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The ‘Silent’ Closure of Urban Public Space in Cape Town: 1975 to 2004


This study seeks to show that the closure of urban public space by residents in a South African context is not a recent phenomenon and that successful citizen-driven urban public space closures have been a feature of the urban landscape before the rise of gated communities and monitored urban public space. The primary objective of the study was to analyse and investigate spatio-temporal tendencies relating to the citizen-driven privatisation of urban public space in Cape Town. This objective would be driven by the creation of a comprehensive database of provincially gazetted urban land closures dating from 7 February 1975 to 17 December 2004 within one of the six municipal substructure regions of Cape Town. The secondary objective, but by no means less important, is an identification and analysis of the reasons forwarded, practices employed and techniques utilised by individual citizen-driven applications in two distinctly diverse residential suburbs within the study area.

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  1. This paper uses the terms white and black as was entrenched in apartheid legislation. For the purposes of this paper, black refers to the apartheid grouping of Black African, Coloured and Indian; except where individual groupings are used.

  2. Two pieces of legislation, which enacted and facilitated urban public space closures, were promulgated in 1974 and in 2003. The first was Ordinance 20 of 1974, promulgated on 29 November 1974 and published in The Province of the Cape of Good Hope Official gazette of 3 December 1974. All gazetted urban public space closures from 7 February 1975 to 30 January 2004 were enacted under Ordinance 20 of 1974, after which the City of Cape Town by-law relating to the management and administration of the City of Cape Town’s Immovable Property was utilised to enact urban public space closures. The City of Cape Town by-law was published in the Provincial Gazette of the Province of the Western Cape on 28 February 2003 and the first urban public space closure enacted under it took place on 13 February 2004.

  3. All these public spaces are in the public realm. The absence of the word ‘public’ before the description does not mean it is in the private realm. Thus, for example, ‘street’ and ‘public street’ are different namings of the same phenomena and both are in the public realm.

  4. 92% of the Camps Bay files and 97% of the Mitchell’s Plain files were available for analysis.


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The author would like to express sincere thanks to Professor Ronnie Donaldson for his comments and critique on earlier drafts of this paper. The research was conducted with financial support of the National Research Foundation.

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Correspondence to Manfred Spocter.

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Spocter, M. The ‘Silent’ Closure of Urban Public Space in Cape Town: 1975 to 2004. Urban Forum 18, 153–170 (2007).

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  • Public space
  • Urban
  • Closure