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De Jure

On-line version ISSN 2225-7160
Print version ISSN 1466-3597

De Jure (Pretoria) vol.47 n.2 Pretoria  2014




Whose knowledges shape our city? Advancing a community-based urban praxis


Wie se Kennis(se) Vorm ons Stad? Op Soek na 'n Gemeenskapsgedrewe Stedelike Praxis



Stephan de Beer

Director, Centre for Contextual Ministry, University of Pretoria




In die artikel word verskillende plekke van kontestasie en hoop in die middestad van Pretoria/Tshwane geidentifiseer, en die moontlike unieke kennis(se) wat vanuit hierdie kontekste gegenereer word, word oorweeg. Ek neem 'n spesifiekeposisie in en argumenteer dat sodanige plaaslike kennis(se) meestal uitgesluit word van prosesse wat die stad nuut wil visioneer, ten koste van onsself. In plaas van die uitsluiting van plaaslike gemeenskappe met hulle unieke visies, ervaringe en kundigheid, suggereer ek die doelbewuste bevordering van 'n gemeenskaps gedrewe stedelike praxis. Laastens bied ek die konsep van 'n Urban Studio as 'n moontlike trans-dissiplinere ruimte, in noue samewerking met plaaslike gemeenskappe, vir die generering van transformerende kennis, wat die moontlikheid van meer inklusiewe, regverdige en volhoubare stedelike woonbuurte kan verhoog.



1 Introduction: Rethinking our Epistemologies

In the Old Testament, there is a picture of a troubled city in the Book of Ecclesiastes (9:15). And it says, of this city, that there dwelled in the city a man, poor but wise, who saved the city; but no one remembered him.

This man, to me, represents an epistemological challenge raising the question of whose knowledges shape our city, which knowledges are regarded as valid, and who is remembered in the process of revisioning the city. I refer to all cities but in particular to Pretoria/Tshwane.

The absence of local and diverse knowledges from processes that shape our cities today, almost always inevitably leads to the absence of the very ones whose knowledges are not regarded. They might carry glimpses of vision and seeds of solution. But no one remembers them.

In this article, I will firstly do a brief mapping of different sites of struggle and hope in the inner city of Pretoria/Tshwane; secondly, I will argue that these sites offer local and unique knowlegdes to be utilised; thirdly, I will take a specific position, arguing for a community-based urban praxis; and, lastly, I will introduce the concept of an Urban Studio, as a possible trans-disciplinary space for generating (and) transforming knowledge within local communities.

Whose knowledges shape our cities? Or, more fundamentally, in the words of David Harvey: "... whose rights and whose city?";1 because whom does the city belong to and who has a right to the city, and whose knowledge has validity to contribute to a city revisioned?

In the next section, I locate my reflections in specific sites in the inner city of Pretoria/Tshwane. This will be followed by a reflection on epistemology from below or from within, and a proposal for a community-based urban praxis. Finally, the reflections of this article will be aligned to other research and a concrete space for trans-disciplinary urban engagement will be introduced.


2 Local Sites of Struggle and Hope: Unique Generators of Knowledge

In this section, I briefly outline a number of sites, all located in the inner city of Pretoria/Tshwane, and all representing local struggles and hopes of diverse communities in different ways.

2 1 Burgers Parr

Burgers Park is a public open space situated in the old inner city core of Pretoria/Tshwane. It is in a neighbourhood that was all white in 1993 but 90% black by 2000.2 The Park is a local asset well managed by the city, and increasingly owned and used by local people: by local residents on a daily basis; hosting the inner city's largest community festival, the Feast of the Clowns, annually; regularly used by the emerging artistic community; and weekly used by a range of churches and religious groups.3 But Burgers Park also always had a shady side. At night it is home to people who find shelter under the bushes; over the years it was often a place where someone would be found in the morning having done an overdose of heroin or cocaine.

Alongside Burgers Park Lane, next to the Park, three faith-based organisations are present, two churches and a church-based community organisation: the Tshwane Leadership Foundation; City Methodist Mission; and the Doxa Deo Inner City Campus. All three have invested substantially in the inner city at a time when most businesses, churches and banks disinvested from these areas.

