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Letter from Zackie Achmat to Premier Helen Zille

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“If you commit to building affordable housing you will be addressing our resistance with humility and as a leader”

Photo of Zackie Achmat
Zackie Achmat
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Dear Premier Zille

Submission on the sale of Tafelberg and all well-located state land suitable for affordable housing and mix-use zoning

I will not address colonialism, slavery, white domination, apartheid or racial capitalism and their effects on people and households in our country. Sea Point is a symbol and microcosm of this history and present in greater Cape Town and the rest of South Africa. Neither will I address my personal history, love, struggles and resistance in Cape Town, the place I call home.

The impact of spatial violence, inequality, racism and urban land injustice is addressed in the hundreds of submissions and a petition signed by thousands objecting to the sale of Tafelberg.

Your flagrant disregard for the Constitution, the national laws regarding asset disposal, housing, spatial and land use management, as well as your subversion of law and policies your government passed in the decision to sell Tafelberg and Wynyard Mansions is well-documented in papers before the Western Cape High Court. Violations of the Constitution and the laws mentioned above are extensively canvassed in a further legal submission. So, it is unnecessary for me to make legal submissions.

I want to address power, resistance, rebellion, revolt and racial civil war. As an activist who has been in public life for four decades since the students revolt of 1976, these questions are a part of my daily work and they invade my dreams. Reclaim the City has made visible the deep injustice and violence inflicted in places such as Sea Point on the majority black African, coloured and Indian workers by white domination and property power. Our work and submissions must be seen not only as citizens participating in the governing of a beautiful city but as resistance to an unjust system.

Two years ago, the Social Justice Coalition, Equal Education and Ndifuna Ukwazi objected to the sale of the four sites: Top Yard in Buitenkant Street, Alfred Street Complex, Helen Bowden Nurses Home and the current site Tafelberg which incorporates Wynyard Mansions - old apartheid social housing for white people. Robin Carlisle, the then Minister of Transport and Public Works responded to our submissions, admirably within hours, of our objection. The content of his response was less admirable. He openly stated “poor people” were not welcome to live in the city, its traditionally white suburbs and their local CBDs. His response in my view demonstrates both a racist and class contempt for black African and coloured people. After the 2014 election, Donald Grant was appointed minister and gave an undertaking that the land would not be sold.

In January 2016, we discovered that you had disposed of the land. In February, we learnt that only Tafelberg and Wynyard Mansions had been sold. Reclaim the City objected and you cloaked the entire sale in secrecy. We sent letters of demand and you resisted. Instead, you dissembled, ducked and dived. We went to court and then you received decent counsel advising your government to re-open the process. Meetings, petitions, letters, protests, marches, media and social media, the beginnings of a resistance movement against white and property power and for urban land justice could not move you. A court order with costs did. We are now at a new beginning.

If you stop the sale of Tafelberg and commit to building affordable housing on the land surrounding the school, you will be addressing our resistance with humility and as a leader. You can also be confident that the Constitution and laws are on your side should you decide to accept the moral consensus of the community. If you side with white and property power a different route opens up.

In this resistance to spatial violence, racial and class inequality, I and many of my black African, coloured, Indian and white comrades, who are Christian, Muslims, Hindu, Jewish and atheists, continue building a movement. We will also return to court. Resistance also implies that we are prepared to go prison to achieve urban land justice and spatial equality. We have no innate hate of law; in fact, the law, justice and morality is on our side in the demand to stop the sale of well-located public land that must be used for affordable housing and spatial justice. Resistance in this sense starts with tens, hundreds, and then thousands.

What you as a leader must know is that we will move from resistance to rebellion in the struggle for urban land justice. Rebellion is a broad and open defiance of the power of the state and property. The black university student rebellion of 2015 forced open the gates of Parliament and surrounded Luthuli House. Whether we agree with their methods or not, Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall demonstrated that the 1994 compromise has deepened racial and class inequality exacerbating patriarchal oppression. We are breathing rebellion and we have a constitutional right to do so. You can begin to change this.

Spatial violence, class inequality, the corruption of the ANC government and unemployment are fuelling violence. The alternatives our country face if we do not act resolutely and with courage led by a government marshaling all available resources public, private, social and household to overcome colonial, apartheid and racial capitalism are a mass revolt or racial civil war.

Premier Zille you along with all leaders in government and business have to answer the question: Did we avert or postpone our racial civil war? Every day, I dream of a Cape Town where we avoid those alternatives and my personal resistance and objection to the sale of Tafelberg School and Wynyard Mansions is based on this imperative.

Achmat is the founder of Ndifuna Ukwazi.

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TOPICS:  Housing Tafelberg

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