Disappointed residents ‘sick of broken promises’

Members of the Reclaim the City campaign who have been calling for affordable housing.

Members of the Reclaim the City campaign said claims of conflict of interest involving a former provincial Department of Public Works and Transport official and the controversial sale of the old Tafelberg school site are even more reason why the sale should be stopped.

This comes after a report in a weekly national newspaper about former head of department Gary Fisher’s involvement in the disposal of the Tafelberg site to a private entity.

The site was sold by the Western Cape Department of Public Works and Transport to Phylis Jowell Jewish Day School for R135 million in January. However, this decision was reversed after members of Reclaim the City, who have been campaigning for affordable housing near the city centre and economic opportunities, took the provincial government to the Western Cape High Court over the sale.

A High Court settlement, ag-reed by both parties, saw the sale go back to the public participation phase (“Tafelberg saga heads to court”, Atlantic Sun April 14). The call for affordable housing has been supported by various community members and civic organisations (“Ratepayers support social housing”, Atlantic Sun, June 23).

Gavin Silber, of the research centre at Ndifuna Ukwazi, said the Fisher report showed how flawed the disposal process of the site had been and even more reason why the sale should be stopped.

“There have been several problems with the disposal process. The decisions (that were made when Mr Fisher was at the department) set it out for a commercial process.”

Ndifuna Ukwazi is an activist organisation and law centre that promotes the realisation of constitutional rights and social justice and works to advance access to affordable, well located housing in Cape Town; building inclusive and sustainable mixed use and mixed income communities; and supporting tenant rights and security of tenure in both private and public housing. Reclaim the City is one of its campaigns.

Mr Silber said there was also a conflict of interest with Mr Fisher’s company owning property down the street. “Ask a real estate agent and they will tell you that the news of a commercial development would increase property values in the area. This also leads to broader questions on how other provincially owned land in the city has been disposed of. It’s another reason to call on Premier Helen Zille to stop the sale.”

He said the Sea Point members of Reclaim the City were scheduled to meet on Tuesday July 19 to discuss a way forward following this news.

The Reclaim the City group, claimed that Mr Fisher’s company, Capitalgro, of which he was a non-executive member at the time, had bought two properties in the vicinity of the Tafelberg site.

A Reclaim the City statement said: “We have learned that Fisher’s company, Capitalgro, purchased two properties in the vicinity of the Tafelberg site, while he was working as a public official to oversee the disposal of the site to the private sector.

“These revelations help to explain why things haven’t gotten better for us, because it exposes the type of leadership that is in charge of looking after government land.”

The statement went on to say that: “For more than two decades, we have struggled for our rights to be part of the Sea Point community. Today we are still fighting for affordable and decent accommodation. In that time our living conditions have not changed and very little progress has been made.

“We do not want to live in Sea Point for free, but want accommodation that is within our means as working class people. We are good enough to look after the children and houses of Sea Point but not good enough to have our own places. Even the storerooms we stay in are not our own and people are being evicted on a daily basis. People must understand that Sea Point cannot function without the working class.”

Reclaim the City said they were “sick of broken promises”.

The Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre claimed that while serving as head of department at the provincial Department of Public Works and Transport and subsequently advisor to Ms Zille, Mr Fisher through the company Capitalgro had amassed significant property interests across Cape Town but predominantly in Sea Point.

Capitalgro was founded in 2010 and Mr Fisher has served on the board of Capitalgro since October 2013 and currently serves as its chairman.

Ms Zille responded to the reports by saying: “A decision on the disposal of the Tafelberg site in Sea Point has not yet been taken; no undue influence has been exercised on the process to date; and no undue influence will enter the process as it continues to unfold. We have sought to follow a fair and open process, to the extent that we agreed to reopen public participation when a member of the public said she had not been afforded the opportunity to comment.”

Ms Zille added: “I seek and follow legal advice at every step of the way in complex governmental processes, and this one is no different. The cabinet will make a determination on the property once all of the approximate 5 000 submissions have been fairly considered, and in accordance with the Constitution and other applicable laws. All the legal advice I have received at every stage of this process will also be available to the cabinet.”

The Western Cape government is due to make a decision on the site by the end of the month. Without naming Mr Fisher in the statement, Ms Zille added: “The official is also not involved in any way in the current process regarding Tafelberg.

“As per his current employment conditions, his only role is to co-ordinate the delivery of a major affordable housing project at the site of the old Conradie Hospital. His expertise has had a significant and positive impact on the project.”