Some of the interventions of these faith-based organisations included seven social housing projects in the area around the Park; recycling a church roof to develop 27 communal housing units; developing innovative HIV/AIDS care programmes, offering a refugee centre with practical assistance and English classes, and, in addition, assisting with the integration of refugees into local communities; providing a drop-in centre for homeless people and a 24-bed transitional housing programme for women at risk; a day-care centre for 60 neighbourhood children; and a conference centre used by churches, trade unions and whoever else.4 5

In this precinct, one learns that it is possible to upgrade so-called bad buildings without displacing existing tenants. One learns that churches have the potential to mediate social inclusions beyond what government is able to do. But one also learns that churches respond differently to vulnerability as one church tries to assist homeless people off the streets with services, whilst the other seeks to get them off their street by opening sprinklers on them.

This little precinct is today modelling the possibility of mixed-income housing, ranging from a women's shelter to communal housing to 3-star hotels and upmarket penthouse units selling at more than R 1,2m a piece, all within one city block. The precinct is illustrative of how investment in an area has the potential to arrest further decay and even reverse the trend of disinvestment or of gentrification at the expense of vulnerable people.

The Burgers Park precinct generated a wealth of local knowledge and expertise, from below and from within, which can be built upon in working for urban regeneration that is truly inclusive.

2 2 Salvokop

Just on the opposite side, behind the Tshwane Central Station is Salvokop, an old railway community with 174 houses but with almost every house having 4-5 backyard shacks, the approximate number of residents counting well over 2000 people. On the western border there is a growing informal settlement, named Baghdad by the residents, now having more than 200 informal structures.6 At the foot of the Freedom Park Monument, only five minutes from the Central Business District, the Salvokop land is prime property, owned by the National Department of Public Works. To access the main gate of the Freedom Park Monument one has to drive through the Salvokop neighbourhood. On the one hand, the fibre of this community is slowly unravelling in terms of the physical conditions as expressed in the housing stock. On the other hand, there is significant social infrastructure that was created by different social partners in conjunction with the community.

An old church property in Salvokop was purchased by Yeast City Housing, a faith-based social housing company, who converted the space into a multi-purpose community centre in partnership with the Tshwane Leadership Foundation. It is now offering a community hall for community and church meetings, space for local churches to worship in, day care and after school programmes for neighbourhood children, a community hall for community meetings, and on this site a community-based social housing company recently completed an apartment building with 82 social housing units.7

Another faith-based organisation, Popup, runs a skills training and health care programme for people in the community who otherwise would lack access to affordable basic health care. Two shelters for homeless boys also function in this area. Across the road from the church, Crossroads is a shelter for boys coming off the streets. At the western entrance to Salvokop, under the thick trees, members of African initiated churches gather for worship, representing yet another local, indigenous asset.

The landlord of most of this land - previously Transnet and now Public Works - has given no indication for the past 20 years of what a re-imagined city would look like in Salvokop, in particular for those who have lived here for many years and are still living here. Residents feel particularly vulnerable as they are tenants and might be displaced. This becomes clear from conversations with people working for local faith-based organisations but also from concerns expressed in meetings of the local community forum.

And yet, despite the evident poverty, uncertain future and transitional nature of this area, significant social infrastructure has been created by different social partners, mostly in conjunction with the community. These partners included Popup, the Tshwane Leadership Foundation, Yeast City Housing, and the Jopie Fourie Primary School.

Engaging with this community raises critical questions such as: what can be learnt from the social partners in terms of social infrastructure development? Why does the physical deterioration happen as it does, and why does national government as landlord allow it? Why are the social partners and community unable to arrest decay? Why are there virtually no conversations and consultation with local residents and social partners about future plans and development of the area (the lack of such consultative and participatory processes is evident from conversations with social partners and community members)? Is it possible for local assets to be mobilised to build a healthy local neighbourhood in close proximity to the resources and infrastructure of the CBD, without displacement of current tenants?

2 3 Capital West

The area to the north and west of Church Square is framed as the Capital West Precinct in the city's long-term plans.8 9 This area hosts a number of challenges. The infamous Kruger Park and Schubart Park complexes are in this area. Once providing sub-economic housing, under the city's management these properties were allowed to degenerate to a point of no return. In 2011 the City of Tshwane evacuated 700 families from Schubart Park10 and recently revealed their plans to renovate this complex into, what the mayor said, (the New) Jerusalem once they are done with it.11 12

And yet, the theological vision of the New Jerusalem is a place where poor and rich will dine at the same table; a city where some will not build houses and others live in them; or plant gardens and others eat the fruit; but where people will benefit directly from the fruits of their hands.13 The city's vision of a New Jerusalem for Schubart Park, to the contrary, first had to rid the place of 700 poor families in order to make way for a more "desirable" population.

