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President’s official Cape Town residence is the perfect site for well-located public housing

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Jared Sacks is founder of a children’s nonprofit organisation and a PhD candidate in the department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African studies at Columbia University.

A recent march to the President’s residence on the Groote Schuur Estate by Cape Town-based social movements has highlighted the need to hand over unused and dilapidated government-owned land to address the housing crisis in this country.

On 23 August, thousands of people from Cape Town-based social movements marched from the Two Rivers Urban Park in Observatory all the way to the President’s residence in Rondebosch.

Housing movements such as Housing Assembly, Intlungu YaseMatyotyombeni, Reclaim The City, Singabalapha, and the Willow Arts Collective first gathered opposite the monstrous Amazon development, the site of the first colonial dispossession of indigenous land and the borderland where apartheid was first put into practice half a century before 1948.

The housing crisis is a consequence of this original theft of African land and its subsequent hoarding by the rich and wealthy colonisers of this country.

The President’s house was the protesters’ final destination because they are demanding that Ramaphosa allocate 32 pieces of vacant and unused public land to ensure security of tenure for those at risk of eviction and towards providing public housing for the millions of precariously housed residents of this country. Researchers from the housing advocacy NGO Ndifuna Ukwazi identified these 32 pieces of land precisely because they are ideal for these purposes.

However, I want to add another significant property to the mix.

Cultural worker Qondiswa James performs on top of a metal frame which she carried all the way from Mowbray to Genadendal. (Photo: Zacharia Mashele / Ndifuna Ukwazi)

The President’s Genadendal Residence is located on the sprawling Groote Schuur Estate originally stolen from the Khoi of the Cape Peninsula. Built by the Dutch East India Company and later owned by Cecil John Rhodes as his Cape Town home, it eventually became the official Cape Town residence of South Africa’s head of state.

The property is massive, covering two large erfs totalling about 508,000m2 on the lower slope of Devil’s Peak between the M3 and Main Road in Rondebosch. It features several buildings as well as sprawling grass lawns and gardens. The general public has no access to the entirety of the property even though only a small section constitutes the actual President’s residence. 

The cost to maintain this enormous estate with its various underused buildings, and provide extensive 24-hour state-of-the-art security is no doubt colossal.

Thousands of protesters gather at Genadendal to demand the release of government land for housing. (Photo: Zacharia Mashele / Ndifuna Ukwazi)

Protesters from all over Cape Town gather outside the sprawling President’s Genadendal Residence to fight for land redistribution. (Photo: Zacharia Mashele / Ndifuna Ukwazi)

Given that the President is based full-time in Pretoria and does not even stay at the property when he visits Parliament (Ramaphosa stays at his personal mansion in Fresnaye), the property is effectively vacant and unused. It is an uneconomical and unreasonable waste of limited state resources for the Groote Schuur Estate to continue as is.

The massive housing crisis in South Africa implores us to make well-located land available to those who need it. The estate can be turned into a large medium or mixed-density housing development to accommodate as many as 10,000 to 20,000 people in an area close to jobs, good schools and other services.

Of course, ratepayers in the area might not like the increased number of poor black people living in their area. But we must persevere against their racism and classism to ensure we dismantle the legacy of apartheid and capitalist segregation.

Turning the President’s estate into public housing for the people would be a significant step towards ensuring the right to adequate decent housing for all.

It might sound crazy, but it is not actually far-fetched. This is a demand worth fighting for. DM

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  • Ben Harper says:

    Hey, you got your case thrown out – proven to be a bunch of opportunists trying to squeeze money out of corporates and halt development. Give it up, you’re a fraud and a hack. Repeating the same drivel over and over again is not going to change the result or outcome

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Agreed, do it already!

  • David Bristow says:

    Come on Jared, Groote Schuur is probably the least appropriate piece of land for “affordable” housing, in Caoe Town short of Cape Point. It seems you have not thought this through very well, or have a secret agenda. Apart from it being a heritage property. There are large tracts of military land that is in disuse and extreme states of disrepair out along the N1. Just putting it out there ….

  • Jana Krejci says:

    Khoi people owned nothing and were happy (exactly what WEF wants for all of us),
    so the land you are writting about couldn’t have been stolen from them.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Well said. “… the site of the first colonial dispossession of indigenous land and the borderland where apartheid was first put into practice half a century before 1948.”

      From the Khoikhoi or the San people the original inhabitants, not a bunch of immigrant Xhosas who didn’t live in the Western Cape or Cape Town in any numbers until 1994 but have come here in their millions (2.4 million in Khayelitsha alone) and stolen everything from the Khoisan.

  • Wynne Bredenkamp says:

    Yes, a great idea! If it’s unused and in an area close to great amenities, it should be used for the betterment of the people.

  • Stephen Price says:

    Another Half-baked lefty looney idea. The start of the march from a proven bogus Khoi site sets the tone. Question : just which lucky “10 to 20 thousand” people would get a dwelling on the Presidential land? As with the nebulous claim about Khoi ownership at the Amazon building site another “ claim “ of Khoi ancestry will no doubt spring up at the Presidential site resulting in a chaos of claims. District 6 where claims of ownership and ancestry are on stronger ground has still not been sorted out after 57 years. Fact is the longer one leaves it e.g. for more than 300 years the more difficult ownership is difficult to divide amongst “ claimants” leading to perpetual squabbling. The lefties will no doubt dream up the rules as they go along – another recipe for chaos. The next President, not being as rich as Ramaphosa, might chose to live there but I am sure he or she could be accommodated in Khayelitsha in a fit of symbolism.

  • Frank Gonsenhauser says:

    Lest we forget, the Groot Schuur estate was bequeathed by Rhodes, to (all) the people of South Africa.

  • From Below says:

    What a waste of good land. It is a no-brainer that this should be use for housing.

    • Christopher Bedford says:

      Sure. Because the modern, robust infrastructure in Rondebosch is already coping so well with the existing density of population. No problems with traffic, electricity, water, or sewerage there now, let’s move a couple of tens of thousands of people into the area. There won’t be any mutual resentment between current homeowners and the much lower economically privileged, it won’t destroy existing property values, and everyone will get along just fine together. Great idea.

      • From Below says:

        Unlike places like Delft and Khayelitsha, the infrastructure is quite fine in Rondebosch. If necessary, it could easily be upgraded to accommodate additional people. Additional traffic won’t be a problem as poor people don’t have many cars and can use the train station only a few blocks away.

        Resentment from current homeowners is their problem. Such Not In My Backyard arguments are just racism. They must learn to live in an integrated post-apartheid city.

  • Johan Herholdt says:

    Hear! Hear! (or should it be Here, Here?)

  • Andrew C says:

    This will not be a popular opinion, but rather sell the Groote Schuur and Fernwood land to a developer. Take the money and build housing on the military land in Goodwood which is not utilised at all. Also Ysterplaat airforce base. But don’t just build housing, create business opportunities. There is no point in putting people with no jobs in areas where there are no businesses. Create a space where people can live and walk to work with no need to spend money on transport. And ensure there are recreational spaces within the new housing.

    • Ben Harper says:

      Absolutely – Wingfield, Youngsfield and Ysterplaat, huge swathes of underutilised land right where it’s most needed and all state owned, and don’t forget the Swartklip and Denel land in Macassar and Strand too

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