do not pay rates”. Thus in an attempt to turn this misrepresentation into something with which ordinary Capetonians can connect, we developed The Reaper. Working over the lower part of the mural, we added the all too familiar ball and chain which represents the shackles of inequality and poverty that perpetuate and reinvent the spatial and social divides that are the pervading legacy for most residents of Cape Town: and finally, a reworked version of the City of Cape Town’s logo on the ball as a representation of how both provincial and national policy serves to advance the interests of the wealthy to the continued detriment of the poor and down trodden. However, within 48 hours of the production of The Reaper, this unsanctioned intervention was removed and once again reduced to its former state of abject dis-connectivity. This displays the haste with which the City of Cape Town acts to remove unsanctioned artistic interventions that disrupt their sanitized projections of the city in places visible to the affluent and tourists while residents of Monwabisi Park have to rely on public donations to have streetlights installed.
Sanctioned public art are often imposed facades that symbolically hide the ‘cracks’ and ‘fissures’ beneath or behind their surfaces. The Harvest created by, Faith 47, is imposed on the Dewaal Flats in District 6 and is one such mural. Recently the tenants of the flats were threatened with eviction by the Provincial Government. When this was brought to the attention of the artist, no response was forthcoming. The Harvest shows a larger than life black woman floating above the viewer and was made to raise awareness of an issue affecting a community on the Cape Flats while the poverty and social conditions of some of the tenants living in the very flats were ignored. We thus attempted to make the mural speak to the issues that are affecting the tenants of the flats as well as the vast majority of Cape Town citizens by subverting the ideology underpinning the original mural that the City of Cape Town cares for the majority of its citizens. The Harvest was transformed into The Reaper on the first of July 2015. We started by carefully mixing colours to match the faded wall in order to to paint out some graffiti. Then working over the lower part of the mural by adding the ball and chain which represents the shackles of inequality and poverty that perpetuate and reinvent the spatial and social divides that are the pervading legacy for most residents of Cape Town: to this we added a reworked version of the City of Cape Town’s logo on the ball as a representation of how both provincial and national policy serves to advance the interests of the wealthy to the continued detriment of the poor. This was done to challenge the sanitized projections of the City that are foisted on the public without challenge. Within 48 hours of the production of The Reaper, this unsanctioned intervention was painted over and once again reduced to its former state of abject dis-connectivity. The workmanship was however shoddy and done in haste with no attempt to match colours and the shackle was also crudely sprayed over with a band of gold. In fact there was no real attempt to restore the original work and the supposed ‘clean up’ was merely another attempt to silence any form of deviation from the official narrative of Cape Town being a world class city, but for who? Ordinary citizens are not allowed to speak back to this kind of public imposition, and by hastily erasing our intervention that was carefully considered, the City of Cape Town revealed how quickly it acts to remove some unsanctioned artistic interventions that disrupt their sanitized projections of the city in places visible to the affluent and tourists while in other areas on the Cape Flats gang and other unsightly graffiti remains on City owned Flats and property.