Volume 2 No 1 (2005)


N ITS FIRST year of existence, Isandla Development Communiqué has featured thought pieces on a range of issues, varying from the role of civil society in development by Christa Kuljian (#3) to a critique of global AIDS advocacy by Hein Marais (#6). Other contributions focused specifically on South African policy and development practice, such as Samantha Flemming’s assessment of the 2004 budget for poverty reduction (#2), Sean Jacobs’ opinion piece on 10 years of democracy (#4), Mirjam van Donk’s commentary on the role of cities (#5), Firoz Khan’s article on the N2 informal settlement upgrade project (#7), William Gumede’s thoughts on economic policy making (#8) and Frank Meintjies’ review of black economic empowerment (#9 and #10). This year we intend to present equally thought-provoking contributions on a variety of topical issues. To kick it off, Mirjam van Donk draws on the recent report on gated communities by the Human Rights Commission to reflect on the meaning and implications of this growing phenomenon in South Africa.


Gated communities: A spatial imprint of a mindset of exclusion and fear
by Mirjam van Donk

HE ISSUE of gated communities is by all accounts a very emotive one. Those in support of these neighbourhoods argue that enclosures help to reduce crime and significantly enhance the quality of life of residents. The arguments against gated communities are many, ranging from the view that the enclosures violate human rights to a concern with the long term socio-spatial implications for South African cities.

Gated communities are certainly popular, especially in Gauteng. A CSIR review of gated communities conducted in 2002 found that Johannesburg had the highest number of enclosed neighbourhoods in the country. At the time, the city counted almost 300 enclosed neighbourhoods, of which only 49 were considered legal and 188 were illegal closures. The remaining 37 cases involved neighbourhoods whose approval for closure had expired. With an additional 265 applications pending at the time of the review, it is obvious that enclosed neighbourhoods have a strong appeal. Neighbouring Tshwane counted 35 gated communities, with 75 applications outstanding. Cape Town had 25 gated communities and Mossel Bay 20.

This rapidly growing post-apartheid phenomenon was brought to the attention of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) last year. The HRC received complaints that boom gates infringed human rights and in some instances served to deny access on the basis of race. In response, the HRC embarked on an investigation, which included public hearings in September 2004. The purpose of the investigation was to assess which, if any, human rights may be violated by the existence of gated communities. Its findings have recently been released in the report Road Closures/Boom Gates (available on www.sahrc.org.za).

The Commission concluded that it does not support boom gates and gated communities. For one, the use of road closures/boom gates has the potential to – and does in practice – violate a number of rights, such as the right to privacy, to human dignity and to equality, freedom of movement and freedom of trade, occupation and profession. Interestingly, the Commission also took a broader view on what type of city is created by enclosed neighbourhoods. According to the report: “… the effect and impact of closures materially affects issues of urban mobility and functionality, and militates against the original idea of a city as a place where people could move around freely, engaging in business, social activity and recreation as part of a collective.” In effect, the Commission concluded, road closures/boom gates enhance social polarisation and contribute to dysfunctional cities.

One aspect the Commission did not mention explicitly is the fact that enclosed neighbourhoods effectively lead to the privatisation of public space. The roads in these communities are or have been public roads, which are now only accessible to a very small proportion of the population. In some cases, these are access roads, meaning that road users are compelled to take longer, possibly more dangerous, routes to get to their destination.

In the not too distant future, the de facto privatisation of public space possibly also means the segregation of public space. In other words, the spaces inside the walls and boom gates are used by the privileged few, whereas the spaces outside these enclosures are for ‘them’ – the poor and unemployed, who do not have the means to buy themselves a sense of security and belonging. (Of course, there are also people who on principle refuse to live in gated communities.)

In essence, the dysfunctional spatial and social patterns of the apartheid city are, in somewhat reconstituted form, reinforced by the growing number of gated communities. Now it is no longer the state that is driving this process, but private groups. In the gated city, regulations equating pass laws are created and enforced by private companies and residents associations. Although wealth and status have officially replaced race as the key factor of the inclusion/exclusion mentality underpinning gated communities, there is no surprise here that the majority of those denied access are black. Gated communities researcher Karina Landman has cautioned that as well-organised and largely self-governed enclaves of wealth, enclosed neighbourhoods can undermine and thwart the redistributive thrust of municipal policies by refusing to pay taxes or levies for citywide initiatives that they may not directly benefit from.

