Cape Town – When the old Tafelberg School site in Sea Point was sold to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School for R135 million, housing activists fumed.
Five years after that controversial sale, the Western Cape High Court will finally rule on the provincial government’s sale of the land.
Housing activists group Reclaim the City and activist organisation and law centre Ndifuna Ukwazi have waged a sustained campaign to reverse the sale of the land, saying it could instead be used for affordable housing.
The decision to sell the site was made despite the provincial department of human settlements promising the land would be used for housing.
Ndifuna Ukwazi director Mandisa Shandu said: “Ndifuna Ukwazi has maintained that unlocking parcels of well-located land for affordable housing is critical to addressing urban inequality and disrupting the reproduction of the apartheid city. Land is finite. The need to access land as a mechanism to begin to undo the legacy of spatial apartheid and respond to deepening inequality cannot be overstated.
“This is the context against which we have challenged the disposal of the Tafelberg site by the provincial government – for a short-term capital injection. We have argued that the sale of a parcel of land that had previously been earmarked to address the crisis of entrenched spatial inequality is blindingly short-sighted. It is increasingly clear that we need a new, more just vision for the city, and to act on it with a sense of urgency.”
Pressure on the DA-led administration began mounting after activists started a petition for the land to be developed into affordable housing for the hundreds of workers who can’t afford to live close to their workplaces.
Reclaim the City Sea Point Chapter leader Elizabeth Qgoboka, who is an occupier at the Helen Bowden nursing home close to the Waterfront, said: “The reason why we have been fighting for this Tafelberg site for affordable low-cost housing is because in Sea Point, it’s where many domestic workers and gardeners work. It’s surrounded with job creation. Many people travel far to come to work. We need to fight for this so our people can benefit.”
In November 2016, the provincial executive commissioned a feasibility study for social housing on Tafelberg. It found that 270 units of social housing could be built. But despite objections to the feasibility study in 2016, then-premier Helen Zille announced the decision made by her executive to proceed with the sale.
The provincial government said the site was “not ideally suited to affordable housing, especially as the state subsidy cannot be utilised there under current national policy”.
But the site became a monument of failure to redress apartheid spatial planning in Cape Town. It served as a catalyst for prime property being sold to developers without the consideration of inclusive housing or social housing. Ndifuna Ukwazi launched a court bid to have the sale reviewed. The case was heard before Judge Patrick Gamble and Judge Monde Samela in November last year.
Development Action Group executive director Adi Kumar said: “The Tafelberg decision is perhaps the most important and crucial decision: ‘What is the function of public land in South Africa?’ This judgment will set the tone for coming decades where the courts, and hopefully the state will decide that well-located central land is the main instrument for integrating a segregated Cape Town.”
Former mayco member for Transport and Urban Development, Brett Herron, now the secretary-general of Good, joined the court bid as a friend of the court.
“In a city and province with a massive housing shortage, and a development pattern that still resembles apartheid’s Group Areas Act, the judgment will give some direction on the role of public land in addressing these crises. We will never break the back of our housing backlog unless we adopt a more inclusive approach to public land,” he said.