National

Fight for Philippi: Cape farmland could lose ground to housing

Heidi Swart

A stretch of farmland that could prove vital to Cape Town's food security is threatened by development, illegal dumping and informal settlements.

For residents of the settlements, the vegetables that grow on the nearby farms are a luxury. (David Harrison, MG)

Yet, despite research warning that the Philippi horticultural area, a mere 20-minute drive from the city centre, is crucial to the city's food security and particularly that of its poorest, the Western Cape department of environmental affairs and development planning opened the door for the rezoning of potential farmland to allow urban development. On the cards is an ambitious plan to build what has been called a "mini-city" of 20 000 homes, sparking fears that it will set a precedent for similar developments.

About half of the carrots, cauliflower and lettuce supplied to the city comes from Philippi. The area also produces over 40 crops including coriander as well as cabbages and leeks.

Philippi's proximity to Cape Town means the fresh produce can be delivered at a lower cost.

The area is about 20km southeast of the city centre on the windswept Cape Flats on which also lie suburbs such as Mitchell's Plain, Nyanga, Khayelitsha and Manenberg. Some of the city's poorest residents live here. A portion of Philippi produce – often sold off the back of bakkies and at small shops – reaches low-income households throughout the Flats at more affordable rates than at supermarkets.

But over the past two decades the horticultural area has been used increasingly for business and industry. According to the urban structure plan of 1988, a document setting out land use designation in Cape Town, the area can be used for horticulture as well as silica and sand mining. Sand mines occupy about 500 hectares in the south of the horticultural area, yielding high-grade silica sand for glass production and building sand.

(David Harrison, M&G)

Diversified land use
In 1988 about 3 200 hectares were designated for horticultural use. Today, the city's spatial development framework shows that the size of the entire Philippi horticultural area has been reduced to about 2 370 hectares.

The Schaapkraal smallholding area reflects the shift towards diversified land use. The 4 000m2 are divided into 140 smallholdings. According to the city, 41 smallholdings are used for construction and transport purposes, up from eight in 1992. Only four are used strictly for horticulture.

The smallholdings stand in sharp contrast to the land of ­commercial farmers, most of whom are descendants of German settlers who have worked the land since the late 1800s. The area is well suited to farming. Much of the horticultural area consists of wetlands, underlain by the Cape Flats aquifer. The constant water supply and mild temperatures allow year-round crop growth.

Informal settlements in the horticultural area are growing. The largest of these – Egoli and Jim se Bos – are about 20 years old. Cape Town's 2011 figures estimate that Egoli and Jim se Bos host about 350 and 300 homes respectively. Both are on private land.

Egoli lies northeast of Schaapkraal. It was founded after a local man sold his farm and the farm workers settled next door. The land is owned by Cassim Alexander, who served eviction notices on residents in 2010, but they refused to move. Residents of Egoli often do not know where their next meal is coming from.

On the day the Mail & Guardian visited, Ethel Xnontanla (56) was walking down Kraal Road with a 10kg bag of wood balanced on her head. She wore an old maroon jersey and a beanie to keep out the cold wind. She had to walk 2km to reach her shack in Egoli, where she made a fire in a rusted metal container on which to cook a meal of samp. Smoke billowed out of the door, only for the wind to nudge it back inside.  

"I don't work. My husband doesn't work. My child is sick. Next door gives me food," she said.

Growing settlement
Next door was Nicky Swartz (36). "Here in Egoli many people are jobless. There are a lot of children. Many people live off grants, but that isn't enough."

Asked what the people eat, Swartz said: "For meat, maybe a small piece of derm (gizzards), or sheep's head. There are no vegetables now."

It was lunchtime, but Ennie Kiewiets's (30) last meal had been the previous afternoon and consisted of chicken gizzards and porridge. "I have high blood pressure and a heart problem. I can't drink my pills if I don't eat. Last night they stole my food for the whole week. It was mealie meal and rice. I just nipped around the corner to the [spaza] shop."

(David Harrison, M&G)

The settlement keeps growing. "Last time we counted there were 790 shacks in Egoli," said Swartz, a number more than double that reported by the city in 2011. New residents included people who lost their homes in the nearby Cape Flats suburbs because they could no longer afford the rent, she said. Others came from other provinces.

"Many come here to work," she said. Some work on the farms, others do piecemeal domestic work. But, said Swartz, many are still unemployed.

The vegetables that grow on the nearby farms are a luxury, said Swartz. When people do buy vegetables, they purchase them from a bakkie that visits the area weekly. "But it is very expensive."

It is cheaper than the supermarket, though. "For us, buying from the truck is much more reasonable than the hyper[market]. There, you pay about R35 for a 10kg pocket of potatoes and that doesn't take taxi fare into account. On the bakkie it is R25."

Food security
Egoli's people are part of a significant portion of Cape Town residents who face food insecurity. According to a survey of 1 060 low-income households conducted by the African Food Security Urban Network in 2008, 80% of respondents were food insecure. The study looked at various indicators of food insecurity, such as whether respondents went to sleep hungry, or whether there were times when there was no food in the house.

A 2012 study by Rooftops Canada-Abri International and the African Food Security Network that examined the horticultural area's significance in sustaining food security within the Cape Town municipality found that without it the city would be "place[d] in extreme risk" of food insecurity, with low-income households suffering the most. A 2009 report commissioned by the city had similar findings.

About 3.7-million people lived in Cape Town in 2010, which constituted 66% of the Western Cape's population, and the city's population has grown by 3% a year. A growing population will not only increase the demand for food, but also the need for housing and commercial development.