But perhaps all this is a fair price to pay for an improved sense of security (even if only for a small minority) and a reduction in crime? Yet, although many of those in favour of enclosed communities argue that these help bring about a reduction in crime, the HRC could not find any conclusive evidence to support the introduction of such restrictive measures. Instead, the Commission suggests that more effort is put by citizens and their associations in working together with the state, especially the police, to help reduce violence and crime. Also, the Commission is of the view that in many instances alternative measures can be explored, such as traffic calming measures and closed circuit television, which are less exclusive / excluding and intruding.

The Commission also contests the dominant perception that South African crime rates are unusually high. In fact, a UN International Crime Victims Survey found that South African crime rates are not dissimilar from a number of other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. However, in comparison with other countries, South Africans – particularly those of minority groups – reflect a high fear of crime. To some extent, it is this fear that drives the emergence of gated communities. But it is also fear of ‘the other’, often masked as a vote of no confidence in the police and local government.

For some, living in a gated community is about status and enhanced property values. Even if in theory all communities can choose to apply for enclosures, in reality gatedness has become the lifestyle choice of the rich. As a lifestyle, it reflects a value base for clearly demarcated parameters of in-/exclusion.

Do we want to live in cities that symbolise fear and exclusion? Once barriers are up, it tends to be a lot harder to have them removed. Do we want our cities to reflect well-resourced pockets of wealth and privilege, well-protected from the ghettos where the majority of South Africans live? Gatedness creates a false sense of reality: it allows us to close our eyes to poverty and inequality in society, embodied by people ringing the doorbell looking for a menial job or asking for leftover food (who are not allowed into enclosed neighbourhoods). And from an aesthetic point of view (which is, of course, very subjective), do we really want our cities to reflect these monocultures of development? But perhaps the most important question is: what morality, what normative framework do we want to see reflected in the way our cities (and its citizens) function and develop? At a more personal level, how much do we reflect on the cumulative and long term impacts of our individual choices about residential location? At the end of the day, the growth of gated communities is a response to a demand in the market that arises from a specific mindset (values and attitudes) among middle class consumers.


ATCH THIS SPACE! Shortly a new Dark Roast Occasional Paper (No 21) will be available on our website that critically examines the phenomenon of gated communities. The paper, titled Spaces of Exclusivity and Connection: Linkages between a Security Village and its Poorer Neighbour in a Cape Town Master Plan Development, is written by Charlotte Lemanski.

SANDLA INSTITUTE is very excited to announce a new initiative, Development Dialogues. The intention of these quarterly events is to create a space for critical reflection and collaborative dialogue among key development stakeholders. We have embarked on this initiative because we believe that there is a need to enhance the quality of debate in the development sector. Within the sector, there is a tendency (evident across the spectrum) towards the uncritical acceptance of policy assumptions that go largely untested. More often than not, development actors repeat entrenched views and positions and seem unwilling or unable to shift perspectives. In our assessment, part of the problem is the fact that there is no embedded practice to relate daily tasks to broader processes of reflection and learning. This has the potential to negatively affect the nature and outcome of development interventions, which are likely to be outdated, unimaginative and poorly conceptualised, with limited impact in terms of achieving meaningful social change. It also means that the people designing and implementing these interventions are likely to lack the necessary intellectual stimulation to remain inspired about their work.

Through Development Dialogues, Isandla Institute intends to bring about creative and constructive multi-stakeholder meeting opportunities that push stakeholders to think beyond the confines of their immediate interests and theoretical paradigms. The first event will take place in April in Cape Town, on the nature and quality of public debate. A notice will be sent around to confirm the time and place of the meeting. For those of you unable to attend, each Development Dialogue will be published as a monograph, which will be available on our website.


Contact details
PO Box 12263 Mill Street
Cape Town, 8001
Website: www.isandla.org.za.

Editorial collective: Edgar Pieterse, Katharine McKenzie
and Mirjam van Donk