Defend Truth


State vehicles in central Cape Town occupy space that could be used for housing


Buhle Booi is head of political organising and Nick Budlender researcher at Ndifuna Ukwazi.

There is no reason to use highly desirable land in the middle of the city to store government vehicles when the same land could be used to genuinely serve the people of Cape Town.

As we navigate the delicate balance between progress and tradition, we find ourselves at a juncture that calls for a profound reassessment of our urban priorities and the legacy of our spatial decisions.

The “Land for People, Not for Parking,” is a visionary campaign that addresses a pivotal moment in Cape Town’s evolution.

Our inner city’s landscapes have long been dominated by a lot of parking spaces for cars rather than housing for people. This sad reality presents us with an opportunity to make a bold statement about our societal values and aspirations.

Last week, hundreds of land and housing activists from across Cape Town gathered near Parliament to put forward a new, transformative vision for four pieces of extremely well-located public land in Cape Town. These four properties are near each other and are used to store government vehicles.

We have to ask: does it make sense to prioritise storing cars instead of providing homes, especially in a city like Cape Town which is arguably the most segregated major urban centre on Earth and has 365,000 people on the housing waiting list?

The four properties are the Parliament parking lot on Roeland Street owned by the national government; Top Yard and Government Garages 1 and 2, all located on Buitenkant Street and all owned by the Western Cape provincial government.

The Parliament parking site is used by people who visit Parliament, while Top Yard and the two Government Garage sites are used to store vehicles owned by the provincial government.

In our view, there is no reason to use highly desirable land in the middle of the city to store government vehicles when the same land could be used to genuinely serve the people of Cape Town.

Recognising that storing vehicles at Top Yard and the Government Garage sites was irrational, the province spent R73-million on a new vehicle storage facility in Maitland so that these sites could be freed for development.

After endless delays, the Maitland facility was completed in October 2022, and yet the cars stored in the middle of the city have not been moved.

Leaving large parcels of public land underutilised and undeveloped sends a worrying signal about just how serious our politicians are when it comes to addressing the legacy of spatial apartheid and building a city that serves the needs of its people.

‘Land for People, Not for Parking’

It is for this reason that we have launched the “Land for People, Not for Parking” campaign.

Imagine the transformation of our vast parking lots into thriving neighbourhoods where families can establish their homes. Consider the Parliament parking lot, an emblem of authority and governance, which could be repurposed to accommodate about 500 homes, laying the foundation for a community that embodies inclusivity and fairness while keeping the same amount of parking for Parliament.

While acknowledging the importance of parking within our urban infrastructure, we must also question a status quo that favours vehicles over people. 

Through the adoption of densification and mixed-use development strategies, we can achieve a harmonious balance that caters to both transportation and residential needs.

The South African Parliament, as the heart of our nation’s transformative ethos, should set the precedent. Our legislators have a duty to show that the demands for quality housing – for neighbourhoods where children can safely play and for environments that promote social unity – outweigh the convenience of car storage.

This campaign is a call to action: to repurpose our public land for the living, to elevate the social utility of our spaces, and to recognise the potential each square metre holds for positively impacting lives and fortifying our community’s bonds across class and racial divides. 

We must build with an eye toward the future, ensuring that our choices serve as building blocks for a fairer, more compassionate and sustainable city.

We challenge Parliament to seize the opportunity to transform the face of Cape Town, a city which has long been characterised by its violent history of spatial injustice.

Places like Parliament’s own parking lot must become fertile ground for transformative change, where the remnants of our history give way to the promise of a brighter future.

It’s time to prioritise homes over parking spaces and communities over vehicles.

Let Cape Town’s land serve its people.

We trust that our legislators in Parliament will be the first to heed the call and make a decision that mirrors the progressive and revolutionary spirit that defines national cohesion by replacing their parking lot with homes. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Activists: couldn’t get a job so come up with all sorts of codswallop to keep themselves busy

  • Agf Agf says:

    What a load of drivel. The last thing Cape Town needs is low grade housing in the middle of the city. Just look at Johannesburg and Durban. It’s the thin edge of the wedge. Once you let it happen that’s the end of the city.

  • John Lewis says:

    When I read proposals like this, I’m extremely relieved that I no longer own property in the City Bowl. So-called housing activists won’t rest until they have successful driven middle-class and business ratepayers out by turning the city into a dense slum with no public amenities.

  • Wynne Bredenkamp says:

    As a Cape Town CBD dweller of 12 years and now a London resident, I think this is a great plan. Low cost housing interspersed amongst highly serviced areas works wonders in London and don’t embody the NIMBY fears that are sprouted as justifications against such progressive plans. This is exactly how we need to think about inner city land. A great initiative and one I would support whole heartedly.

    • Geoff Coles says:

      From a great distance and definitely not in your backyard

    • Karl Sittlinger says:

      You cannot compare a country/city with functioning public transport, policing and strong social systems (all financed by a significantly higher number of tax payers ,because all this does cost money) to what we are experiencing in South Africa.

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      What??? “Low cost housing interspersed amongst highly serviced areas works wonders in London”?? The Cape Town CBD is the heart of the city. Please indicate where exactly in the London Mile [which is London’s CBD] these low cost housing initiatives are located.

    • Random Comment says:

      Says the person sitting safely in London [eyeroll].

      Why, and from where in SA, did you emigrate?

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    After reading the first few lines I decided to stop and search for the term “public transportation”. It is not mentioned once in the entire article. If you cannot even bring the most important arguments to the table, like the fact that we need so much parking because of the dismal state of our public transport system, I don’t think this article can in any way be helpful. People accusing it as a typical activist article, heavy on critism and emotion, extra light on solutions, are completely right it seems.

    It is clear that we need to find some form of inclusion of the poorest and disadvantaged in the city, but leaving out key arguments (transport, criminal elements that will increase, possibly selling prime land to finance much needed social infrastructure, backyard dwelling), only serves to reinforce my belief that activists are simply not interested in solutions beyond their narrow issue or people they are campaigning for.
    No thought has been put into this article about how those that actually do have employment are supposed to get into the city, no thought on how such housing projects would impact others around them (I know those evil middle class people, how dare they stand up for what they have worked for), acting as if gentrification is a problem only South African cities experience (when it’s a world wide problem).

  • Andrea Naude says:

    And then just underneath the article there is request for the funding of DM. Makes me think – the emotions will run high, the protests will occur, Apartheid will be dragged in again and maybe it will happen. And then VOILA, after maybe 5-10yrs, those properties will be sold at a very high profit (due to it’s location to the inner city) and the cycle of activism will start again. The owners will take the money, many will move in with their families in their backyards – and the cycle will start again. Or am I now too realistic? Look at all the RDP houses being gobbled up by Somali’s, Pakistani’s et al in numerous black neighborhoods acquired from the SA government for free. It happens on a daily basis

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