Land sale battle: Social activists, govt square off in court over R135m Sea Point sale

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Activists gather outside of the Western Cape High Court. (Reclaim the City via Twitter)
Activists gather outside of the Western Cape High Court. (Reclaim the City via Twitter)

Social activist groups Reclaim the City (RTC) and Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) are challenging the Western Cape government's decision to sell prime land in the Cape Town suburb of Sea Point to a private buyer on the grounds that it should rather be used for social housing and reversing apartheid spatial planning.

The matter being heard in the Western Cape High Court involves the sale by the provincial government of the land known as Tafelberg to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School for R135m. 

The sale has been agreed to, but its finalisation has been interdicted pending the outcome of the court application.

"Over the past two decades, government has failed to meaningfully integrate black and coloured people working close to the city centre," said the activists' lawyer Pete Hathorn. 

Social housing is housing that is established in terms of the Housing Act, and is directed at households with an income between R1 500 and R15 000 per month.

Hathorn said Cape Town was one of the most spatially divided cities in the country, with the regeneration of the city pushing lower-income households out of the inner periphery.

About 200 000 people commute into the CBD every day, and are unable to afford anything closer.

Only the top 20% of South Africa's income earners can afford to live in the inner city itself, which is 1.6km square, the court heard.

The central business district contributes more than a quarter of the city of Cape Town's GDP, and employs 30% of its workforce. However, only 20% of the city's residents can afford to live there.

Hathorn told the court that, by its own admission, the City of Cape Town had failed to reverse apartheid spatial planning, and was mired in "talking the talk" but not actually putting anything into action.

There were also problems between the City and the provincial government in terms of getting land released for affordable and social housing.

He said the plan was to sell the Tafelberg site at maximum price, and to not entertain social housing or affordable housing. 

"If Cape Town is going to be transformed, it's not going to be possible to do it by leaving the heart of the city untouched, and allowing the process of gentrification to continue unabated," said Hathorn.

The case drew a massive number of lawyers from various arms of government to the court on Monday. They filled all the court benches and their boxes, containing files with documents, were stacked along the side of the court, presided over by Judges Pat Gamble and Monde Samela.

The public gallery was filled with supporters of the social activists' groups in red T-shirts. 

Said Hathorn: "My Lords, what you have is a complete failure over a period of 24, 25 years to provide any affordable housing (in the city)."

The activists want a review of the sale process, a declaration that the province and City have failed to comply with their constitutional obligations to provide social housing, a mandamus directing them to comply, and a structural interdict telling them to comply.

The case continues.

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