Hangberg is an area in Hout Bay, Cape Town. It was historically the township designated for people categorised as Coloured during the apartheid-era. Most of the about 6 000 people living in Hangberg self-identify as either Coloured or Khoi-san. The township is located beneath the iconic mountain, the Sentinel, and above the Hout Bay harbour. The main sources of employment are fishing, working at fish processing plants, and within the tourist industry. Afrikaans is the most commonly spoken language.

Hangberg came into prominence in national news because of a large uprising on 21 September 2010 against the removal of about 30 houses. The local Cape Town city government declared the houses illegally built on a fire break, and after prolonged negotiations decided to send the police in to tear down the houses. The South African Police Service fired rubber bullets and canisters of tear gas. Either three or four people are estimated to have lost an eye in the confrontation, and several others had minor injuries. In the following years there have been several attempts at evicting other residents who has built on the fire break.

Houses in Hangberg are a mix of council apartments and houses, privately owned houses, and informal houses. A large part of the informally-built houses are above Hangberg closest to the mountain, but many are also spread out in-between the formal housing units. There is one road for cars which goes through the area.

Early History of Hangberg

Before the 1950's Hangberg was the site of a workers’ hostel, housing workers categorised as African. Lumber and farming were the main industries in Hout Bay at the time, and most of the Coloured people working in these industries lived in the Hout Bay valley or close to the village. With the Group Area's Act of 1950 Hangberg was designated a “Coloured area”. This began a process of moving people classified as Coloured from the Hout Bay village to Hangberg. Apartments and council houses were built over the next decades to accommodate people being moved into the settlements.

In the 1950's the lumber industry was in decline and fishing, and factories processing fish, was rapidly becoming the largest industry in the area. Coloured people made up the bulk of the labour force and were now needed to work on the harbour, hence the settlement was established closest to the harbour. Some parts of the apartheid government wanted to move the people categorised as Coloured to the Cape flats, but the White owners of the fishing industry wanted a labour reserve close to the harbour. Some of the companies who owned factories on the harbour built and rented out houses to their workers.

From 1950 to 1980 there was a series of forced removals in which people designated as Coloured were moved from the Hout Bay village and the Hout Bay valley to Hangberg. Some were moved twice, first closer to the harbour around Beach road and then to Hangberg. In the end of the 1970's several rows of houses on and above Beach road were torn down and the inhabitants forced into Hangberg. With a booming fishing industry in the 1970's the original council houses and flats were quickly over crowded, and some residents begun building their own houses. These types of informally constructed houses are in South Africa known as “Shacks”, but the local residents of Hangberg refers to them as “Bungalows”. Most of the informal houses were at this time built in between apartment buildings and behind houses.

While there were some anti-apartheid activities in Hangberg in the 1980's the settlement was relatively calm during a period of turbulence in the rest of the country. The 1980's also saw an increase of gang activities and drug abuse. Little housing was built in the area after 1980, and would only resume after 1994 and with the implementation of the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP).

The Uprising of Hangberg

The first decade of the new century had little development of housing in Hangberg. After some low-quality RDP houses had been built in the 90's there was little done afterwards. The fishing industry was in decline and several factories on the harbour were in the process of closing down. Tourism was at the same time becoming a key industry for the whole of the Atlantic coast of Cape Town, Hout Bay included. The Hout Bay harbour is one of the key tourism sights in Hout Bay. With trips to Seal Island, markets, the Mariner's Wharf, and Whale watching, Hangberg is perfectly positioned. With its ocean view, proximity to the harbour, and shielded against the wind, Hangberg became prime property in the early 2000's. In the city of Cape Town, in with the Development Action Group (DAG), initiated an in-situ upgrade (the upgrade of an informal settlement in its current location) in Hangberg, which aimed at producing 302 housing opportunities.

While people had been demanding decent housing before this point, the first serious protests started in 2009 when the Sentinel (the mountain above Hangberg) went up for auction. The auction was met with heavy protests from the community. In the end the auction had to be moved to another day and to a secret location. The sale opened up for the development of one large structure (and “labourers’ cottages”) just above the settlement. The land was sold off to a foreign investor. After some negotiation with SANParks it was decided that a longer plot above the settlement would be divided into a plot for development for profit and a plot for low cost housing for the residents of Hangberg.

The residents reject the plan for several reasons, but particularly for the road which would have to be placed between Hangberg and the rest of the mountain. The road was rejected as a lot of residents who had built informal houses for themselves felt vulnerable to police violence with the easy access of a road. The investor pulled out without the support of the community and the project was put on hold. Some people saw the pending development as a sign that the area was no longer national park land or a fire break, and began to construct informal houses.

The City Government in Cape Town considered the houses illegal and applied for a court interdict to have them removed. People refused to move as they had nowhere else to go. Hangberg was overcrowded because housing developments had not kept up with natural population growth. Some one bedroom apartments had over 10 people living in them, and many of the council houses and apartments were badly run down and were not regularly maintained by the city. People who wanted a new place to live had two options: move out of Hangberg or build an informal house.

For most people there, Hangberg was not just a place they lived, but the community was their security. In the face of high unemployment, low wages, and high crime, neighbours and family you know and trust, who could help out, can be vital for managing life. For these reasons most residents did not have the opportunity to move somewhere else as it would destroy the only material and social safety they had. The people who had built their houses on the fire break refused to move, and much of the community supported them.

