Professor ASLAM FATAAR
A decisive victory for urban spatial justice was achieved on Monday, August 31, in the Western Cape High Court. Judges Patrick Gamble and Monde Semela have set aside the sale of the Tafelberg site in Sea Point by the Western Cape provincial Government.
In March 2017 Helen Zille’s government sold the property to the Phyllis Jowell Day School for R135 million. This money would be earmarked to purchase a government building elsewhere.
Activists in Reclaim The City and Ndifuna Ukwazi wanted the property to be used for social housing.
For them, the larger politics at play was aimed at challenging the city and province’s lack of progress in making the city accessible for working people. Offering affordable living opportunities in the city is crucial for such an initiative.
Such a view came up against powerful class interests in the city that were intent on protecting the commercial value of the city. Social housing for the poor would ostensibly threaten the city’s commercial value, homeownership and the rental market.
Many argued that a racist agenda was at play. Social housing would presumably attract black folks to the city, which would threaten its racial character. Commercial and racist interests converged to inform the politics of preservation practised by the city and province.
Cape Town’s urban exclusion dates back to the City Council’s attempts in the early 1900s to clean up the city from its urban (black) blight. Such attempts reached its height with the forced removals under the apartheid government that removed ‘non-white’ folk from areas such as Green Point, Sea Point, and District Six.
The High Court heard that the city failed in its more than two decades of governance to provide any affordable social housing in and around the Cape Town central business district. It was clear that social housing has not been a political or development priority for the city and province.
The court found that the province failed to offer the Tafelberg site for social housing. Political theorists would explain such a position as the outcome of powerful interests that dominate the province’s politics on this matter.
I was involved in preparing the court submission of Equal Education, who joined the case as a friend of the court.
We collected stories from parents and teachers who passionately argued that spatial justice, via social housing in the city, must be accompanied by affordable schools in the city. Learners who live in such housing would enjoy shorter commutes and could benefit from better schooling.
Equal Education’s submission was written in consultation with high school children who had politically astute opinions on the matter. This methodology was a heart-rending case of participative civic education at work which Equal Education has become renowned for.
The provincial government is considering the judgement, deciding whether to appeal, which I expect it to. I daresay the appeal will not succeed. In this case, the interest of poor working-class folk in the city came into conflict with a decades-long politics of exclusion and segregation. And, the politics of justice won the day.
The politics of urban inclusion has been boosted by this Court’s consequential judgement. An opening for undoing the social character of the city has been secured.
Making the city socially inclusive will be a long and arduous road. This road must culminate in making the city welcoming for a cross-section of its people, especially those who have hitherto been excluded from living in it.
Professor Fataar, of Stellenbosch University, co-authored Equal Education’s ‘friend of the court’ submission as part of the court case brought against the city and province.
Featured image: Activists march to put pressure on the Western Cape Provincial Government to stop the sale of public land to private interest. (Photo www.reclaimthecity.org.za)