Opinionista Rabia Parker 8 July 2018

Bo-Kaap: We will block BLOK and the City’s attempt to ransack our heritage

It does not matter if developers use brute force, pretty pictures or weasel words in their attempts to take over Bo-Kaap. They and their enablers in the City will be met and bested.

The youth of Bo-Kaap in Cape Town have now taken the baton from the older generation but we remain an intergenerational structure.

We fight alongside our mothers and fathers because, together, we are stronger. The youth of Bo-Kaap are rising and we stand together with the Bo-Kaap Civic Association to stop developers from ransacking our homes in the name of “urban rejuvenation”.

We come with a new set of eyes, fresh ideas and boundless energy. They come with experience, understanding and a stubborn resolve. This city, along with developers, has tried to tire this community out for decades but yet here we still are – protecting our home.

They first ask us to quieten our call to prayer, then they become bold enough to want us to silence it completely. Coming into an area with over 10 mosques, these people begin with appropriating our culture but would rather do away with it completely.

Before, developers came with force and just threw around their money and influence to take and break and bulldoze. Now they have changed their tactics, they come with catchy names, pretty colours and a promise of better times. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a wolf and we will not fall victim to this exploitation any longer.

These wealthy developers still disregard the interests of the poor. The economic status of our people does not fit into their idealised description of our community, so it does not matter to them if the poor are sidelined once again.

We live in one of the most unequal societies in the world but the rich do not see it because the City has insulated them from the struggles of the poor. We may no longer have the dompas system, but the trains sure act as one.

The financial status of people keeps them separated. There is no fight if everyone around you lives as comfortably and lavishly as you do.

The Bo-Kaap is a constant reminder of the inequality in this city so there is a constant need to brush the working-class under the mat and portray a “pretty place” with “pretty people”. Our culture is sold in tourist magazines but in reality our homes and lands are sold off to foreigners who disregard it. These are the ones who seem, as mentioned previously, to have a say in how and even if century-old traditions should be practiced.

If you want to speak about exclusivity you need only look at the structure of the CBD. We don’t want to be absorbed into a city structure that is not even representative of our country. We will not allow co-opted heritage practitioners to dictate to us what is important and of heritage significance and what is not.

With 15 developments on the rise over the last few decades, they have slowly been pushing out the poor. We have never backed down but our voices have stopped being heard. Where is the heritage protection overlay zone we called for years ago? Probably still sitting on some official’s desk gathering dust.

Why has the City not made provision for social housing when it is constantly rezoning? The City keeps selling that rezoned land to private developers. We want to know how the land for Fourty on L by BLOK developers was acquired when we were promised that public land will be used for social housing after the “urgent sale” of the public land in Rose Street.

We want to know why they say they have interacted with the community when no such meeting has taken place. The civic did not give the go-ahead for any development, so who else have they spoken to who could have given consent?

The civic has refused to meet the developers because it contests the sale. This was made clear to the developer. The civic attended one meeting at the developers’ office for information purposes only. Again the civic made this clear to the developer that members of the management team would attend but collect information only. That the meeting should not be seen as a consultation.

The engagement they speak of is not really engagement. It is a tick-box exercise that they term public participation.

Does the civic’s resistance not represent its disapproval and justify no consent given?

As the Bo-Kaap community, we support affordable housing as per the income bracket of the majority working-class people who reside in Bo-Kaap.

The BLOK developer’s definition of affordable housing does not take into consideration the working class of Bo-Kaap. Its model pushes these people out and makes it unobtainable. They speak of affordable housing when the least valued apartment costs R1.97- million.

Twelve Bo-Kaap families have been offered these apartments for 30%-50% of the price; the lowest price, therefore, being approximately R1-million. At a bond of +-R10 000, what middle-income working class family can afford this monthly?

The significance of 40 Lion Street (BLOK) as used by the St Monica’s home is relevant and important. The site was empty but located in a highly sensitive heritage area, so why was a heritage impact assessment not asked for by the City? The location of the empty plot is in a highly sensitive and significant heritage area so how was a building of the scale of the BLOK development allowed by the City?

In the objections from concerned residents and interested and affected parties this lack of heritage impact assessment was raised. In a matter of three days more than 500 interested and affected parties voiced their objection to 40 Lion Street.

The City building and regulation by-law of 2015/2016 allows that a person can build on a site within the zoning for the site and doesn’t have to ask the neighbours for permission as long as they build within their zoning rights.

That’s what BLOK is doing. Both the developers and the City have ignored more than 500 interested and affected parties’ objections to their development, saying Blok can build whatever they want as per the zoning.

They are pushing us out under the guise of “renewal” but we will stand firm because we shall not be moved.

We call to the people wanting to assist us to protect this city, help us investigate the processes followed by current and future developers entering the CBD.

We also appeal to BLOK to address the people’s needs in Bromwell Street in Woodstock.

They break us down while trying to act as though they are building us up. We have called Bo-Kaap our home and we will resist the forced removals as a result of these developers. BLOK has now thrown the law in our faces by trying to put an interdict on the community for standing up for what we believe in. We resisted apartheid; we will resist you too.

When injustice becomes the law; resistance becomes a duty.” DM

Rabia Parker, 23, is a youth member of the Bo-Kaap community. She was born and raised in Bo-Kaap to an activist mother and filmmaker father who instilled in her a strong social ethos through servant leadership. She has remained deeply conscious of injustice visited upon those less fortunate and is active in many spheres of community work.

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