Controversial sale of land delayed

MATTHEW HIRSCH

An order by the Western Cape High Court last week to reopen the public participation process has halted the controversial sale of the Tafelberg School site in Sea Point.

The provincial government presented Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre and other applicants, with a draft order in the interdict they have launched against the proposed sale of the site. The order proposed that the public consultation process over the sale of the land be reopened. The high court has made the order official.

Ndifuna Ukwazi stressed that it was important to ensure that the objection period was not simply a box-ticking exercise but a genuine opportunity for participation. In the event that province decides to sell, Ndifuna Ukwazi will have two months to approach the court and object that decision.

Ndifuna Ukwazi is an activist organisation and law centre that works to advance the protection and promotion of access to affordable, well located housing in Cape Town. One of its campaigns is the Reclaim the City campaign.

Last week supporters of the Reclaim the City campaign held a press conference where they said the order was a major victory for the applicants, after they launched the case to stop the sale on April 11.

One of the applicants, Sharone Daniels from Ocean View, whose family was forcibly removed from Simon’s Town under the Group Areas Act, said this was a major victory for Reclaim the City and the broader campaign for affordable housing. “The settlement paves the way for the public, especially for the poor and working class, to have our voices heard in the future with decisions about Tafelberg. I want to thank Ndifuna Ukwazi for the work they have done with us so far. This is an important issue that needs to be addressed. We have proven that together as an integrated society we can lobby and campaign for this. I’m inviting everyone in communities that are living in terrible conditions to come on board with this campaign. If we have housing we have some form of stability. We can make this place a better place to live in.”

Another applicant and Sea Point resident, Thozama Angela Adonisi, said they have been struggling for housing for a long time. “To us this is a big victory. This is the time to put the pressure on government so that we can get this land. I feel like government is putting us outside, we as the people who can’t afford houses. I feel like they don’t care about us because look at (the cost of) rent in Sea Point. People will be awake now and this campaign will open the eyes of others.”

Mandisa Shandu, an attorney at the Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre, said it was important to understand why this case was so important 22 years after democracy. “A world-class city has failed to accommodate affordable housing in the city centre. It is not just people who can afford R10 000 rent – but people who work and ensure the city functions.”

She said Ndifuna Ukwazi, along with other civil society organisations and NGOs had been working with residents who are being excluded from the city.

Ms Shandu added that the settlement order would address the procedural sale of the site, which is that the government failed to comply with various legal requirements that would have facilitated real participation. “What we are asking for is not new, this is done in world-class cities all over the world. We need to move forward with the times and we need to use our land. We want to see an integrated city that doesn’t bow to the segregated city that we inherited from the past.”

However, Ms Shandu added that there was so much more that needed to be done. “We need a strong commitment form provincial government to say what it is going to do to provide affordable housing in the city. Identify those pockets of land and implement those plans with a budget and a timeline so that we can see the houses and people moving in, in the near future.”

Lawyers from Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre, acting for Reclaim the City supporters, accepted an offer from Premier Helen Zille, the provincial Department of Transport and Public Works and the Phyllis Jowell School (PJS).

A Reclaim the City statement last week said: “In effect, province has admitted that it failed to comply with the legal requirements in the sale of state land. Province has agreed to rewind the clock to a moment in time before the sale of Tafelberg and reopens a 21-day period for public comment and objection. This time the provincial cabinet and Ms Zille will review objections and make a final decision as to whether to go ahead or to cancel the proposed sale.”

Ms Zille announced the news of the draft order in her latest newsletter, saying: “We are committed to ensuring that anyone who seeks an opportunity for comment should be able to have it taken into account, before the provincial government makes a rational decision about how best to utilise its assets to the best advantage of citizens. Last week, our government presented Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre and other applicants, with a draft order in the interdict they have launched against the proposed sale of the site.

“The order proposes that we reopen the public consultation process over the sale of the land. This effectively means we will publish fresh notices calling for comment on the proposed sale, as required in terms of the Western Cape Land Administration Act, and its regulations.

The provincial cabinet will then consider all submissions received following the fresh notices, and determine whether to proceed or withdraw from the sale agreement. Our government remains bound by our constitutional mandate of providing access to adequate housing, within available resources and the constitutional and legislative environment.”

Reclaim the City’s demands include that the province release all records regarding the decision to sell Tafelberg, the province commits to real participation, including a public hearing where people can make direct oral objections to the proposed sale of the Tafelberg site and that the province must commit to providing affordable housing on state land in the inner city.