With placards vowing that “Bo-Kaap is not for sale” and the community “will not be silenced”, about 50 residents from the heritage-rich neighbourhood protested at a piece of City-owned land on Tuesday, furious about plans to auction it off.
The residents were surprised to see an “urgent auction” sign on the plot this month. The property, which once belonged to the City’s human settlement directorate, is now being sold to the highest bidder.
Residents argue the land should go to local people who need affordable housing. Instead, the Rose Street property is set to be sold as part of the City’s urban management strategy.
The auction was changed from on-site to online at the last moment.
Faeez Morris, who lives next to the property, said he had been helping to keep it clean for 40 years.
“I kept it clean and tried to find out who from the municipality was responsible for cleaning it. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.”
He is surprised at how the City is handling the sale and believes it could set a precedent for the disposal of other City-owned land in the Bo-Kaap.
Mr Morris said: “Locals won’t be able to afford the property, which will go to the highest bidder.”
“It will also be pushing up the rates, and there are pensioners who won’t be able to afford it,” Mr Morris said.
He is worried that City is not taking the area’s rich heritage seriously. “Our heritage is not necessarily the land, it is the mosques and the communities too. I feel we are being bullied out of this environment we have been in for more than 200 years. All they (the City) is concerned about is property value.”
He said that even though there were a lot of people in the area on the housing waiting list, locals would never be able to afford the property. “The (culture) of the Bo-Kaap shouldn’t become something of the past,” he said. “There is so much history but our environment is being assaulted.”
He also questioned the timing of the auction, during the month of Ramadaan, when most members of the community are fasting. “It is very difficult for us, and they know we will be subdued,” said Mr Morris.
Another neighbour to the property, Ebrahim Abrahams, said he had been surprised when arriving home one night earlier this month to see the auction sign being put up.
“We were not even consulted about it. This land has been empty for so long, and we tried to find out who owned it and if we could use it. Now, all of a sudden, it is a very urgent sale.
“We talk about heritage, and I can’t even make the slightest change to my house (because of the heritage protection overlay by-laws). But it will probably be a double-storey building that goes up,” said Mr Abrahams.
He is worried about the impact of development and rising property prices on the area’s future and would prefer it if someone from the community gets preference in the bidding process.
“It is a small plot of land, but it probably won’t go for less than R1.8 million. They are playing with our futures.”
He said many local people still rented because they couldn’t afford to buy property. “If this really is a city that works for us then why not give it to the local people.”
Osman Shaboodien, chairman of the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association, which organised Tuesday’s protest, said: “We had made contact with council about using the property for a pilot project for social housing. The numbers of developments in the area are a worry.”
He said they were concerned about the cities apparent willingness to pass plans and deal with objections later.
“A great deal of Bo-Kaap residents live in overcrowded conditions because the price of property is high. It (the property) must be a co-op housing project with a no-buy and no-sell-on clause.”
He said this would also help keep the housing costs in the area down.
In an emailed response to the Atlantic Sun, deputy mayor Ian Neilson, said there had bee no sudden decision to sell the land. Four bidders had been registered and there were three pending bidders for the auction. Due process would be followed. The 140 square metre plot is zoned residential. Mr Neilson said anyone could bid for the property.
Mr Neilson said the property had formed part of the City’s human settlements directorate’s portfolio and had been sold to a third party who had failed to comply with title deed conditions imposed by the City, which had led to them forfeiting the land, which had then been handed over to the City’s property management department to dispose of through “public competition”.
Mr Neilson added that: ““The City is committed to conserving sensitive heritage and cultural areas within this changing urban environment and in so doing, to balance often competing interests.”
Alan Goldberg, an attorney for the local family that were given the land (under conditions to build within two years) by human settlement’s said online bids for the site had reached R1.3 million by the time of going to print.
cn ra cap land auction 1: The Bo-Kaap community were unhappy about the urgent auction of City-owned land
cn ra cap land auction 2: The auction was changed from on site to online by the City at the last minute.
Pictures: Matthew Hirsch