The Democratic Alliance-led Western Cape government says it was looking at “the bigger picture” when it decided to sell prime property in Cape Town privately instead of building low-income housing.
This week, the unanimous decision by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s Cabinet to sell 17 000m2 of land for R135‑million to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School led to a public outcry.
It comes just over a month after Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille resigned as DA leader in the Western Cape and was replaced as interim leader by former human settlements MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela.
Whereas De Lille championed developing houses for low-income families in the affluent Sea Point area, Madikizela has apparently accepted that it is not possible.
The City of Cape Town had hoped to gain access to the Tafelberg site in Sea Point, which has potential to develop social housing, “but it wasn’t available to us”, said city housing committee member Brett Herron.
“The [Tafelberg] site is a provincial site, so [it] was something the province proposed to dispose of … We would have liked to look at it but it wasn’t available to us,” Herron told the Mail & Guardian.
In its statement explaining why the provincial Cabinet decided to sell the land instead of developing social housing, Zille’s spokesperson Michael Mpofu said the area had not been declared a restructuring zone.
This means that funding from the national human settlements department would not have been available to build houses. To secure such funding, the municipality must submit a request to declare the area a restructuring zone, which must be approved by the national minister and published in the Government Gazette.
Herron confirmed that the municipality never made such a request, though he agrees with the need to expand the city’s restructuring zones.
“As far as I know, there was no request [to have Sea Point declared a restructuring zone]. The assessment or decisions made previously about restructuring zones need to be revisited,” Herron said.
“I’ve had discussions with the team about looking at and expanding them. We want to put social housing in better areas,” he added.
But Madikizela said the province’s decision to sell the land to the school instead of developing houses was taken to generate money for a city whose population is growing faster than its fiscus. “We had to withdraw our interest in Tafelberg when it became clear that it is one of the properties that can be used to raise revenue to fund the shortfall in the province,” he said.
The restructuring zone funding from the national government, Madikizela said, had not been a major factor in the provincial Cabinet debate about whether to reject the plan for social housing.
The revenue was the “bigger picture” for the provincial government, he said. Money from the sale is earmarked for the upgrading of provincial offices in the city centre.
The Tafelberg sale, Madikizela explained, was in part informed by a 2015 instruction from the national treasury that the Western Cape must find alternative ways to raise money to cover its shortfall.
The area, which is currently occupied by a school and a vacant adjacent piece of land, was not large enough to accommodate a mixed development, he said.
A provincial government feasibility study in 2016 found, however, that 270 units could be built in Tafelberg that would charge rentals of between R1 000 and R2 500 for people who earn R7 500 or less a month.
He added that the province’s decision to sell Tafelberg was not a reflection of the DA’s government’s commitment to build affordable housing in the inner city.
Zille’s statement said that the earmarking of alternative sites — the Helen Bowden Nurses Home near the V&A Waterfront shopping mall, and the Woodstock Hospital — to build social housing demonstrated the provincial government’s commitment to accommodate poor Capetonians.
Herron declined to comment on the province’s decision on Tafelberg, instead saying the city had its own social housing plans — and would deliver on them.
“We are a separate sphere of government and we are driving a plan to deliver housing in better locations. The [Atlantic] seaboard and eastern suburbs are key to this. Some of the sites we want to develop are owned by provincial government and we are working with them to have them released. It’s not all despair,” Herron said.
The contentious 17 000m2 piece of land in Tafelberg is the site of the former whites-only Tafelberg Remedial High School, which was declared a heritage site in 1989 and is owned by the Western Cape government.
Last April the Western Cape high court halted the sale of the land to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School, after an interdict was sought by housing rights groups Reclaim the City and Ndifuna Ukwazi.
The court ordered Zille’s office to restart a public consultation process, after the activists called for the property to be used for social housing.
The activists’ call was supported by 260 Jewish residents in the area, who last month handed Zille’s office a petition for the “dismantling of spatial apartheid in Cape Town” that supported the development of social housing on the site. Despite this, the provincial Cabinet voted this week for the sale to go ahead.