The battle for the Tafelberg school site in Sea Point is just the beginning for activists fighting for affordable housing near the city.
This was the message from Reclaim the City campaign supporters at a public hearing, held at Sea Point High School on Saturday June 4.
The hearing gave residents a chance to voice oral objections to the sale of theTafelberg school site by the provincial Department of Public Works. The Reclaim the City campaign organisers and the provincial government reached a settlement, which was made an order of court, on the Tafelberg matter.
Province agreed to reopen its proposed disposal of the site to public comment and participation.
It further agreed that any record of a public hearing – affording the residents the opportunity to make oral submissions – would form part of the record of submissions to be considered. The comment period for the proposed sale to the Phyllis Jowell School Day School ends today Thursday June 9.
Nkosikhona Swaartbooi of Ndifuna Ukwazi, an activist organisation and law centre that is acting on behalf of the Reclaim the City Campaign, said they started this campaign to push for affordable housing at the Tafelberg site because there were feasibility tests done by the provincial government. “The test said at the Tafelberg site there could be 350 units built for social housing. We then heard that the province was selling the site to a private buyer and we felt that it shouldn’t be the case when we have an overwhelming backlog of housing.
“There are also domestic workers in Sea Point living under very harsh conditions and strict rules (such as no visitors). There are so many people waking up at 4am (in areas far away) just to be at work on time.”
He said they felt the matter was important to everyone in Cape Town.
Mr Swaartbooi said they had consulted with various faith-based organisations, civic organisations and small businesses in the area regarding the campaign.
Reverend Alan Storey, of the Central Methodist Mission, joined the list of Reclaim the City campaign supporters and voiced his objection last weekend. He reminded the group that it had been 50 years since the forced removals of District Six. “The consequences of this crime continue as if set in stone. With Tafelberg we have an opportunity to fix a fragment of our broken past. Our city will begin the healing journey from its deadly disease of exclusion and inclusivity.
“It is also a deadly disease for the privileged who have access to more than our fair share. For people of economic privilege to live exclusively among other people of economic privilege is a profoundly improvised existence.”
He said the transformation of affordable housing was a chance for some to reclaim the city and for all to reclaim some humanity.
Dana Lieberman, who grew up in Sea Point and now lives in Vredehoek, also voiced objected to the sale to a private buyer. “This site and others in and around Cape Town need to finally be developed to include all people. For as long as we don’t constructively look to include and integrate the different socio economic divides we will constantly live in an apartheid-like city.”
She said as a Master’s degree student in property studies at the University of Cape Town, one of the most significant lessons was that the more dispersed a city is, the less it will work in the long-term for everyone.
“It will cost the City more in terms of infrastructure, sewage, transportation and electricity. We need to find a way to include lower income people closer to the city centre.”
She added that most cities around the world provided for affordable housing and cited New York as an example.
Sea Point resident Busiswe Qasshu, said she supported Reclaim The City. Ms Qasshu, who works as a domestic worker, said sometimes they lived in very difficult conditions. “Unlike me, others also have to get up in the early hours of the morning to get to work and are exposed to things such as crime. The school should not be sold to a private buyer but used for social housing. It will not only benefit us as workers but our employers as well.”
She said sometimes they had to work until midnight and it was very difficult for those who do not live in Sea Point. “The issue of travelling long distances to work was one for everyone working in Sea Point such as security guards and waiters who are expected to be at work very early in the morning. We have single beds that we sleep in and that’s the only way of life that we know. The people who want to buy the school are those that already have homes while we have nothing. We also want to have something we can own.”
Another Sea Point resident, Elizabeth Gqoboka, said that she has been living Sea Point for more than 22 years, having started as a domestic worker. “We have been fighting for affordable housing in Sea Point for many years.”
She said she was happy to be given the opportunity to object to the sale of the Tafelberg site. “I am smiling but deep down inside me it is very dark. I’m a single parent and I’ve got two beautiful daughters and two grandchildren.
“I’ve been struggling my whole life trying to make ends meet. Because of the conditions we were living inin Sea Point we were not allowed to live with our children.”
She added she wanted to thank employers who looked after the domestic workers and treated them like family. “When I first came to Sea Point I saw this beautiful seaside and thought this is where I want to live. That is why I’m still standing here because I’ve been fighting for that all my life. We are being accommodated in the back yards and some people are not even allowed to have visitors. Some conditions are so bad that you are living with rats. This is why we want to support this and we want to see our grandchildren growing up in front of us. Some have said that if we want to live here (Tafelberg) we will downgrade the value of the properties. It’s sad when I read that because if I can downgrade your property, why am I not downgrading your children? Not all employers are bad people but please assist us to stop the sale of Tafelberg.”
Sea Point resident Kgothaso Meka said it shattered his heart to see the inequality in Cape Town and said a more integrated community was vital.
He asked premier Helen Zille to stop the sale of the land to another wealthy developer who would cater to a minority. “I’m originally from Johannesburg and have been living in Cape Town for two years. I love living in Sea Point. It shatters my heart to see the blatant inequality across the city. The inequality is based on racial lines which were caused by apartheid. Giving them this land is what will effect real change. Will you keep the status quo or help transform and heal South Africa?”
Reclaim the City said they had invited Ms Zille to attend the public hearing. She declined this invitation in writing, stating that neither the Western Cape Land Administration Act nor the court order requires that she attend a public hearing. She confirmed that a record of this hearing would, however, be admissible as a submission on the proposed disposal.
The deadline for public comment is today June 9.