Jews urged not to meet Tafelberg activists

2017-01-19 07:57
Activists have been campaigning for affordable housing in the City Bowl and Sea Point for low-income families. (Mary-Anne Gontsana, GroundUp)

Activists have been campaigning for affordable housing in the City Bowl and Sea Point for low-income families. (Mary-Anne Gontsana, GroundUp)

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Nathan Geffen, GroundUp

Cape Town - An email sent to Jews in Cape Town urges them not to participate in a public meeting to discuss the future of the controversial Tafelberg property.

Tafelberg is the site of a former school. It is currently owned by the Western Cape government. The Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School (PJJDS) wishes to build a school on Tafelberg, while activist groups Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim the City want it to be used for affordable housing.

The province is currently deciding the future of the property. In November it released a financial model that includes affordable housing. It has asked the public to comment on this by January 30.

Ndifuna Ukwazi has called for a public meeting on Thursday night to discuss the future of the Tafelberg property.

On Wednesday afternoon Samuel Seeff, who heads Seeff Properties and who is also the chair of an organisation called the Western Province Priorities and Planning Board, together with Lance Katz, vice-chair of the PJJDS, sent a widely-circulated email to Jews in Cape Town.

The letter states: "Whilst it is not our place to stop any member of our community from attending [Ndifuna Ukwazi's] public meeting..." and then proceeds to discourage members of the Jewish community from attending the meeting.

Engagement may be 'detrimental' to community

It states: "The Cape Town Jewish community has a firm economic and legal interest in the Tafelberg property through the PJJDS and by virtue of PJJDS having legally won the tender by province for purchase of the Tafelberg property."

Further on the letter says: "It would therefore be inappropriate for any other member of the community or community organisation to engage with [Ndifuna Ukwazi] on this matter in anything other than their personal capacity."

And:

"Please be aware that any engagement on your part (even in a personal capacity and however well intentioned) may be detrimental to the community's interest given the sensitive nature of this matter at this time."

In response to the email Doron Isaacs, a social justice activist who is on the Ndifuna Ukwazi board and a member of the Jewish community, told GroundUp by email:

"Men who are not elected by the Jewish community, but presuming to speak for the Jewish community, have encouraged all Jews in Cape Town to avoid engaging 'even in a personal capacity' with those campaigning for an accessible, mixed-used housing development in Sea Point. This is truly shameful. They know that most Jewish people would be deeply touched by the stories of working class black families hoping for housing closer to their jobs in Sea Point. They don't want Jews to hear these stories, but rather to close ranks behind narrow self-interest. This kind of leadership hurts the Jewish community and hurts Cape Town as a whole."

Jared Rossouw, co-director of Ndifuna Ukwazi, told GroundUp: "The mayor said this week that there has not been enough progress redressing the apartheid spatial planning that divides our city. Well-located public land like Tafelberg should not be sold when it can be used to help deliver services to poor and working class people in Cape Town. The study released by the provincial government demonstrates that 270 social housing units are not only possible but are affordable on the site, including space for shops and a community facility like a school in the existing building."

He further said: "The public meeting on Thursday night is intended to provide more information on the feasibility study and on social housing from a panel of experts. We all have a stake in building an inclusive, equitable and just city. This is an important decision before the government which could possibly pave the way for the first social housing built in the inner city since apartheid. We think it's important that the public gets an opportunity to engage with the issues and we want to facilitate meaningful dialogue. Everybody who lives in Sea Point is very welcome."

Text of the email sent by Samuel Seeff and Lance Katz on 18 January 2017:

It has been some time since we updated you on what is happening with the Tafelberg property ("Tafelberg") in Sea Point. We are therefore taking this opportunity to bring you up to speed and also to provide you with some further guidance in this regard.

At the time of our previous correspondence we were seeking support from the community for the sale of Tafelberg by the Western Cape Government ("Province") to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School ("PJJDS") as part of Province's process of requesting public submissions. This was very successful and we are extremely appreciative of those who took the trouble to sign our online petition or write personal letters of support. According to public sources, of the 8 583 comments received by Province during the public participation process, the majority (4 486) were in favour of upholding the sale while 4 085 wanted the land developed for social housing.

Given the volume of responses both in favour and opposed to the sale, Province commissioned a detailed model to investigate the viability of alternative uses for the site in order to make an informed final decision. Province released their model late last year and have given the public until 30 January to make comment on the model. Province will be making a final decision on the proposed sale after considering the implications of the model and the public responses to the model.

We are in the process of preparing a submission. You can find the model together with details regarding how you can make your own submissions in this regard here.

We are aware that one of the primary objectors to the sale, Ndifuna Ukwazi (“NU”), have organised a public meeting this Thursday night and that they have invited members of the Jewish community and leaders of Jewish community organisations to attend. They have also extended an invitation for possible private meetings with individual Jewish community leaders and their organisations.

Whilst it is not our place to stop any member of our community from attending NU’s public meeting we would like to draw your attention to the following salient points:

The Cape Town Jewish Community has a firm economic and legal interest in the Tafelberg Property through the PJJDS and by virtue of PJJDS having legally won the tender by Province for purchase of the Tafelberg property.

PJJDS has formal channels and representatives for engaging with Province and with NU and other interested parties in this regard.

It would therefore be inappropriate for any other member of the community or community organisation to engage with NU on this matter in anything other than their personal capacity.

Please be aware that any engagement on your part (even in a personal capacity and however well intentioned) may be detrimental to the community’s interest given the sensitive nature of this matter at this time.

PJJDS did, on our request, meet with NU and Reclaim the City (RTC) last year. We requested a follow up meeting but NU and RTC did not see merit in a further meeting at that time.

Subsequent to Province releasing their model, we did receive a request from NU for a follow up meeting but it was just before the holiday break and it was not possible to meet at that time. We are more than willing to meet with NU and RTC at the appropriate time.

However the focus at this time is on preparing our response to Province’s model by 30 January. In any event it is our belief that a properly convened private meeting between the PJJDS and NU rather than a public forum would be far more productive engagement.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any queries, comments or concerns in this regard.

Warm Regards & Appreciation,

Samuel Seeff
Chairman, Western Province Priorities and Planning Board

Lance Katz
Vice Chairman, PJJDS

Read more on:    cape town  |  housing  |  local government

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