South Africa

South Africa

Civil disobedience the next step for Tafelberg disaffected

Over the last 72 hours, Reclaim the City, supported by the NGO Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU), has occupied two properties owned by the Western Cape Provincial Government: the Woodstock Hospital and the Helen Bowden Nurses’ Home. By LEILA DOUGAN AND AYANDA CHARLIE for DAILY MAVERICK CHRONICLE

About 50 protesters from the Reclaim the City campaign gathered outside the Woodstock Health Centre from 06:00 on Monday. Emile Engel, a member of the campaign, says this protest is a reaction to government’s decision to sell the hotly contested Tafelberg site, instead of using it to develop low-income housing

This comes after Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and the Western Cape cabinet announced they would be going ahead with their plans to sell the last remaining piece of public land in Sea Point to private developers instead of turning it into social housing.

Ntombi Sambu, one of the six protesters who has been occupying the Woodstock Hospital since Saturday, says the City needs to provide ‘a deadline and a plan’ for affordable housing in Cape Town. Image by Leila Dougan.

“We have taken radical action because Zille and her cabinet have basically made a statement that they don’t care about redressing spatial apartheid,” he said.

NU, which is leading the campaign, is intent on having this decision repealed. Its members are currently exploring legal avenues to do so.

The six protesters occupying the Woodstock Hospital since Saturday have bolted and chained all entrances to the three-storey block. Their demands include ‘regulating the private sector’, ‘protecting tenants’ and ‘providing affordable housing for the elderly, the homeless and immigrant families’. Image by Leila Dougan.

Members of the Right2Know campaign also showed up in support of the protest. Mthobeli Qona from Site B in Khayelitsha said Western Cape premier Helen Zille’s ways are clearly in support of colonial principles. He says that the land must be given back to the people it was originally taken from.

One of the entrances to the Woodstock Hospital. Six people are currently occupying the three-storey building. Image by Leila Dougan.

“We too have the right to live in the city, not just white people,” he said.

The demonstrators are in solidarity with six activists who are occupying the Woodstock Hospital, a site which was earmarked for development by the City following the sale of Tafelberg.

Ntombi Sambu is one of six activists. “The city said they would give us these buildings, so why don’t we occupy? The city needs to give us a deadline and a plan,” she said.

Ntombi Sambu fixes a banner which reads ‘Reclaim the City’ to one of the balconies of the Woodstock Hospital. Six protesters are currently occupying the building in a bid to force the City to build low income housing close to the city. Image by Leila Dougan.

The six people occupying the vacant hospital come from all around the city, including Khayelitsha, Blikkiesdorp, Marikana informal settlement and Woodstock. They have bolted and chained up the entrances to the hospital to hold off security and have listed their demands, which include that the sale of Tafelberg be stopped, social housing be built and plans and timelines be announced for affordable housing.

They also demand that the City “regulate the private sector”, “stop building relocation camps” and “give back District Six”.

A sign outside the Woodstock Hospital where protesting residents from across the city convened this morning to hand over demands to the City to stop the sale of Tafelberg and build social housing. Image by Ayanda Charlie.

They released a statement on Monday morning defending their occupation as “civil disobedience”.

“[W]e have now made our home here for over 48 hours, the law is clear that we may not be evicted without an order of court,” the statement says.

They have been sleeping on the second floor in one of the old wards, but there is no water or electricity. Six mattresses have been neatly laid out and one corner is packed with bread, a bucket of water and tins of food.

Mthobeli Qona, from the Right2Know campaign points to the Woodstock Hospital which Reclaim the City members have occupied since Saturday. Image by Ayanda Charlie.

“This building is huge, it’s big enough to accommodate so many families, especially those who are being evicted and don’t have anywhere to go, or who can’t afford to live in the city,” said Qona. “They could renovate this and people could be close to schools, close to work. We’re demanding a plan from the city because they keep promising what they don’t deliver. Why should we wait for them when we can occupy spaces?”

Mthobeli Qona, from the Right2Know campaign stands outside   the Woodstock Hospital which Reclaim the City members have occupied since Saturday. Image by Ayanda Charlie.

Local resident, Jan Klaaste, who has lived in Woodstock for the past 10 years, supported the protesters.

Jan Klaaste has lived in Woodstock for the past 10 years and is one of the six people currently occupying the Woodstock Hospital. Image by Leila Dougan.

Jan Klaaste walks around the the hospital, which is in need of serious renovation. He is one of six protesters who are currently occupying the building in a bid to force the City to build low income housing close to the city. Image by Leila Dougan.

“The city must see that we are serious. They must make this available for social housing,” Klaaste said.

Mayoral Committee Member for Transport and Urban Development, Counsellor Brett Herron, said the city was serious about finding opportunities for affordable housing. 

“We have already identified well-located City-owned land which can be developed optimally in terms of access to public transport, density and mixed use (commercial and residential),” Herron said, without going into detail about the location of the land.  

“In these areas, residential developments will have to consist of a combination of social housing, affordable housing and middle- and upper-income housing,” he said. 

“Our Integrated Human Settlements Framework – the strategy we adopted in 2013 to address the dire housing need – found that we will need to provide an additional 650 000 housing opportunities at an estimated cost of R101 billion over the next 20 years,” Herron further explained in an email. “This is a mammoth task and, as noted above, national provision of housing opportunities has steadily declined since 2009 and thus existing national funding sources and housing models on their own are not sufficient to address the huge housing demand.”

The activists supporting the Woodstock Hospital occupiers say they intend to demonstrate outside for the rest of the week. DM

This story was updated to include a statement from the City of Cape Town.