The Western Cape High Court will hear arguments for and against the sale of the Tafelberg school site in Sea Point this week until today, Thursday November 28.
On Monday November 25, the matter went back to court with housing rights groups Reclaim the City and Ndifuna Ukwazi challenging the decision by the provincial government to sell the well-located Tafelberg property to a private buyer.
The matter dates back to 2017 when the provincial government sold the property in question to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School, for R135 million.
The property is over 1.7 hectares in size and is located on Main Road in Sea Point.
“If the Tafelberg land is used for social housing instead this will be a success story for the city in redressing spatial apartheid,” said Mandisa Shandu, the head of Ndifuna Ukwazi.
The housing rights groups argue that the Tafelberg site – which spans almost an entire city block – provides a prime opportunity to redress spatial apartheid through the provision of well-located land for social housing. Social housing is a critical tool not only to address the persistent demand for affordable housing in Cape Town, but also to restructure our cities, they said.
They said 25 years after apartheid, Cape Town remains one of the most spatially divided cities in the country, with residential settlement patterns still segregated along race and class lines. The majority of black and coloured households continue to live in densely populated, peripheral townships and informal settlements where economic opportunities, access to transport facilities and social amenities are few; while the central and well-located residential areas of Cape Town, where economic opportunities, transport facilities and social amenities are plentiful, are inhabited predominantly by white people and significantly less densely populated.
The decision to sell the property site to sell the site to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School was questioned by several role-players, including the National Treasury, which said this decision is in stark contrast to repeated government policy statements on the importance of reintegrating urban areas in South Africa, particularly through pursuing opportunities to provide affordable housing to poor, working people who must otherwise commute long distances to work.
It said while it acknowledges that the provincial government has the legal authority to dispose of this property, provided that appropriate and transparent processes are followed, the decision to do so flies in the face of its own stated commitment to spatial restructuring and a shared desire for faster, more inclusive growth. It said in an April 2017 statement that “moreover, the apparent decision to use the proceeds of the sale to fund the development of administrative offices, rather than more immediate and pressing social needs, seems inappropriate – particularly during a period of public sector spending restraint.”.
The then Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, responded to the statement, arguing that the decision made by the provincial cabinet was not specifically based on the National Treasury directives for “fiscal austerity and revenue enhancement”. “The need for fiscal austerity in the current economic climate was indeed one of them. However, it was by no means the only reason for the decision. It constituted one among a range of factors, in a complex situation, taken into account by the cabinet,” said Ms Zille’s spokesman, Michael Mpofu (“Treasury voices concerns over Tafelberg”, Atlantic Sun, April 20 2017).
Speaking on behalf of Reclaim the City and Ndifuna Ukwazi, on Monday, advocate Pete Hathorn, highlighted that Cape Town remained one of the most spatially divided cities in the country.
Mr Hathorn said the province and the City are obliged to assist low to medium income families to gain access to the city. “This cannot be deferred for another 10 to 15 years in the name of progressive realisation. The longer it is deferred, the worse spatial injustice will become. Action needs to be taken immediately and the impasse in priorities needs to be addressed,” he said.
The national Department of Human Settlements also launched a separate application against the province over the decision.
On Tuesday, advocate Ismail Jamie told the court that the provincial government did not tell the national Department of Human Settlements that it had sold the site. He said all three spheres of government shared responsibility for realising the right to housing.
Mr Jamie said they are therefore required to co-operate and co-ordinate when it comes to the provision of housing. He said the province failed to do this when it unilaterally decided to sell the Tafelberg property.
The matter continues in court until today.