27 January 2017
This week Provincial Minister for Human Settlements Bonginkosi Madikizela attacked the proposal to build social housing on the Tafelberg site in Sea Point. First on Facebook and then on Cape Talk. He is either a loose cannon, or he was deployed by Cabinet to push back against growing public support. Why?
The Minister said that in principle he supports social housing in well-located areas, but he feels that there is “too much fuss” about the Tafelberg site - it is one of many. He argued that the Tafelberg site is not ideal because it doesn’t benefit from the economies of scale that a large site would. He is wrong and here is why.
The campaign for affordable housing on the Tafelberg site is based on the principle that well-located public land should be retained for the benefit of poor and working class people and used to desegregate the city - this is established in law and policy at all three spheres of government. The sale of the site to a private buyer in 2015 was unlawful.
To date the campaign has only focused on Tafelberg because the provincial government tried to sell it. This is the last public land suitable for affordable housing on the Atlantic Seaboard, apart from the Helen Bowden Site. Once it is sold it is lost forever.
The Minister tries to deflect attention from Tafelberg by listing alternative sites. If he was serious his government would have taken steps to commit other inner city places like the Helen Bowden Nurses Home, the Woodstock Hospital, Top Yard and Alfred Street Complex for affordable housing, amongst others in the City. That hasn’t happened.
Last year, the Cabinet commissioned a feasibility study on the viability of social housing on the Tafelberg site. Released in November 2016, the study clearly indicates that at least 270 social housing units are both feasible and affordable on the site. Madikizela has dismissed his own government’s feasibility study before the public comment period on it is over.
The fact that Madikizela is campaigning against Tafelberg throws the integrity of the public participation process, initiated by Premier Helen Zille, into question. The reason the province started a participation process is because it did not properly consult the public last time on the decision to sell, nor had it properly considered long-standing proposals for social housing on the site.
The point of soliciting public comment is for Cabinet members to come to a reasonable decision having read and applied their mind to all the evidence placed before them. This evidence does not only include submissions from residents but detailed submissions from social housing institutions, as well as architecture and urban planning experts. What confidence can we have in the integrity of the process if Ministers like Madikizela have already made up their minds?
In the submissions the Minister will find that there is substantial support for social housing on the site from the very people who plan and build social housing. The economies of scale on Tafelberg are no different from other provincial social housing projects in Brooklyn, Rugby and Maitland. These sites all contain between 200 and 300 social housing units. That is a viable range which has been proven to work.
Additionally the Tafelberg site benefits substantially from its location on Main Road. This means that the social housing component can be cross-subsidised by a portion of commercial, retail or even residential private development. In fact, the province’s model doesn’t take full advantage of the generous zoning which means more bulk can be added. This becomes even more viable when you consider that the grants that fund social housing are likely to be increased this year.
The feasibility is settled. What is missing is political will. You’d expect Madikizela to champion the struggle for affordable housing in the inner city, and to disrupt the legacy of apartheid spatial planning. His own Department objected to the sale of Tafelberg in 2013:
“Cape Town is one of the most segregated cities in the world. With this in mind, land cost is so significant in the province that we could not afford to purchase market-related land which offered even slightly similar opportunities such as this one. Were these portions of land to be disposed of, the opportunity cost for integration within the borders of the city would be lost to us forever.”
So what could be behind Madikizela’s broadside?
We would argue, as reported in an expose in GroundUp last year, that Cabinet needs to approve the sale of Tafelberg so that the proceeds can go to prop up an unaffordable R1,2 billion skyscraper for the Education Department on Dorp Street. Another long standing project which is unaffordable but still being pursued by Public Works. Unless Cabinet can find more money elsewhere, the provincial and national treasury cannot sign off on the project.
This week Public Works granted a surprise two week extension to the purchasers so that they could submit a counter proposal. We suspect that Province might be looking for a way out by adopting a counter proposal for the site’s sale to go ahead, along with a small gesture towards some kind of affordable housing.
To save the legitimacy of this process, Minister Madikizela must recuse himself from the cabinet decision on Tafelberg; Public Works must release all comments and proposals received into the public domain, and Cabinet must declare what criteria is will use to make a reasonable decision.
There is still time for Tafelberg to become the first social housing in the inner city and an important symbol of this Province’s commitment to desegregation. It all depends on transparency and political will from this point on.
Two minor corrections were made to the article shortly after publication at the author’s request.
Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s.