Tafelberg saga heads to court

Matthew Hirsch

The case to stop the sale of the Tafelberg remedial school site in Sea Point is expected to be heard at the Western Cape High Court today, Thursday April 14.

Supporters of the Ndifuna Ukwazi Trust and their Reclaim the City campaign filed court papers on Monday April 11 (“Tafelberg talks cease”, Atlantic Sun, March 24).

They will argue that the sale of the site to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School for R135 million is unlawful and have asked the matter to be heard urgently. The MEC for Transport and Public Works, Donald Grant, is listed as the first respondent.

The applicants will also argue that the property, which formerly housed the Tafelberg Remedial School before it moved to Bothasig in 2010, had been marked for social housing.

There were hopes for mediation between Reclaim the City and the provincial Department of Transport and Public Works but this ended when the department stopped the process (“Tafelberg talks cease”, Atlantic Sun, March 24). Their reason for the about-turn was that no court action or application had been initiated by Ndifuna Ukwazi or its members and that the “normal process of mediation whereby all information shared remains confidential applies”.

On Tuesday April 12, Reclaim the City released a series of documents, which they say expose serious inconsistencies in the process by which the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works sold the Tafelberg Remedial School site. These documents are contained in the application filed in the Western Cape High Court calling for an interdict to stop the transfer of the Tafelberg site.

Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim the City said the documents reveal that the provincial Department of Transport and Public Works ignored an appeal by the provincial Department of Human Settlements to stop the sale and reserve the site for social housing; a provincially supported feasibility study concluded that social housing was a viable option for the site, which was also ignored; and that in 2015, the disposal of the site mysteriously switched from a long-term lease to an outright sale, despite apparent assurances from Mr Grant that this would never happen.

One of the documents is a letter written by the Department of Human Settlement to the Department of Public Works in 2013, which states that the Tafelberg school site would be “ideal for social housing opportunities”. The letter reads: “It (the site) is well serviced by public transport and engineering services. It is recognised that careful thought and design are required for an appropriate use and response of existing school buildings, which enjoy heritage protection.”

A Ndifuna Ukwazi statement released this week, said as the sale is imminent, they are asking the court to grant an interdict and review the decision on the following grounds:

* The Province knows that isiXhosa is one of the major languages in the Western Cape and yet only published the notice of disposal in English and Afrikaans in December when most people were away on holiday. “This can only be seen as deliberately attempting to bypass the requirements to facilitate public participation among a demographic who stand to lose the most from the stripping of public land,” Ndifuna Ukwazi said.

* The Province did not follow the law on the disposal of public land, including the Government Immovable Asset Management Act. In order to sell the land it must be declared surplus and in order to do this it should not be needed for service delivery objectives. “As far back as 2013, the Provincial Department of Human Settlements indicated that it wanted the land for social housing, and in fact objected to the disposal.”

The organisation added that a feasibility study found that a social housing development of up to 341 units would be viable so the matter needed to be decided now before it is lost to future generations. “This case is about more than the Tafelberg school site – ultimately it is about transparency in the disposal of prime public land. This is a far cry from the current situation where bids are opened and deliberated on behind closed doors, meaning public land is open to capture by private developers and elite interests.”

Thozama Adonisi, a Sea Point resident since 1994, said she had been living in the area since she was 18. She now has two children, the youngest being 13 and a pupil at Sea Point High School. Ms Adonisi, who works at Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital as a caregiver, is listed as one of the main applicants in the application that were filed at the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

“There are many people in the area who are working as gardeners or domestic workers who are in need of housing. Lots of people work here and have children. It is also safer for us.

“It is important that we can stay in Sea Point and I am certainly hoping that we will get Tafelberg.”

Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School, which is based in Camps Bay, said they were aware of Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim the City’s legal intentions but asked that any queries be directed to the provincial Department of Transport and Public Works.

Siphesihle Dube, spokesperson for Mr Grant, however, told the Atlantic Sun they are unable to comment as the matter is now sub-judice.

Zara Nicholson, spokesperson for mayor Patricia de Lille, said the site belonged to provincial government, who decided to dispose of it. “There was no need for the Western Cape Government to consult the City of Cape Town about the disposal of the site. When the Western Cape Government disposes of assets, they do so in terms of the Public Finance Management Act.

“The City is going to use the development fees from the Clifton development to build affordable rental stock in the city as a response to the public request for social housing and improved community integration.

“A total of 10% of the financial offer of the sale/lease proceeds by the successful tenderer will be earmarked for future City-developed, near inner-city social housing projects – the sites of which would be determined in the future,” she added.

The provincial Department of Human Settlements declined to respond to a media query from the Atlantic Sun, saying that the matter was between Reclaim the City and the provincial Department of Transport and Public Works.