The spatial legacy of colonialism still shapes the urban form in Cape Town where the majority of residents live in precarious conditions due to poverty, violence and natural hazards. Cape Town remains stubbornly divided and socio- economically unequal. Of the approximately 3,8 million people, around 24% are unemployed. 12% of residents live in informal dwellings and in slum conditions. Despite inequality, there are rich and varied arts, culture and heritage assets and practices, such as traditional music, festivals and a vibrant visual and performing arts scene, and a range of natural and historic heritage sites, myths, legends and cultural practices.
In Cape Town heritage is a contested and difficult concept in the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, coupled with the rapid pressures of urbanisation. Although Cape Town has a cultural policy for the city (rare in the context of African cities), it has been largely un-implementable. This is due in part to limited resources, but also due to contestation over cultural and urban priorities.
Although there has been some headway made in supporting local craft industries, the film industry and the performing arts, many other forms of art, culture and heritage are overlooked. And despite the best intentions of global and local policies, such as UNESCO Conventions, the bulk of national resources still tend to flow towards typically colonial practices (such as theatres, ballets) and institutions (such as elaborate yet under-used buildings such as the City Hall).
Cape Town has committed itself as a creative and design city. This has resulted in a flourishing visual arts and design industry, but this still tends to be elite-centric. It is unsurprising that the creative economy mimics the formal economy, and has favoured those who are already well networked and resourced, and centrally located.
There are however opportunities that have been under-utilised. The Mzansi Golden Economy shapes the approach to leveraging arts, culture and heritage for economic sustainability. The focus is largely on promoting the sector and although attracting business is important, it can overshadow the gains to be made by thinking of livelihoods in terms of social and financial sustainability.
The political moment in South Africa has led to a new generation of artful activists who are interested in exploring how cultural heritage can not only leverage livelihoods, but also address social challenges such as intergenerational trauma; generational divides, and spatial mobility. Because of urban sprawl, mobility around Cape Town is a challenge and neighbourhoods remain fragmented even if they share cultural heritage practices. A great deal of the population of Cape Town have two homes - one in Cape Town where they work, and one in the Eastern Cape. This means that heritage entanglements are not only urban, but have a rural dimension as well.
This project comes at an opportune time to surface a wide range of these kinds of cultural heritage values through partnerships with organisations and practitioners at the cutting edge of cultural practices.