It is this demand for urban development juxtaposed with sustainable farming in the Philippi area that gives Nazeer Sonday of the Schaapkraal Civic and Environmental Association grey hair.

(David Harrison, M&G)

Sonday is concerned that pressure for housing and industrial development, as well as illegal dumping and growing informal settlements are threatening the farmland on which this population depends for much of its nourishment. A small-scale farmer, he also serves on the horticultural area's ratepayers' association.

At a ratepayers' meeting at the local country club on a Monday night, a local businessman said that he wanted his land rezoned from rural to commercial so he could use it as a retail space for hardware. One ratepayer wanted to know how much of it would be paint and how much of it would be hardware. The businessman had to give specifics: "It is mostly paint, but we are thinking of going into hardware."

The ratepayer was still not satisfied and wanted to know whether the paint was water-based or solvent-based. The latter could pollute the aquifer.

Proposed development
The businessman insisted that there was a global move away from solvent-based paints and his shop was doing the same. In the end, the ratepayers rejected his application, despite his promises that he would create employment.

But this was a minor rezoning issue, compared with a far bigger headache for the ratepayers – the proposed development in a 472-hectare area in the southeast corner. At present the area is being mined for sand. In 2008 a company by the name of Rapicorp 122, in whose name the land is registered, lodged an application with the provincial government to change the land-use designation of the 472 hectares from horticultural to urban. Rapicorp proposed about 172 hectares of 20 000 mixed-density housing units, 41 hectares for industrial use, 26 hectares for mixed use and 157 hectares for open space and conservation.

An application to have land rezoned starts with a request to amend the 1988 urban structure plan. The application is reviewed by the city, which makes recommendations to the Western Cape department of environmental affairs and development planning, which has the final say. If the department approves it, an environmental impact assessment must take place and an application to rezone has to be lodged with the city.

In 2009, following a research report that recommended the Philippi area be retained for horticultural uses, citing among its motivators food security and water supply, the city recommended that the 472 hectares be retained for horticultural purposes.

(David Harrison, M&G)

"We thought we'd won," said Sonday. But despite city recommendations, the province's environmental affairs department approved Rapicorp's application in 2011.

Development does not appear to be imminent: Rapicorp is part of the Rocklands group now under curatorship following a Financial Services Board investigation. The 472 hectares are also still zoned as rural, which  means Rapicorp will have to apply to the city for rezoning.

The controlling director of the Rocklands Group, Wentzel Oaker, did not respond to questions.

Structural plan
But Sonday is still worried that the amendment to the structural plan means that development in the area remains a possibility and may have opened the door for other developments.

His fears are not unfounded. In December 2011 a company called Exclusive Access Trading 570 lodged an application to have about 300 hectares next to the Rapicorp land designated for urban development. The government has not yet made a decision.

The spokesperson for the Western Cape department of environmental affairs and development planning, Aziel Gangerdine, said the Rapicorp application was attractive because it proposed the creation of much needed economic growth and low-cost housing to address the housing shortage in the province. He said Rapicorp had argued that urban development would not necessarily negatively affect the sensitive ecological systems as long as it was managed correctly.

In addition, said the department, a study found that significant capital investment would be required for conversion of the post-mining landscape into a sustainable horticultural production area.

However, the department acknowledged that the need for food security was equally important to that of housing and the proposed development would permanently preclude food production.

Before any development could take place, said Gangerdine, detailed planning had to occur with the buy-in of the city to prevent the potential threat of ad hoc approvals in the future. "It is important to note that the approval granted only permits the amendment of the structure plan. No development can go ahead in the area without the necessary processes being engaged."

But developments are not the only threat to potential farmland. Sonday suspected that a truck leaving the Jim se Bos area in the middle of the day had just dumped a load of rubble on what was once a wetland. Sonday said this was the reason Jim se Bos kept growing.

Informal settlements in the horticultural area
A women sitting in front of her shack told the M&G a truck driver had just dumped a load of rubble outside her home and said they could use it to make the wetland ground solid and build another shack. "Why are you stressing?" she asked.

Solly Malatsi, spokesperson for Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, said no informal settlements in the horticultural area were on city land and that it had no jurisdiction over private land.

The land owner, Shaik Abdullah Parker, blamed the city for the influx of people, saying that it evicted residents from council houses on the Cape Flats in 1995 and they then drifted to his property.

He said he had spent R100 000 paying the fire department to put out fires and owed them a further R250000, which he could not afford.

In the meantime, the settlement keeps growing.

Malatsi said people started moving on to Parker's land in 1997 and that they were from the surrounding farms. At the time, said Malatsi, the city advised Parker of his rights and the legal route available to him to have occupants evicted and his land protected from further invasion.

'No one comes to our aid'
"The land owner declined the offer of help from the city at that time and declined the city's offer to install basic services on his land."

Gangerdine said his department had not rehabilitated any land in the area because property owners were bound to ensure that activities on their land did not cause environmental harm. He said the department's role was to ensure that owners adhered to this.

The department is currently embroiled in litigation with Parker.

In the meantime, the battle for the Philippi horticultural area continues.

A frustrated Achmat Brinkhuis is an emerging farmer on 22 hectares of Philippi horticultural area land who does not mince his words: "Everyone knows about our problems, but no one comes to our aid. Until the day they pay R50 for a cabbage."

Heidi Swart is the Eugene Saldanha fellow in social justice reporting.


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