South Africa

Human Rights Day

Activists occupy Rondebosch golf club, celebrate ‘Reclaim the Land Day’

Activists occupy Rondebosch golf club, celebrate ‘Reclaim the Land Day’
A member of the housing activist group Reclaim the City digs up sand on the Rondebosch Golf Club in Cape Town during an occupation on Human Rights Day, 21 March 2019. Image: Tessa Knight

Cape Town activist group Reclaim the City peacefully occupied the Rondebosch Golf Club on 21 March to highlight issues with land distribution. Residents from Khayelitsha, Philippi and other informal settlements gathered together to celebrate Human Rights Day on a piece of land they say is inaccessible to them.

More than 350 activists and landless people occupied the Rondebosch Golf Course in Cape Town on Thursday, calling for the club to be converted into social housing. The occupation, which saw young children and 80-year-old activists alike singing and dancing on the vibrant green course, was initiated by Reclaim the City and Ndifuna Ukwazi. The sister organisations have petitioned for the last few years for vacant and underutilised public land in the inner city to be converted into affordable housing for poor and working-class people.

On Thursday morning activists entered the Golf Club through a “back entrance”, according to Ndifuna Ukwazi videographer Zacharia Mashele. General Manager of Rondebosch Golf Club, Don Ball, confirmed to Daily Maverick that the club had no knowledge of the occupation until staff “got wind that people were arriving on buses and trying to get in”.

Despite the surreptitious entrance, the protest remained peaceful throughout the day. Many of the activists were residents of Reclaim the City’s two long-term occupations, Cissie Gool House and Ahmed Kathrada House. Others were members of a group of sister organisations that included Unite Behind, Equal Education and the Social Justice Coalition. Many of the protesters were homeless, or live in informal settlements in areas such as Khayelitsha and Philippi.

This big empty piece of land, it’s so pretty. My kids are there playing, we don’t have this back home. I would love to live here,” said Karabo, a resident of Khayelitsha who used to live in the Eastern Cape, and who only gave her first name.

Following speeches by members of Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim the City, protesters symbolically turned the sod on the golf course, officially “starting the affordable housing project”, according to Mashele. Margaret Hayes, one of the oldest protesters, was the first to dig up a piece of ground as a symbolic gesture marking the start of building. She is 80 years old, and moved into Cissy Gool House after falling behind on her rent.

The occupation of Rondebosch Golf Club came after Ndifuna Ukwazi released a report that detailed inequalities in land distribution. According to the report, the Rondebosch Golf Club, like many other recreational clubs around Cape Town, is located on City-owned land and leased for approximately R1,000 yearly rent. The entire golf green measures approximately 450,000 metres squared – roughly the size of 45 rugby fields.

Ndifuna Ukwazi’s report, entitled City Leases: Cape Town’s Failure to Redistribute Land, indicated that approximately one-third of the Rondebosch Golf Course lies below the 100-year flood line. Ball told Daily Maverick that approximately 52% of the land lies below the 50-year flood line. Flood lines indicate the probability of an area being flooded within a given period of time. The land below a specified flood line cannot be used to build infrastructure, as the likelihood of flooding and property damage is too high.

Despite this, Ndifuna Ukwazi has determined that the property could be converted into up to 2,000 affordable houses for poor and working-class citizens who currently live on the outskirts of town. The organisation, along with other groups represented at the protest, has repeatedly petitioned Cape Town’s Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson to engage with residents.

Our struggle for decent affordable housing goes way back, years ago,” said Nkosikhona Swartbooi. Swaartbooi and many of the occupiers of the golf club were also present at the occupation of Site B in Sea Point last year, where members of Reclaim the City erected shacks as a symbolic representation of the housing crisis many Cape Town residents are facing.

Following the occupation of Site B, which was sold by the City to private investors, members of Reclaim the City went to Nielson’s house to engage with him. During Thursday’s occupation protesters again attempted to call Nielson, but were unable to contact him. According to Constable Leon Loggenberg, an SAPS member who was on the scene, Neilson contacted the police and communicated that he would not engage with Reclaim the City protesters, and allegedly called them “criminals”.

He is regarding the poor and working class who are struggling for housing and actually peacefully protesting as criminals,” said Swartbooi. “Members here have decided that there needs to be more radical action, perhaps taking over a piece of land for a longer period until Ian Neilson comes and addresses our needs.”

In response to Reclaim the City, Neilson told Daily Maverick that the City “will not rise to their threats. We do not accept their actions as acceptable to the rules of engagement.”

When speaking with SAPS, Mowbray Police Lieutenant Colonel Jairaj Ramesh told Daily Maverick that although the land belongs to the City it is demarcated for recreational use.

What they are doing does constitute trespassing, but the manager has said he won’t press charges, so we are just sitting here watching.”

Although Reclaim the City will continue to lobby for affordable housing in the inner City, Neilson says that “the limiting factor in the provision of housing is not land, but funds for development”. DM

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