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How the DA’s curious attitude to land perpetuates apa...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

How the DA’s curious attitude to land perpetuates apartheid exclusion

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Brett Herron is GOOD Secretary-General and a member of the Western Cape provincial legislature.

In November 2018 I resigned from the Democratic Alliance as City of Cape Town Mayco Member for Transport and Urban Development, on the back of a string of experiences that exposed the DA’s curious attitude to land — an attitude that perpetuates apartheid exclusion.

Viewed from the outside, it is now more clear than ever that the DA lacks the leadership and lacks the courage to tackle massive inequalities in our city.

Earlier in 2018 I entered the race for mayor, in the hope that I could effect changes from within. When that was not successful I realised that I had no option but to resign if my integrity was to remain intact, and I was to keep my promises to the citizens of Cape Town about the delivery of mixed income, mixed use, affordable housing.

The last straw for me was the decision by the DA to withdraw a recommendation that the Cape Town Council dispose of an affordable housing project on the Salt River Market site, at a discounted value.

Lying to the public

Since my resignation, the people of Cape Town have endured four weeks of DA spin about the reason for their decision. But they have been unable to sustain their argument simply because there were no defensible reasons for their decision — and they have been lying to the public.

That’s why I fully expect them to reverse their decision at the council meeting on Thursday, 13 December 2018. They simply have no choice but to dispose of the site for affordable housing.

In an effort to “save face” I anticipate that they will claim to have improved the housing proposal, but when we first presented the project it proposed 851 residential units on the basis of the 2014 valuation of the land at R18-million. Four years later that value has been inflated by a whopping 530% to R114 million — which obviously impacted the proposal.

Inflating values has happened on other sites too, and I suspect that these are intended to make the projects financially unviable.

If Salt River can produce more affordable housing I will welcome that. But that was never their interest; and any claim that it was is a pretence brought on by the public shaming they have endured.

The DA has been in government for 12 years. In that time, not a single affordable housing unit has been delivered in the city centre and its surrounds, or in any other important node such as Sea Point, Bellville, Claremont, Wynberg or Tableview.

Curious attitude

This is not because there is no public land for affordable housing in those areas. Rather, it is about the DA’s very curious attitude to well-located, higher-value public land and who should benefit from it.

I recently received a frantic phone call from a resident about a stand-off between protesting social justice activists and a private “militia” appointed by Growthpoint.

Growthpoint acquired “Site B” from the City based on an under-valuation of the site. The caller was asking for my help as she observed what she believed was a confrontation that was about to turn violent. I called a high-ranking provincial police officer and asked for assistance to prevent any violence.

The site of this protest is an interesting case in point. It is an extremely valuable piece of city-owned land, in the heart of the CBD that has been sold to a private developer for a massive discount based on an under-valuation.

Yet, a short distance away in Salt River, the value of the city-owned land was massively inflated, and the idea of selling it at a discount to a non-profit accredited social housing company was blocked by the DA caucus.

Coincidentally, I was also contacted by a group of Bo-Kaap residents about the sale of the old St Monica’s Home in the Bo-Kaap to a private developer. In this case, the City had transferred the property to the St Monica’s Trust decades ago, with a title deed restriction that should the home stop operating, the property would revert to the City.

The home did stop operating, but the property did not revert to the City. Instead, someone in the City agreed to abandon the reversionary clause in return for payment of about R14-million.

I was alerted to this transaction in late 2017. I tried in vain to get a coherent answer about how this had happened. Clearly a site like that should have been used to provide critical affordable housing in the Bo-Kaap. I never received a plausible explanation for this secret deal.

Another example is Tafelberg School. For many years the Tafelberg School, located in the heart of Sea Point, had been earmarked for social housing. Housing professionals from the City and province worked on this project together.

Suddenly the DA provincial government decided to sell the site to the highest bidder — inexplicably abandoning plans for affordable housing.

At first they tried to spin a story that the site wasn’t viable for affordable housing and later argued that it wasn’t in an approved location. They also tried to suggest that National Treasury expected them to sell assets to raise funding for projects. Treasury denied this. The suggestion that Treasury expected them to sell a housing site to raise funds to pay for offices is absurd.

The site was sold and every rational argument against this was ignored.

The DA’s attitude to public land isn’t confined to Cape Town. The DA caucus in Durban recently objected to well located, high value, public land in the North Beach area being used for affordable housing. DA members were reported as saying “we should be looking at alternatives, such as selling the land instead” and that the proposed sites “are in extremely close proximity to high-value residential and commercial properties, and the land is potentially worth tens of millions to the city”.

Public land should be used for the public good. It should not be commodified by a political party for the benefit of a few — as is blatantly the case while the DA rules. DM

Brett Herron, the former Cape Town Transport and Urban Development Mayoral Committee member, recently joined Patricia de Lille’s new party, GOOD.

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