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.
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.
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