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SPACIAL INJUSTICE OP-ED

Tafelberg affordable housing saga drags on, leaving nine wasted feasibility studies in its wake

Tafelberg affordable housing saga drags on, leaving nine wasted feasibility studies in its wake
Protest against the decision not to use the Tafelberg school site for affordable housing. (Photo: Ashleigh Furlong/GroundUp)

The Western Cape Government’s reluctance to act is not only a failure to address the housing segregation crisis but also a missed opportunity to correct the spatial injustices of the past.

The Western Cape Provincial Government-owned Tafelberg site in Sea Point has become a symbol of a lingering and painful past where the shadows of apartheid’s spatial segregation still loom large over the present.

Despite the site lying vacant for 14 years and expenditure of over R5-million between 2016 and 2018 alone in legal battles to prevent the development of affordable housing, the Western Cape Provincial Government has yet to act decisively.

In a move that has left many working-class families perplexed and frustrated, the Province has chosen to sidestep the clear evidence presented by nine feasibility studies, all of which affirm the viability of social housing on the Tafelberg site, by announcing a new protracted and expensive “two-year exploration process”.

This decision to engage in further exploration of how to develop the land, rather than taking decisive action, suggests a reluctance to confront the pressing need for affordable housing in Sea Point. The Province includes a vague list of options for how the land could be used, including spatial transformation.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SCA judgment still pending in critical Tafelberg housing case one year later

There is no guarantee that this process will result in the development of social housing on the site. Instead of capitalising on the extensive research and groundwork already laid, which consistently supports the development of social housing, the Province’s call for additional public engagement appears to many as a stalling tactic.

This prolongs the uncertainty for those in dire need of housing and continues the inertia that has plagued the Tafelberg site for over a decade.

Tafelberg site

The Western Cape High Court overturned the sale of the Tafelberg site in Sea Point. (Archive photo: Masixole Feni)

Legacy of inaction

The history of the Tafelberg site is not just a tale of an empty site, it’s the story of a fight for justice, inclusion, and the right to the city that dates back to the 1980s. The Province’s own Department of Human Settlements recognised the site’s potential for affordable housing as early as 2013, yet the subsequent years have been marked by inaction and costly court battles. This inaction is not only a disservice to the families urgently in need of housing but also a wasteful expenditure of public funds that could have been invested in the development itself.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde claims that the ongoing legal disputes surrounding the law that determines how the Province releases public land (the Western Cape Land Administration Act) and the Tafelberg appeal are barriers to releasing the land for affordable housing. This is misleading.

While clarity is needed from the courts on this law, the Province has continued to dispose of other public land parcels. This calls into question the sincerity of the rationale provided for the Tafelberg site’s stagnation. It seems that the legal appeal has become a convenient excuse to delay the development of affordable housing on well-located public land.

The Province’s reluctance to act is not only a failure to address the housing segregation crisis, but also a missed opportunity to correct the spatial injustices of the past. The City of Cape Town and the National Department of Human Settlements have both expressed support for social housing on the Tafelberg site. Yet, there seems to be a lack of coordination and commitment among various levels of government to realise this goal.

Coordination crisis

This lack of coordination between two spheres of government in the Western Cape shows the Democratic Alliance’s perplexing case of internal discord, with the Mayor of Cape Town, Geordin Hill-Lewis, demonstrating commitment to utilise public land for the development of housing.

This performance starkly contrasts with the indecisiveness of Premier Winde’s provincial administration. It appears that while the mayor is making attempts to confront the city’s housing and segregation crisis, the Province, led by Winde, is hesitant to fully embrace the social value of land as a means to rectify historical injustices.

Just last month, it was reported that amidst a growing housing crisis, the provincial Human Settlements Department underspent by hundreds of millions of rands.

As Ndifuna Ukwazi, we call upon the premier to establish a clear timeline for the release of the Tafelberg site for affordable housing development. The ongoing court case is not an obstacle to progress. The need for affordable housing in well-located areas like Sea Point is urgent and cannot wait for protracted legal processes.

We urge Premier Winde to act transparently and in good faith, to cease using legal proceedings as a reason for inaction, and to prioritise spatial justice. The time for exploration is over, the studies have been done, the money spent, and the housing need is clear. It is time for the premier to make good on his commitments and take concrete steps towards developing the Tafelberg site for the benefit of those who need it most.

Register now to have your say on the future of Tafelberg by emailing [email protected] by 23h59 on Monday 11 March 2024 with your name; email address; physical address; and affiliation with an organisation or movement (if any).

This means you will be invited to give your input over the next two years on the future of this land. DM

Buhle Booi is Head of Political Organising and Robyn Park-Ross is Researcher at Ndifuna Ukwazi.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    welcome to NIMBY and protection of vested property rights. Nobody welcomes low income housing neighbors anywhere in the world no matter how socialist / idealistic. You can call it what you want but if you live and invested next to it, you don’t want it. For 99% of normal families, their home is their primary asset.

    You can choose to fight that reality or you can embrace it. You will never win a fight because “they” have more lawyers than you. It is far better solving housing for 300 employed families on subsidized housing in CBD / Sea Point than trying to inject 1000 unemployed homeless.

    I am not unkind, I am realistic.

  • V L says:

    A quick Google of “does social housing depress property values” will turn up heaps of studies that show the only difference, if any, is most often an increase in property value. Many people have strong feelings about this issue – and we should talk about those – but maybe those conversations can be based on fact, correcting misconceptions, and start from a place of shared values. Everyone deserves an affordable place to live that’s close to where they work, and where they can access opportunities for their kids. I hope Alan Winde feels the pressure to make this right. As the legal maxim goes: Justice delayed is justice denied.

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