A collaborative King's College London and UCT research project

The case study sites

Our research explores three case study sites in Cape Town: Philippi; Salt River and Freedom Park.

Cape Town


Why research alcohol consumption in Cape Town?

The city of Cape Town is situated at the Southernmost tip of Africa. It has a population in excess of 3.5 million and is South Africa’s second largest city. It has a distinct demographic composition, with rough half of its inhabitants classified as coloured, almost 20% white and just over 30% black.  Average annual income is £2,000 and the city has an unemployment rate of 23%. However, this headline rate masks gross spatial and social disparities in unemployment, and in some of the poorest parts of the city anything up to 80% of residents are thought to be unemployed.  Both the city and the Western Cape are governed by the Democratic Alliance party, with the ANC now in opposition.

Cape Town is a city of contrasts – the Central Business District and its surrounding neighbourhoods have been upgraded, securitised, gentrified and attracted new residents. However, while urban upgrading programmes in the rest of the city continue apace, the gulf between rich and poor remains fierce and stark. This divide is equally marked when it comes to drinking.  The city’s alcohol retailing patterns are a product of its colonial and apartheid past. Indeed, under apartheid, black Africans were not permitted to buy European liquor until 1965, leading to a proliferation of illegal bars popularly known across the region as shebeens. The construction of municipal beer halls, whose profits were supposed to feed back into the development of the townships, further entrenched drinking within poor areas of the city. By the end of apartheid, shebeens were prolific and, to all extents and purposes, seemingly outside the purview of state control. The city’s two tier system of alcohol retailing for white and non-white areas meant that in 1994, there were fifteen times the number of licensed premises in white areas as in non-white parts of the city. The legacy of apartheid’s form of spatial and social control remains in the drinking habits of many South Africans.

South African drinking

South Africans are risky, heavy episodic drinkers. The World Health Organisation classified the South African style of drinking as among the world’s most risky in 2011. This is primarily because of a somewhat entrenched culture of weekend binge drinking among both men and women that starts with the Friday pay check and ends sometime on Monday. The result is a situation where exceptionally high rates of alcohol-related injury, violence, accidents, abuse and homicide have started to draw attention, not for their inevitability, but their increasingly social unacceptability. The Western Cape has responded with the country’s most restrictive Liquor laws and the City of Cape Town has appended its own by-laws to this.

Cape Town is an important site to explore the lived experiences of drinking as it exemplifies many of the problems faced by other middle-income countries of the Global South where liquor regulation is deeply contested and ineffectively enforced. The influence of the liquor industry is exceptionally strong – as in many countries – due to the importance placed on its economic contributions. As a result, discussions about alcohol control policies often have to find a way to reconcile people’s right to make a living with the coexisting right to lead a life free of alcohol related harm. When the majority of the population actually abstain from drinking completely, this is all the more essential.

Cape Town references:

Bickford-Smith, V. (1995). “South African Urban History, Racial Segregation and the Unique Case of Cape Town?” Journal of Southern African Studies 21(1): 63-78.

Bickford-Smith, V. (2009). “Creating a City of the Tourist Imagination: The Case of Cape Town, `The Fairest Cape of Them All’.” Urban Studies 46(9): 1763-1785.

de Swardt, C., T. Puoane, et al. (2005). “Urban poverty in Cape Town.” Environment and Urbanization 17(2): 101-111.

Fourchard, L. (2012). “Security and party politics in Cape Town.” Geoforum 43(2): 199-206.

Hiller, H. H. (2000). “Mega-events, urban boosterism and growth strategies: an analysis of the objectives and legitimations of the Cape Town 2004 Olympic bid.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 24(2): 449-458.

Lemanski, C. (2004). “A new apartheid? The spatial implications of fear of crime in Cape Town, South Africa.” Environment and Urbanization 16(2): 101-112.

Lemanski, C. (2006). “Residential responses to fear (of crime plus) in two Cape Town suburbs: implications for the post-apartheid city.” Journal of International Development 18(6): 787-802.

Lemanski, C. (2007). “Global cities in the Sotuh: deepening social and spatial polarisation in Cape Town.” Cities 24(6): 448-461.

Marks, R. and M. Bezzoli (2001). “Palaces of desire: Century City, Cape Town and the ambiguities of development.” Urban Forum 12(1): 27-48.

McDonald, D. A. and L. Smith (2004). “Privatising Cape Town: From Apartheid to Neo-liberalism in the Mother City.” Urban Studies 41(8): 1461-1484.

Skuse, A. and T. Cousins (2007). “Spaces of Resistance: Informal Settlement, Communication and Community Organisation in a Cape Town Township.” Urban Studies 44(5-6): 979-995.

Small, K. (2008). Demographic and Socio-economic Trends for Cape Town 1996-2007. Cape Town, City of Cape Town.

Visser, G. and N. Kotze (2008). “The State and New-build Gentrification in Central Cape Town, South Africa.” Urban Studies 45(12): 2565-2593.


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