A last meeting between then city mayor Helen Zille and the residents of Hangberg, was held to resolve the conflict around the informal houses. The residents rejected Helen Zille's plan, and the meeting erupted in chaos after several residents approached the podium she was speaking from. After the meeting there were no more talks and on the morning of 21 September Police Nyala's parked on the lower edge of Hangberg. The police were ordered to demolish about 30 informal houses. A large group of residents were blocking the road in to Hangberg with burning tyres, and throwing rocks at the police. The police then began firing tear gas grenades and rubber bullets.

The residents fought hard against the evictions, and as things calmed in the evening, three or four residents had lost an eye, and several had smaller injuries. The police tore down several houses the first day, and came back the next day to finish the job. After the uprising the then Mayor of Cape Town declared that all in-situ upgrades in Hangberg were put on an indefinite hold.

Many residents of Hangberg saw the uprising as a victory since they had mostly repelled the police the first day, and the city government had received bad publicity. After the uprising, local government wished to resume talks with residents. Various areas of Hangberg chose representatives to be part of a Peace and Mediation Forum (PMF). In 2011 the city government and the PMF signed a peace accord which stated that: No would be allowed to build or rebuild above or on the fire break, in return the city would provide houses for those who already lived there at the time of the 2010 uprising.

Continued evictions and the beginning of housing projects

In 2012 the peace accord quickly fell apart. Housing was still in shortage in Hangberg, and no new housing projects had started in the two years since the uprising. Some of the residents whose houses had been demolished in 2010 had rebuilt their homes. Some residents felt that only people close to the PMF had benefited from the peace accord, and that it had failed to provide for the majority of residents in Hangberg. Most of the representatives on the PMF quit and those who remained were viewed as allies of the Democratic Alliance (DA) by many residents.

Three informal houses built above the fire break were targeted for destruction in 2013. The SAPS where had a more quiet approach than in 2010 and came in the early hours of the morning. Three residents were taken out of their houses between 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning. One man claimed to have been beaten and shocked with an electric taser. The residents were then taken to Stellenbosch police station. The violent nature of the arrest spurred much of the community under the leadership of the ANC-aligned Hout Bay Civic organisation to march on the Hout Bay police station to protest police brutality.

2014 saw several more attempts at evicting residents living above the fire break. This time the evictions caused a small riot and three cars were burnt in the Panorama Hills apartment complex. Some reports speculated that it was the car of community leader Greg Louw that was the target. In 2014 construction started on several developments aimed at delivering affordable housing to the residents of Hangberg. The developments were located in an area called Dallas and an area called the Quarry. For the development of the Dallas area there was a need to move residents there to a temporary relocation camp within Hangberg. Some residents protested this move with the slogan: “They are moving us from a shack to a shack”. This was a comment on the low-quality of the temporary houses compared to the informal houses they had built themselves.

Demographics of Hangberg

The large majority of people living in Hangberg were classified as Coloured during apartheid and many still self-identify as part of this ethnic group. A smaller group of residents have however rejected the Coloured identity and have begun to look into a possible heritage from the indigenous Khoi people. The claim to a Khoi-san identity has gained a large following particularly, but not exclusively, amongst the Rastafarian community. There are a few people from various African countries outside of South Africa living in Hangberg, and in an area called the “Heights” there are some people who identify as White.

Most people in Hangberg are of various Christian denominations, but there is a relatively large Muslim population as well. Since the late 1970's there has been a large growth of people following  Rastafarianism.

• Buhler, Andreas. 2014. Smiling in the face of Precarity:  Housing and Eviction in Hangberg, South            Africa. https://open.uct.ac.za/handle/11427/6797 University of Cape Town.  
• Fieuw, Walter Vincent Patrick. 2011. Informal settlement upgrading in Cape Town's
•  Hangberg: Local government, Urban governance and the 'Right to the City'. Stellenbosch University.
• Froestad, Jan. 2005. “Environmental Health Problems in Hout Bay: The Challenge of Generalising; Trust in South Africa" in Journal of Southern African Studies, Volume 31, Number 2.
• Macgregor, H. 2010. “Hangberg in-situ Upgrading: Reflections and Lessons Learnt. DAG presentation at the ‘Introduction to Development Planning’ class, Sustainability Institute, Stellenbosch, 22-27 February 2010.
• https://www.capetown.gov.za/en/Pages/HangbergprotestsasetbHangberg.aspx (Accessed the 10.09.2015).
• http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/tensions-simmer-in-hangberg-after-riot-       1.426823#.VfHkT5cYE20 (Accessed the 10.09.2015).
• http://groundup.org.za/content/hangberg-mixed-reaction-new-housing-development (Accessed the 10.09.2015).
• https://www.capetown.gov.za/en/Pages/HangbergprotestsasetbHangberg.aspx (Accessed the 10.09.2015).
• https://www.capetown.gov.za/en/stats/2011eryCensusSuburbs/2011_Census_CT_Suburb_Hout_Bay_Profile.pdf (Accessed the 28.1.2015)
• http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/no-room-on-mountain-for-angry-villagers-1764030.html (Accessed the 28.1.2015)

Last updated : 10-Nov-2015

This article was produced for South African History Online on 30-Oct-2015