Reclaim the City supporters occupied the Helen Bowden Nurses’ Home in Granger Bay as well as the Woodstock Hospital, two buildings owned by provincial government, over the weekend.
This move by the campaign was in response to the provincial cabinet’s decision to proceed with the sale of the Tafelberg site in Sea Point last week.
Reclaim the City has been at the forefront of demanding that the old school building be used for affordable housing for workers in the area, who travel for long hours to get to work, and to reverse some of apartheid’s spatial planning.
At the time of going to print, there were eight people inside Helen Bowden with five people occupying the Woodstock Hospital.
There were groups of about 30 people outside both sites.
The campaign’s supporters also protested outside the Tafelberg site on Monday March 27.
The land which had been owned by the Department of Public Works had been sold to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School for R135 million but Reclaim the City and legal NPO Ndifuna Ukwazi blocked the sale in May last year after a high court settlement. In November, the Western Cape Government released a feasibility study on affordable housing at the site and opened a public participation process.
But last week Wednesday, March 22, the Provincial Cabinet made the announcement that the initial sale to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School was going ahead.
They said, instead, that affordable housing could be granted at Helen Bowden Nurses’ Home in Granger Bay as well as the old Woodstock Hospital site.
Late on Sunday night, Reclaim the City called for supporters to protect the occupiers on the two buildings. On Monday, there were supporters at the Helen Bowden site, Woodstock Hospital as well as Tafelberg.
Reclaim the City’s Sea Point chapter spokesperson Elizabeth Gqoboka, said they were disappointed by the decision to sell Tafelberg. “We are here because we want to stop the sale of Tafelberg because it is the site that is supposed to be used for social housing. We decided to come here so that nobody will have access for today. We went last night to support our comrades that were occupying the Helen Bowden site.”
She said one of the demands was to get timelines from government on affordable housing at the Helen Bowden and Woodstock Hospital sites.
“The reason it is important is that we want social housing on all these sites. Especially at the Tafelberg site because it is the only piece of land we have at the moment. The other sites are also state properties and we don’t want government to sell them.”
Sibusiso Nkosi, junior organiser of the activist organisation Equal Education, said they were there to support Reclaim the City. “Most of our members are from poorer communities and some of them go to school in this area and their parents come here to work. We are supporting this because we are pushed away from the city but we are also expected to come and work in the city.”
He said they want their members to live in the place they go to school and work in. “It’s dangerous because they wake up very early every day in the dark to come to school in the city. Because they wake up very early that results in them not focusing at school because they are tired. At the end of the day, they have to get good marks.”
Roegchanda Pascoe, who is the chairperson of the Western Cape Safety Forum, which is based in Manenberg, also criticised province’s decision last week. “When they made the announcement last week of the sale, it opened up the wounds of the past. If it wasn’t for work, I would be supporting them (Reclaim the City) at the sites today.”
In a statement about the occupation of the buildings, Reclaim the City said : “We are Cape Town residents from across the race and class divide. We are residents of Woodstock, Sea Point, Marikana informal settlement, Blikkiesdorp and Khayelitsha. We are from communities at the forefront of the housing and segregation crisis in our city. We stand in solidarity with the struggles of all poor and working class people who still live homeless under bridges; in shacks and informal settlements at the edge of our city; in backyards and wendy houses on the Cape Flats; and in store rooms and domestic quarters in former white suburbs.”
A Reclaim the City supporter, Nkosikhona Swartbooi, said he was occupying the Helen Bowden site as a Khayelitsha resident. “I have to travel more than two hours to get to town to work. This is a very important thing to do because there has been no development in Cape Town that will benefit the working class people. In my opinion, the renovation of this site wouldn’t be too expensive. There are beds and built-in cupboards. To have affordable housing here can help many families. We are saying that enough is enough.”
Their list of demands include regulating the private sector and protecting tenants and evictees; dismantling Wolwerivier, Blikkiesdorp and similar temporary relocation areas; expropriating private land and buildings for housing; affordable housing for the elderly, homeless and immigrant families and to have meaningful engagement with communities.
Head researcher at Ndifuna Ukwazi, Hopolang Selebalo, said they wanted clarity on the promises of affordable housing at the nurses’ home and old hospital. “We’ve laid down clear demands about what that means. We don’t know what the affordable housing will look like, how many units it is, and what the concept of affordable is to the province. Struggles for affordable housing in the inner-city expand beyond Reclaim the City. There are many communities struggling.
“The Western Cape Government has been foul when it comes to poor and working class people. There is a continuous trend of removing people from well-located sites.”
She added that the occupation of the two sites was symbolic of many issues which had been playing out in Cape Town. “The occupiers of these sites are poor and working class people and they have experience or worked with people who are experiencing the housing issue.”
On the Tafelberg matter, Ms Selebalo said that Ndifuna Ukwazi still planned to launch an application against the sale. “The decision to sell the site was unlawful. They declared it surplus to requirements even though Human Settlements had requested use of the site.”
The provincial cabinet said they decided to go ahead with the sale of the Tafelberg site, having received presentations from various departments and the full set of public comments.
In a statement issued by Michael Mpofu on behalf of provincial government, he said: “Cabinet accepted that it cannot achieve all its strategic objectives on every single site. On the basis of what was presented to cabinet, including the current pipeline for affordable housing in the metro, the two aforementioned decisions, legal advice from senior counsel, affordability risks, fiscal constraints in the current economic climate, cabinet resolved that the Tafelberg site is not ideally suited to affordable housing, especially as the state subsidy cannot be utilised there under current national policy.”
Mr Mpofu added: “Sea Point, where the Tafelberg property is located, also falls outside of a restructuring zone. This is as per the advice of legal counsel to Cabinet, which was requested following this risk being pointed out during the course of public participation on the Tafelberg site.”
Zara Nicholson, spokesperson for Mayor Patricia de Lille, confirmed the mayor had met with a representative of Ndifuna Ukwazi last week and they discussed the City’s plans for affordable housing and Transit Orientated Development (TOD) projects which would bring affordable housing opportunities closer to public transport and economic developments. On the Tafelberg matter, Ms Nicholson, said: “The City respects the right of the sphere of government (province) to make decisions and the public are within their democratic right to challenge the decision. We welcome the decisions in support of more affordable housing in the city.”
Last week, vice-chairperson of Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School Lance Katz said they had noted province’s decision to go ahead with the sale of Tafelberg.
On the protests this week, Mr Mpofu maintained that Tafelberg was not suitable for affordable housing. “The Waterfront (Helen Bowden) and Woodstock properties are suitable for affordable housing at scale, based on cross subsidisation and with or without a restructuring grant. Reclaim the City can have their allegation that cabinet’s decision is unlawful tried and tested in a court of law, but it appears that this method of resolution is now not good enough for them.”