Marabastad, just a few blocks away from Schubart Park, is a neighbourhood with an immensely rich history.14 15 Affected by forced removals in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Marabastad until today continues to be marginal. In 2002, 2000 informal residents were moved from here to Mamelodi Extension 6 to make way for new developments.16 Twelve years later, the proposed developments never occurred. Those who lived informally in Marabastad still live informally in Mamelodi Extension 6, now twelve years later, and subsequently a new population of people started to live informally in Marabastad.

Also in the same area, just north of Schubart Park, land has been secured by a community-based social housing organisation, Yeast City Housing, for the development of 750 social housing units, as well as a small complement of retail and community facilities. This was after struggling for fourteen years to secure this land from the City of Tshwane, despite it being dedicated for this purpose. This development, to be known as the Thembelihle Village, has started in the second half of 2014.17 It will be the first development of its kind since the forced removals of people from Marabastad at the end of the 1960s, and early 1970s. Although it will be the first infrastructure investment of its kind in this precinct, it is not even mentioned as part of the Capital West Initiative by the City of Tshwane.

This precinct raises its own set of questions or themes: does local government have the capacity and is it desirable for it to manage housing? Unless community-based responses become bold in claiming inner city space, private sector and government led developments will continue with regeneration that tends to be socially exclusive and urban gentrification that marginalises the poor even further. Innovative and bold community-based interventions in this area highlight the necessity for government to acknowledge and integrate such community-based interventions into integrated, inclusive strategies for urban regeneration.

2 4 Zoo Precinct

The Zoo Precinct is in the inner city north, anchored by the significant asset of the National Zoological Gardens. Adjacent is the Blood Street Mall, being one of the main transport hubs into the city. Along Struben Street, impressive new buildings have been built to house headquarters of national government departments. This precinct also hosts a number of community-based interventions. The Tau Village was the conversion of the old Transvaal Agricultural Union Building from a brothel -accommodating girls as young as eleven years old working as child prostitutes - into a social housing project with 80 apartments, a baby care centre, a safe space for girls at-risk, shop fronts, and an elderly care centre.18 19

Next to the Zoo is the Rivoningo Care Centre.20 21 In the 1990s, homeless people died on the streets of the city with full-blown AIDS, not having had access to antiretroviral medication, and being discharged from public hospitals if their CD4 counts were low. In Rivoningo patients were accessing medication, nutrition and a caring environment. 60% of the people who came through this facility did not die but recovered well enough to be discharged. Today this facility combines palliative care with frail care for the elderly.

Adjacent to the Rivoningo Care Centre, in this same precinct, is the Gilead Community House,22 23 home to people discharged from psychiatric hospitals, living with chronic mental illness, and often misunderstood by their families and society. Were it not for Gilead, they too would be homeless. In both Rivoningo and Gilead, people who often experience marginalisation, reclaim life and become part of the urban landscape, from below, with unique knowledges residing among them. They tend to see the city from a different angle, which needs to be considered in revisioning the city.

Many of the sites I mapped above, represent people who otherwise would be marginal, but within these sites found spaces of belonging and a sense of own agency. These sites, connected to each other, could form a rich tapestry from below, representing unique and not-to-be-discarded local knowledges. Viewed from one angle, they collectively look like a catch net for all those who tend to fall through the city's cracks. Viewed from another angle they are much more: they are launching pads for people and movements finding their voice and agency, engaging the city as participants, neighbours and citizens, with a deep sense of ownership.



3 Epistemologies from Below and from Within

In their article The View from Everywhere: Towards an Epistemology for Urbanites, Foth, Odendaal and Hearn25 offer "a critique of expert power and its claims to be universal and absolute". With reference to Eflin26 and Hearn,27 they specifically deconstruct the ways in which the knowledge constructs of white, educated, male experts dominate over women and other minorities, asserting the fact of knowledge being culturally constructed, always serving particular interests, and laden with "cu