Opinionista Malusi Booi 8 April 2021

City of Cape Town is driving roll-out of social housing despite obstacles

The Western Cape High Court’s failure to give primacy to the economic, social and spatial facts informing the City of Cape Town’s housing programme is just one reason why the ‘Tafelberg’ ruling cannot stand, and why leave to appeal must be granted.

In the eyes of the NGO Ndifuna Ukwazi, suburbs such as Woodstock, Salt River, Maitland and Brooklyn do not form part of the central Cape Town area.  

For them, the N1 and M3 are impenetrable barriers, Voortrekker and Koeberg Roads do not exist, and building social housing near to the Cape Town CBD, where property prices and available land make this viable, somehow doesn’t facilitate access to the inner city.  

Social housing built by the city in Maitland and Brooklyn are inconvenient truths when it comes to this NGO’s oft-repeated falsehood that no social housing has been built in central Cape Town since 1994 (WC Government and City of Cape Town trapped in a legal game of spatial injustice over landmark Tafelberg ruling, Maverick Citizen, 15 March 2021). 

To sustain this untruth, Ndifuna Ukwazi has gone so far as to conjure their own “central Cape Town” precinct, the borders of which irrationally exclude all historically “non-white” suburbs adjacent to the CBD.  

On the testimony of a single alleged expert, the Western Cape High Court in the “Tafelberg” matter accepted this contrived “central Cape Town” precinct when finding that the city apparently failed in its obligation to build social housing.  

In so doing, the court ignored the city’s undisputed evidence that, in reality, central Cape Town’s composition is quite different and that the main economic nodes in our metro are actually Paarden Eiland, Montague Gardens and Century City.

Cape Town also has many CBDs and urban centres requiring well-located housing, and it is not appropriate for a court to arbitrarily determine which type of housing should be built where. 

The court’s failure to give primacy to the economic, social and spatial facts informing the city’s housing programme is just one reason why this particular ruling cannot stand, and why leave to appeal must be granted.

A second reason, and it’s a rather basic one, is that neither the court nor Ndifuna Ukwazi could point to a single legislative provision on which the city had failed in its housing obligations. You cannot make a constitutional finding against anyone, in any matter, without pointing to a specific legislative provision.  

The city’s housing record and social housing policies, which have in fact been in place even long before the 2008 Social Housing Act, went undisputed by both the court and applicants. 

These parties also accepted that the city does not own suitable land specifically in the CBD, where property prices have generally made social housing development unviable within the current national subsidy regime.  

And here’s something you won’t hear from Ndifuna Ukwazi — both the court and applicants accepted that the city has been banging on national government’s door since 2009 to release mega-properties for housing, including the inner city’s Culemborg, and others such as Wingfield, Youngsfield and Ysterplaat. Tens of thousands of social housing opportunities are possible on these huge sites.

In fact, Ndifuna Ukwazi is a moralising hypocrite, and itself a major obstacle to social housing at two well-located sites in central Cape Town. 

Following government’s announcement of social housing plans for these properties, Ndifuna Ukwazi staged an organised invasion in March 2017 under their “Reclaim the City” banner, with subsequent calls to “sustain and build” the illegal occupation.

For four years, this illegal act has stalled social housing developments at both the city-owned Woodstock Hospital site and the Helen Bowden property near the V&A Waterfront, owned by the Western Cape Government (WCG).  

It was initially claimed to be a “symbolic” occupation but has spiralled out of control. In October 2018, the Western Cape High Court granted an order interdicting and restraining Reclaim the City from “inciting persons to enter or be upon the property for the purpose of unlawfully occupying or invading”.

In contempt of this order, the number of unlawful occupants has increased substantially, along with reports of criminality, rent extortion rackets, violence and mob activity, to the detriment of the surrounding community. 

Reclaim the City is not an “organic movement” as claimed, but an organised building hijacking effort initiated by Ndifuna Ukwazi and other NPOs in the same stable. The purpose was to derail constitutional social housing development and fair allocation of opportunities.  

The city is now following the correct legal route to drive social housing development at Woodstock Hospital, beginning with our request for a court-ordered survey to determine the number of illegal occupants, their identities, monthly income, eligibility for state-subsidised housing, and willingness to vacate the property so that social housing plans are not further delayed.  

Development cannot begin until all illegal occupants vacate the site, hopefully voluntarily, and the city will pursue eviction proceedings if needs be.

The survey request is being opposed by legal advisers from Ndifuna Ukwazi and others on behalf of some of the illegal occupants. 

But for the city, the matter is urgent as we can proceed with social housing building plan submissions within a short time frame due to favourable zoning and rights on the property subject to any heritage requirements.  

Around 700 social housing units are possible at the Woodstock site, making it our biggest project in the area. These opportunities can only be allocated via lawful means, and not Ndifuna Ukwazi’s so-called “co-design” process, which is really just code for allowing this NGO to have free rein over housing allocation, which only the state can do. 

Illegal occupations cannot be equated with activism, and building hijacking cannot be condoned under any circumstances. We stand united with social housing companies in this viewpoint. 

All role players must actively discourage attempts to illegally occupy land. We owe this not only to ourselves as residents of a growing city, but also to future generations who will require land for schools, hospitals, housing, transport infrastructure and community facilities.

The city is currently enabling the construction phases of more than 2,000 affordable housing opportunities in and near urban centres across the metro to develop greater spatial equality in Cape Town.  

Several well-located projects in central Cape Town are set for major milestones this year, with a projected total of about 620 social housing units.

Pine Road is due to break ground, Dillon Lane is at development application stage, and Salt River Market is now just months away from handover to a social housing developer following extensive legal and property processes dating back to 2012.

The city and WCG are also together driving the innovative Conradie Better Living Model (BLM) development (3,600 units total) in Pinelands, an inner-city feeder suburb. Similar collaboration has succeeded in Belhar CBD (4,000 units total) where an affordable community context is being created around key education institutions. 

In District Six, the city is hosting extensive engagements with residents on a Local Spatial Development Framework, and the WCG has already built the District Six CDC healthcare facility, anticipating the return of thousands of beneficiaries to the CBD via the national government-led restitution process. 

While we face many challenges — including national housing grant cuts, illegal occupations and red tape — we will not accept hypocritical, big-dollar-funded NGOs like Ndifuna Ukwazi blocking government’s development agenda. MC/DM 

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  • Well written Malusi Booi. Shall send copy 2 all connections who don’t read DM – vital reading! Directors of the Electoral Commission need copies too, including any Judge on that Board. Shall try send this Commission a registered letter including this information. a luta continua DA & Rule of Law

  • We have been waiting for a response like this for months. Perhaps the pending local government elections have woken people up.

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