Hellen Zille is in the hot seat following a comment she made about life in Langa Township, in saying that “to be poor in Langa in Cape Town is a hundred, probably a thousand times better than to be poor in many of the townships in the rest of the country.”
The comment has opened the door to whether “being poor” in the Western Cape is better than being poor elsewhere in the country and people have both torn it apart, as well as questioned its broader underpinnings, opening a bigger discussion surrounding poverty relativity.
“Even if you live in a shack, you are far more likely to have electricity, close access to running water, sewarage and all of those things that people do not have anywhere else in the country,” she added.
Her comment came during an interview with Clement Manyathela on Radio 702, when asked about the reality check for those who live in poor communities in Cape Town compared to the suburbs.
The comment was criticised for a multitude of reasons. First, given the current context surrounding Langa, where a life was recently lost and hundreds were displaced due to the flames it saw over the weekend, people did not take kindly to the insensitivity of the example.
Additionally, taking into account the multiple debates in conjunction with poor communities’ standard of living in the Western Cape and the dualistic nature of our province due to spatial planning, the comment was considered distasteful by some.
Deputy chairperson of the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, Lester September called the comment ‘disingenuous’ in speaking to News24 to make the comparison to broader South Africa when taking into account Apartheid spatial planning.
On Twitter, many people have critiqued the statement, largely from the perspective that Zille isn’t a resident of Langa, and couldn’t know the standard of living there when gazing at matters from the outside. As one user commented, “I was today-years-old when I discovered Helen Zille was a resident of Langa township.”
Brett Herron of the GOOD Party also questioned Zille’s input in socio-political discourse, and expressed that the current DA Premier & Mayor should be explaining conditions in areas like Langa. To make a comparison like Zille’s, an investigation and comparative report would be far more authentic – something others agreed the statement lacked.
Some like Bongani Bingwa however, opened the door to question whether Zille was actually wrong in what she said, and asked if criticism of her comment is just another ‘get out jail card’ for the ANC.
Others noted that the term ‘better’ when it comes to poverty may be better replaced with the word ‘different’, and with relativity surrounding its premise.
What can be taken away from Zille’s comment is the perspective of it as a segway, to shine the light on service delivery, or its perceived lack, for informal settlements on Cape Town’s outskirts – the overlooked spaces in dire need of the same attention that might be given to a pothole in Camps Bay.