Debate on future of Tafelberg property heats up

Affordable housing or private school? Deadline for submissions is 9 June

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Photo of two women speaking at public meeting
Elizabeth Gqoboka spoke at a public hearing on Saturday. Nkosikhona Swartbooi translated her oral submission for Xhosa speakers. Photo: Naib Mian

Sea Point residents joined Reclaim the City on Saturday to voice concerns about the sale of the Tafelberg school site by the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works.

The public hearing held at 1pm at Sea Point High School was convened by Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU), who took the provincial government to court in April to interdict the transfer of the site. NU and Reclaim the City would like to see the land used for affordable housing.

Following an agreement reached in May, the sale of the property was opened to a 21-day public comment and objection period, which ends 9 June.

A petition circulated by Reclaim the City has garnered about 2,200 signatures and 420 objections to the sale. These will be submitted to the provincial government.

Meanwhile, the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School (PJJDS), which originally bought the property from the province, has been campaigning in support of the sale. They have garnered about 3,500 signatures on a petition, and have received about 100 written submissions. 

“While our community is sensitive to and supportive of affordable housing solutions in the city, we remain of the view that the Tafelberg site is suboptimal and unsuitable for this purpose, not least due to the high land cost and the heritage aspects of the site,” wrote Samuel Seeff, chairman of the Western Province Priorities and Planning Board, and Lance Katz, vice chairman of the PJJDS, in a press release. 

Saturday’s public hearing was an opportunity for community members to present oral submissions as part of the comment process. Premier Helen Zille and Councillor Jacques Weber were invited.

In its press release, Reclaim the City said Zille declined in writing, stating that neither the Western Cape Land Administration Act nor the court order required her attendance, but ‘she confirmed that a record of this hearing would however be admissible as a submission on the proposed disposal’.

Nkosikhona Swartbooi of Reclaim the City preceded the comments from the public by highlighting a feasibility study on the site that found that the Tafelberg property could accommodate almost 350 social housing units. “This site should not be sold when we have such a backlog of housing,” he said.

Community members spoke about the struggles of working class people in Sea Point who either live in the backyards of their employers or are forced to commute long distances from townships. Swartbooi translated these comments in order to ensure both English and Xhosa speakers could fully participate.

Elizabeth Gqoboka, a 47-year-old single mother who has lived in Sea Point for 22 years as a domestic worker and now as a caregiver, said many workers who lived at the back of their employers’ properties were not allowed to live with their children and couldn’t receive visitors.

“We want to have our own lives, live with our families and see our grandchildren grow up in front of us,” she said. She pointed out that she has heard people objecting to affordable housing because it would decrease the value of their properties.

“Why is it that I downgrade your property if I don’t downgrade your children when you go to work?” she said. The audience of about 100 broke out into cheers. “I’m smiling, but I’m broken inside,” she said.

On 9 June, Reclaim the City plans to march to the Tafelberg site and hand over objections to the provincial government.

Siphesihle Dube, spokesperson for the Minister of Transport and Public Works, said the provincial cabinet will consider the submissions before determining whether or not to proceed with the sale. If the decision is to continue with the sale of the property, Reclaim the City plans to go to court again to stop the transfer.

TOPICS:  Housing

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Dear Editor

As in all tourist towns where property is sought by the wealthy and often overseas visitors, the prices are inflated out of reach of even the middle class. Affordable land has to be provided close to city centres and work.
Perhaps a tourist tax or second property tax would help the Cape Town municipality afford to do this.
I also understand that the Jewish population has been declining over the years so a school for their youth, a car trip away, would not be a bad thing.

Dear Editor

Contrary to the statement made by Mr Seeff, the land is not expensive at all, it's free. It's publicly owned land, so the excuse that land in the inner city is too expensive doesn't hold. The value of the land, however, is very high. Government will show by their decision if they value profit over people.

Dear Editor

I beg to differ with the idea that the land is free. The cost of the land is R135m because that is what the school offered for for the site. Which means that the city could spend R135million developing low-cost housing in a more affordable area, for example in District 6 or Culemborg.

The low-cost housing proposal that was tabled makes accommodation for 204 units, so the real cost of the "low-cost homes" to the city is R661,000 per unit before a brick is laid. Doesn't sound like low-cost to me. And how will those 204 units be allocated to those deserving of it? Standing in queue, bribing someone, holding a raffle, nepotism, political loyalty etc. And when the units get allocated, who's to say that those lucky winners aren't going to sell their units on and pocket the cash - as is what happens to so many RDP houses (which goes against the whole idea of close proximity and subsidised housing).
Moreover, if the City is saying that they have limited budget to upgrade townships and even give township residents water and sanitation services... then just imagine how far that R135m can go - how many taps, toilets, electrical connections and streetlights they could add.

I'm not saying that township residents must remain township residents, but lets at least upgrade their lives, safety and dignity while they are there. That way, the City can make maximum improvements in the most number of lives.

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