An open letter to the City of Cape Town: Land restitution and the Rondebosch Golf Club

We would like to lodge our objections to the leasing of land to the Rondebosch Golf Course by reminding the city council of the history of dispossession in the city, the failure of land restitution in the democratic era to significantly rectify the spatial injustices of apartheid and the importance of making state land available for those that have been excluded from prime city locations. The golf course fell within an area that was declared for white people in 1966.  

Between 1960 and 1983 an estimated 3.5-million people were relocated under Group Areas and Separate Development Legislation, according to the Surplus People’s Project in 1985. It has been argued that the absence of any mention of the social catastrophe of forced removals in the victim-perpetrator gross violation of human rights framework of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was equivalent to a truth commission established in the Soviet Union after Stalin ignoring the Gulag, according to academic and author Mahmood Mamdani. The consequence of the Group Areas declaration is that many coloured, Indian, Malay and African families were forced to leave the Rondebosch Golf Course area for Cape Flats destinations. 

The story of the dispossession in Mowbray has been told by John Western in his book Outcast Cape Town (1981) and the story of the little known Black River community in what is now Rondebosch has been told by Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie in Oral History (2000, 28.2) and in Out of History edited by Jung Ran Forte, Leslie Witz and Paolo Israel.  

The Black River community of 300 families lived south of the golf course from the old Duinefontein and Klipfontein roads towards Park Road in Rondebosch. Its eastern boundary was Strathallan Road and its western boundary was not far from the Rondebosch Common starting at Borden Road. When these families (close to 2 000 individuals) who comprised teachers, shopkeepers, painters, plumbers, plasterers, bricklayers, carpenters, tailors, nurses, gardeners and city council employees were forcibly located they were part of bigger stream of removals which, in 1971 totalled 27 985 families in the city as a whole. 

Dhupelia-Mesthrie has written about the grief of those relocated and her comment about the Black River community is that they and their history have been erased from the environment. More so “Rondebosch still has to acknowledge the dispossession that has taken place”. It is in this context that a renewal of a lease to a golf course that caters to a select wealthy minority is an opportunity missed to mark these removals and to use the land to signify a new beginning for this elite area. 

In particular we would like to highlight the role of Rondebosch Golf Club in supporting apartheid in the 1950s. In 1955, when a part of the Black River area that adjoined the golf course was advertised as a possible Chinese group area, the Rondebosch Golf Club made representations that are worth noting. This is detailed in Dhupelia-Mesthrie’s unpublished history of the Black River area (Dispossession in Black River, Rondebosch) but can be obtained from the national archives (BEP 320 G7/302) in Pretoria in the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation. VW Buckland, writing on behalf of the club, objected to the proposal on the grounds that the “skolly type” should not be near areas like the golf course. He argued in general against a “non-European” settlement close to the course because it would bring in criminal elements that would be hard to control. Speaking about those “non-European” who already lived close to the golf course (namely the Black River community) he had this to say: “We had hoped that with the advent of the Group Areas Act we could look forward to a brighter outlook for the future.” Any area in his view that “was cleared of non-European elements will enhance in value and standing”. 

It is our view that organisations such as the Rondebosch Golf Club need to account for their past complicity with apartheid and should not be rewarded by the offer of this lease — and that too at such a generous, token rate of R1,058 a year. We cannot separate the reproduction of privilege and excess from the reproduction of dispossession and poverty. The two have always been and continue to be linked. The renewal of this lease of city land in 2020 blatantly ignores a history of forced removals, and actively legitimises, rewards and further entrenches colonial land dispossession and racist segregation. It is for these reasons that we object to the renewal of the lease of 45.99 hectares of land to the Rondebosch Golf Club.

Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie and Koni Benson, University of the Western Cape

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