Save the PHA farms

Nazeer Sonday, Chairperson, Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) Food and Farming Campaign

Dear Mayor, on October 15 and 16, I am going to the Western Cape High Court to stop the Oakland City developer Wentzel Oaker from destroying the PHA farmlands, the Cape Flats Aquifer and my life.

After 10 years of an engineered public-participation process in favour of developers, the high court is my last option and my final stand.

You and MEC (Anton) Bredell support Oaker in this court case, and so bizarrely the government is using my rates and taxes against me.

If I lose the case you, MEC Bredell and Mr Oaker will demand costs against me, and I will lose my farm. All that I have worked for all my adult life will be lost. I will be evicted from this land like my family was evicted before me in 1973 under the apartheid Group Areas Act.

Bizarrely your action – a person from the historically-oppressed community in this city – will evict me from my land again, but this time, in a democratic South Africa.

What kind of democracy is it you and your party practise when our community, your own councillors, opposition councillors, national government, academics and civil society all said no to this development in a full council in 2009? All recommended protection and preservation of the PHA.

What kind of democracy is this that your party could then meet behind closed doors in 2011 and give this development the thumbs up?

What kind of democracy is this that you use my rates and taxes for an army of advocates to destroy me, my community and the interest of citizens in this city?

In 2009, you took 201ha from the PHA – the Weltevreden Wedge – for farmworkers housing. You haven’t built a single unit.

They still live in dire informal settlements; yet now you insult them by defending in court the gated communities that will destroy the land where they work.

The 2010 developable land study identified
11 000ha – with existing infrastructure and close to work opportunities – and space for historically-disadvantaged people who have been removed from the city under apartheid. In Newlands, from where my mother’s side was forcibly removed, you also approve only private sector housing. I will not be the only one affected by your stand against communities in this court case.

On my 1ha farm, I have chosen to create a space for evicted and unemployed farmworkers of the PHA who are an important part of our community, where we are learning to become farmers using our traditional farming knowledge and combining this with the latest soil science. This farming is the answer to the climate, hunger and job crisis we face.

Their lives too, as beneficiaries of land reform, will be over. We emerging farmers will all swell the ranks of the weggegooi mense (discarded people).

Mayor, 3 000 PHA farmworkers will also lose their jobs, most of them women and the youth. Another 3 000 who work in support services will also lose their jobs.

Thirty thousand livelihoods dependant on the farmlands which will be affected: hawkers, shisanyamas, food makers, food distributors, the livestock traders and employees.

How will we fulfil our religious and cultural practices? Do you have a plan for providing all of us with jobs and livelihoods when this cascade is done and all has been paved over?

The price of vegetables will sky-rocket when farmers and farmworkers are gone. The poor on the Cape Flats will be the most affected.

Eighty percent of Cape Flats households are already food-stressed. Of course, supermarkets will be full of food, but we will not be able to afford it since more of us will be unemployed and homeless.

But you know all of this since you read my court papers.

The aquifer will be lost because the PHA farmlands are the last remaining recharge zone.

The aquifer will face the same fate as the Camissa River in the city that now lies buried. We all reminisced the loss of her sweet waters last year at the height of our drought and water crisis, as we stood in long queues at the Camissa springs to collect water. I didn’t see you at the queues.

As you continue to pave over our agriculture-zoned farmlands, four more developments are in process or approved, and green spaces, pave over our water bodies and continue to delete priceless natural resources, climate shocks will increase.

This is no hyperbole. We need a living city which can feed its own, not one which runs out of food in a week if there is a fuel crisis.

When the PHA farmlands and aquifer are gone, we will have no option but to drink sea water – desalinated – from the ocean polluted with human faeces.

The carbon cost of imported food and engineered water will cause more CO2 to enter the atmosphere causing more climate change.

More droughts and extreme weather events will follow. And like frogs in boiling water, we in the city will slowly be consumed by rising sea water caused by the melting of the ice bodies on the planet.

The living, breathing Cape Flats Aquifer and her custodian, the PHA farmlands, will play a key role in securing the city’s future water, food and climate security.

But I know you are not convinced of this. Perhaps you put all your trust in God and believe in the power of prayer and in this you believe we will be safe; we will get jobs; we will find some other work; we will have food to eat. I pray your prayers will be answered.

I too pray that we will be okay. I pray the court will come to a just finding.

For me, no amount of social mobilisation, consultants, public engagements or senior advocates matter. All that is left for me to do is attend the court case and put my trust in God.