‘These homes are ours’

Housing activists and occupiers Elizabeth Gqobaka and Sheila Madikana at a regular weekly meetings at Helen Bowden Nurses home.

Siphokazi Madikane grew up in Sea Point. She lived in the suburb her whole life until she was evicted in December last year.

She is just one of the examples of people who could benefit should the Helen Bowden Nurses Home site be used for affordable housing.

“I was evicted in Sea Point and I had to go to a location that I had never been to before. I grew up in Sea Point. When I was evicted, it was bad news for me. It was sad when they told me I have to move out.”

She fought the eviction but was only given a few months before she had to move out.

“Moving here is a good thing for me… to come back to where I grew up.”

Activists have, for the past five months, occupied the site as a form of protest since Province’s decision to go through with the sale of the Tafelberg site.

Now Ms Madikane is concerned about Provincial Government’s proposal to rezone the Somerset Hospital precinct and what affect it could have on the plan to develop affordable housing.

The application seeks to rezone the Somerset Precinct, (of which the Helen Bowden Nurses’ Home is a part) consisting of erven 1955, 2090, 2166, 1560 and 1559, from open space and community open space to general business 6.

“To develop for a business? For me it’s not a good thing. We must fight for this. They can do it somewhere else but not in this house. This house is ours. I don’t want the public land for business, public land must be used for affordable housing,” Ms Madikane said, appealing to Provincial Government that they “mustn’t look down on us”.

“They must take us as human beings. We are good enough to clean their houses but we are not good enough to stay with them in the inner-city. They want to push us away. For what? We are going to keep the place clean as we keep their houses clean. We are human beings.”

The building, along with the Woodstock Hospital site, has become a site of defiance for housing activists.

At the meeting last Wednesday, several issues were discussed, among them house rules, access cards as well as the application to rezone the site.

Another of the occupants and Reclaim the City member, Sheila Madikana, said they had proven that the building could be used for housing.

“We want to prove to the Government and the people what it means to be in need of a place. Most of the people think it’s just nice to move in next to the Waterfront but it’s not that.”

Occupier and Reclaim the City member, Elizabeth Gqoboka, agreed. “There were so many people that were in need of accommodation and we have to set the example.

“We went through a lot of difficulties and to sustain the operation wasn’t an easy thing. There were many times that I wanted to withdraw. But when I think about the struggle, where we are coming from, where we could not be with our children and people were getting evicted… I felt as a leader I needed to stand strong.”

Ms Gqoboka said they had things such as access cards and regular meetings “so that we can teach people about responsibilities and to manage the building”.

“It is also to teach people about the occupation. They mustn’t just put in their names and leave. If people are not going to be present to fight for what they want then the government is going to get away with murder.”

She said she was willing to engage with residents who had a negative perception of affordable housing.”I would like those people to come and interact with us so that we can explain what transitional or affordable housing is.

“There is no way that we can bring the values of the property down. We’ve been living in the inner-city for many years. We’ve been living in many rich people’s backyards. We’ve actually made this area what it is today. We are sick and tired of living in backyards. We want places of our own to live with our own families. Why should it be now that the values should come down?”

Stuart Burnett, secretary of the Built Environment Committee of the Green Point Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association, called the rezoning process flawed and noted that there had been a failure to notify interested and affected parties of the matter.

“One of our members happened to see the notice posted on the site.Otherwise we would not have been aware of this application. The notification and consultation process are fatally flawed and must be re-started.”

He added that the latest Land Use Application had “vague” references to affordable housing. “In this proposed development, there must be a quantifiable, measurable and maintainable allocation to affordable housing.”

Jared Rossouw, Ndifuna Ukwazi Co-Director, said the current application only made provision for 300 affordable units, which represented 4% of the bulk. “Given this government’s track record, these are unlikely to be truly affordable public housing options, such as social housing despite the site being within a restructuring zone. There is a risk these could be cheaper market-rate apartments.

“As it stands, the proposal is not aligned with the province’s obligations to redress spatial apartheid. The vast majority of the site could potentially be owned, occupied and used by wealthy corporations and an elite few which would entrench unequal and segregated access to land and opportunities.”

Siphesihle Dube, spokesperson for Transport and Public Works MEC, Donald Grant, said the rezoning application had been submitted to the City of Cape Town in September 2016. He added that the rezoning did not imply that the Western Cape Government was closing down the Somerset hospital.

“There is a fully functioning hospital on the site which will continue to work. However, the current zoning is not correct across the whole site, eg. the current space that Helen Bowden is located on is zoned open space.

“Just because the Department of Transport and Public Works goes through a process of rezoning, sub-division and consolidation, does not mean that the property is about to be disposed of. The rezoning application to the City of Cape Town outlines a number of proposed releases of the overall site (ie four phases) and detailed development planning is still required for each precinct.”

Mr Dube added that the 300 affordable units relates only to the Helen Bowden portion of the precinct. “The number is clearly stated as a minimum and was never intended to be a figure for all the affordable housing to be provided across the entire site as and when the various parcels are released.”