Blok property development company says it has withdrawn its interdict against members of the Bo-Kaap community who had earlier protested against development, but residents remain sceptical.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Blok said it had withdrawn the interdict — which was granted by the high court in July — following months of protest action in the Bo-Kaap. Jacques Van Embden — the Blok’s managing director — claimed in court papers that protesters in the Bo-Kaap had vandalised Blok building sites, threatened staff, and set equipment on fire.
Van Embden’s court bid resulted in an interdict being granted on July 9 where Bo-Kaap residents and “all other persons trespassing, unlawfully conducting themselves, or attempting to trespass or unlawfully conduct themselves” were prohibited from vandalising, trespassing and interfering with staff who were contracted to do Blok’s work.
The interdict was met with condemnation from Bo-Kaap residents, who believed that it criminalised their community. Blok said it had withdrawn the interdict in the “spirit of de-escalation”.
“Blok understands that the Bo-Kaap community are not violent people but are passionate about their heritage and frustrated about the fact that in their view the city has been ignoring their requests to protect their heritage and the area of the Bo-Kaap, which is considered to be the home of Islam in South Africa,” Blok said in its statement.
“The sole intention of the interdict application was to protect the innocent people on site who were being targeted by the acts of violence. Blok has committed to continue its engagement with representatives of the people of the Bo-Kaap, which to date has been productive, in order to achieve a mutually acceptable, sustainable and peaceful solution,” the statement reads.
The Bo-Kaap community has demanded that the area be granted national heritage protection status to protect their history and homes from being demolished for development. In recent years, gentrification has swept through the colourful inner-city Cape Town neighbourhood, which has led to increases on rates and levies.
Law firm Norton Rose Fulbright — which is facilitating talks between Blok and Bo-Kaap residents — confirmed that the interdict had been withdrawn on Monday, but Osman Shabodien, the chairperson of the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers Association, said that the community wanted to see confirmation of the withdrawal.
“We don’t even know what was the reason. Nobody goes to high court, makes a big noise about it, criminalises everybody that they could see, put an interdict on everybody that they know of, and just withdraw. It doesn’t make sense,” Shabodien said.
The long time Bo-Kaap activist, who was born and raised in the community, said the Bo-Kaap still distrust that Blok is trying to act in good faith.
“If it was any other developer, I would probably say yes. But in this case, you are talking about Blok,” Shabodien said.
Blok has come under scrutiny in the community over its construction site in Lion Street, which has become symbolic of gentrification in the area. In addition, residents believe Blok has a controversial reputation which precedes any good faith it may be attempting to show.
“To us, Blok is not an honourable company. And it’s not just because we say that — their track record in Cape Town speaks volumes in the sense of their evictions in Bromwell, their promises that they made to the Bromwell people that they never adhered to, and their attempt to takeover the Sea Point Ratepayers’ Association and make sure that their plans go smoothly. The type of modus operandi of Blok is not a very honourable one,” Shabodien has said.
Blok, meanwhile, has said it aims to work with the community so that a resolution can be reached.
“Blok has committed to continue its engagement with representatives of the people of the Bo-Kaap, which to date has been productive, in order to achieve a mutually acceptable, sustainable and peaceful solution,” Blok said.
Currently, Bo-Kaap has sought advice from a range of non-government organisations who have offered to help the community protect its heritage rights. The community will meet again on Wednesday evening where Shabodien said the interdict withdrawal would be discussed.
“The main thrust of Bo-Kaap is important. The message that comes across is: save our heritage, fight gentrification. We want to do things so people can stay in their houses. That is what’s important,” Shabodien says.