NEWS | CAPE TOWN 

Jews urged not to meet Tafelberg activists

Attending Ndifuna Ukwazi meeting may be detrimental to “community’s interests” say property developers

Photo of protest for affordable housing
Activists have been campaigning for affordable housing in the City Bowl and Sea Point for low-income families. File photo: Mary-Anne Gontsana
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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 an old 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 30 January.

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 NU’s public meeting …” and then proceeds to discourage members of the Jewish community from attending the meeting.

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 NU 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 the 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

Letters

Dear Editor

This article gives plenty of space to detractors of Seeff and Katz, but offers no indication of whether either was approached for comment. As such it suggests a tendentious agenda, less reportage than advocacy. Did the author make any effort to gauge the response of the two men?

GroundUp Editor's Response

Mr Teichner:

The article includes the entire text of the letter by Samuel Seeff and Lance Katz. It constitutes their public stated point of view. Far more space is dedicated in the article to the views of Samuel Seeff and Lance Katz than anyone else. It would be redundant to ask them for further opinion on their already stated opinion. The views of Doron Isaacs and Jared Rossouw were solicited as responses to the extensive space given to Seeff and Katz.

Dear Editor

I know, being one of the tribe myself, that many local Jews have a strange belief that a differing opinion is a crime. But really, it happens so damned often that I fear Jews have lost the capacity to think independently and with some originality. I hope that among the Cape Town Jews, few will listen to the Estate Agent and will participate in the discussion and listen to differing views.

Dear Editor

Though you are right in that both sides are represented adequately in this article, the presence of the letter does not absolve you from contacting the authors for their comment. You should have at least reached out to them and stated as much in the article. Good reporting otherwise. Thank you for your hard work.

Dear Editor

As a member of the Jewish community I received Seeff and Katz’s email. As Isaacs rightly points out in this article, these men have not been elected by the Jewish community and thus do not have the authority to speak on its behalf. Yet, they have the power to email virtually every member of the Jewish community and use this platform to claim that what is in their own (financial) interest somehow reflects the interests of the community a whole. You do not represent me.

Calling for a stay-away from a public meeting is shameful because of the ignorance this action creates. What harm would it do for Jewish people to know about the benefits of social housing? What harm can come from listening to the testimony of poor and working class people about their housing needs – the same people that are working in our homes, looking after our children? When have Jewish people ever believed that learning, questioning, debating, and seeking to understand a situation deeply are activities to shy away from? Do we believe that our community is incapable of listening to another side of this issue and coming to their own, reasoned conclusions?

While I understand that a school on the Tafelberg site would be a boon to the Jewish community it would be irresponsible not to consider “at what cost?” We cannot ignore that the alternative use of the site is for social housing. Social housing would afford poor and working class black and brown people an opportunity to live in a historically white suburb – an opportunity with real, material benefits including access to good schools, transport, employment, healthcare etc. This, in turn, works to lessen race and class segregation and social inequality in our city. Is the Jewish community willing to ignore these pressing social justice issues and deny that our actions have any bearing on them? What happens on the Tafelberg site matters – not because housing on this site will solve all of Cape Town’s problems – but because it represents our collective stance on integration and transformation in our city.

Dear Editor

As members of Jewish Voices for a Just Peace (JVJP), who care deeply about the Jewish community, the email you sent to the Cape Town Jewish community last week, concerns us a great deal.

In the email, you urge Jews not to attend the public meeting being held to discuss the future of the Tafelberg site in Cape Town. The email claims this will compromise Jewish community interests and even went as far to tell Jews if they went there, it would be in their personal capacity.

According to Groundup News: Tafelberg is the site of an old 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.”

It was pointed out in a reply to the email that neither of you are elected by the Jewish community and it is therefore strange that you would be issuing any kind of orders as to what Jews should be doing with their time.

It also concerns us that the email identifies a clear enemy and hints that Jews are under siege from activists and Seapoint residents seeking affordable housing.

Public meetings are precisely the arena where different points of view can be heard and engaged on, as well as solutions found.
For many Jews who’ve grown up in Seapoint, Greenside, Sandton, it’s difficult to imagine a life where one has to wake at 5 AM, to take a two-hour bus or taxi journey to one’s place of work.

The complex spatial patterns, due to the history of forced removals in Cape Town and other parts of the country, are well documented. The evictions to the sprawling Cape Flats, placed people far away from economic and education centres.

It’s close to 23 years after democracy and it’s clear that unless ALL sectors in society, think through how we can change this country to ensure, millions of people benefit from it, we will continue to see high levels of crime, unemployment and other social ills.

It’s to our mutual benefit, to engage, interact and listen, share our points of view with people we have not spoken to previously. It’s in this context that your silo mentality in attempting to bar Jews from last Thursday night’s meeting is so concerning. Why not actually encourage members of the Jewish community to attend the meeting, listen and put their own views across?

Kathy Barolsky
Jewish Voices for a Just Peace (JVJP)

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