Urbanisation and the Catholic Archdiocese of Cape Town

Some population dynamics in Cape Town (where I stay) via The Southern Cross.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Cape Town occupies an area of 30 842 square kms, but almost 90% of the population in this area live in the Cape Metropolitan Area (CMA), 2 159 square kms, or 7% of the geographic area. There is much diversity in population density. The average population density in the diocese is 1 460 people per square km, rising to 7 000/sq. km in townships and even to over 10 000/sq. km in the informal settlements. 

Of the CMA population of 2.9 million in 2001, 1.39m (48%) were people of colour, 0.9m blacks (31%), 0.54m whites (19%) and 0.06m Asian (1%) (SA national census figures). Population growth is high, because there is steady immigration, especially from the Eastern Cape, which is very poor.

The side of Cape Town the tourists know. Look behind it for different realities. (Photo: Günther Simmermacher)

Cape Town is experiencing the full effects of urbanization, a universal phenomenon which has gained momentum in Africa and South America, where the bulk of the population still live in the rural areas. Before the Industrial Revolution inEurope, it took 8 out of 10 people to produce enough food for society, now it tales less than 2. Small farmers cannot compete with the large commercial farms and tend to sell up or just leave and go to the cities. Even if a person ends up in a shack in the CMA, if they can get a job for 2 or 3 days a week, they are better off.

The CMA, part of theWestern Cape Province, is far more attractive in terms of a richer economy, better schools, better hospitals, more infrastructure, more jobs, and so on. Hence the huge inflow, especially from blacks from the Eastern Cape, which together with people of colour also coming in from the country areas, and whites from Gauteng, has now put unbearable strains on the Western Province, especially the CMA, in terms of competition for jobs, housing, schooling and general utilities. This is mirrored in many other African cities and South American cities.Lima, inPeru, for example, has people flowing into the city, there are land invasions, mini-bus taxis, serious unemployment, gangs, drug problems…sounds familiar? It is economic forces that have caused huge strains on all cities.

In the once fairestCape, however the situation is aggravated by political factors. In 2001 the Catholic population by the old population definitions was as follows: black 30 000 (2012 40 000), coloured 114 000 (now 150 000), white 50 000 (now 60 000), Asian 1 233 (now 1 635). Thus the 2012 Catholic population, in the Archdiocese, is now about 250 000 (195 200 in2001) and about 45 000 actually attend Mass on Sundays.

It seems that under apartheid, the people of colour were taught to be wary of blacks, and feel that they were in the Cape first, so that they should be in the front of the queue in terms of housing, jobs, schools, general amenities. People who fall into the Western category, tend to favour the DA political party, and the blacks the ANC, so there is further cause for tensions. In Grabouw, outside of the CMA, where there has also been a large influx from the Eastern Cape, the newer school, attended mainly by blacks, became over-crowded and this led to civil unrest and protests.

It is important to realize that the unemployment, crowded conditions, competition for scarce necessities, is primarily a problem of economics and the current recession. But there are political and historic complications in theCape, as we can see. It is maintained by some that the ANC is encouraging blacks to migrate to the Western Cape, with the promises of houses. This may be the case, but in my opinion the main reason for migration is financial/economic. Many of the blacks set up permanent residence in the CMA (and in outlying areas such as Grabouw), and the evidence is that the children of the migrants prefer to stay in the city. The persistent delivery protests are evidence of cities taking strain, of people struggling in an economic system which must seem to be quite inequitable towards those trying to obtain the basic necessities of life.

There is a need in the Archdiocese for the former groupings to do their best to live in harmony, to share, to cooperate, to use the graces of the Eucharist in terms of which we can live in Christian unity. There is, it seems, to be too little mixing at Archdiocesan functions, too much separation, and too many of the old tensions, to a large extent, a legacy of the past. This is part of our reality, and we need to think of means of fostering genuine unity and a healthy appreciation of our differences as well as our commonality, especially as children of our Father, who cares for all. For example, the Eastern Deanery held a reconciliation service a few years ago, in which parishioners from other parishes came for the first time to a black township, namely Gugulethu.

I am not convinced that the newer generations have lost entirely the biases learned by the older generation, and there is some evidence that parents are handing down negative attitudes to their children. When we think of the very diverse personalities of the first Apostles, it seems clear that the constant presence of Jesus enabled them to live in harmony. We, hopefully, can do the same.


2 thoughts on “Urbanisation and the Catholic Archdiocese of Cape Town

  1. I’m a bit confused here. What’s the difference between blacks and coloureds? Do the Asians cover just the Indians or all non-white, non-black and non-coloured?

    1. White = European / Caucasian

      Blacks = Africans

      Coloureds = A meeting of two (above)

      Asians = Indians, Chinese and all other of Asian ancestry

      Hence, we are now a ‘rainbow nation’, happy, post-Apartheid and the (once) horrid Population Registration Act.

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