Reclaim the City

Ndifuna Ukwazi is part of Reclaim the City, a social movement of tenants and workers struggling with access to land and affordable housing who believe it is time to take the struggle justice and equality to the centre of the city, to the people who should live there, to the heart of power and to the land that matters. The movement has tapped into a deep sense of injustice in the city about the current model of exclusionary development, bearing in mind our history of apartheid spatial planning and forced removals. Reclaim the City now has two chapters in the inner city and surrounds.

#StopTheSale of Public Land

Securing the Tafelberg School Site in Sea Point and more parcels of well-located public land for affordable housing.

The campaign to secure public land for affordable housing has been focused on a block of well-located public land in Sea Point, which was sold by the Western Cape Provincial Government to a private school for R135 million. The site is ideally suited for the development of affordable housing.

The Province did not follow the law on the disposal of public land. In order to sell land, it must be declared surplus and in order to do this it should not be needed for service delivery objectives. We argue that the Province has failed to honour its obligations to use well-located public land for the development of affordable housing and that this is unreasonable when you consider the constitutional obligation to enable citizens to access land on an equitable basis and to access adequate housing, which has to be interpreted within the social and historical context of land dispossessions under apartheid.

In 2016, NU Law Centre filed papers in the High Court in March on behalf Mrs Thozama Adonisi and other supporters of Reclaim the City who are mostly domestic workers living in rooms and basements, requesting an urgent hearing to interdict the imminent transfer and review the decision. The Province agreed to stop the sale temporarily and allow for a public objection period and asked for submissions on the viability of affordable housing. We mobilised nearly 5000 objections to the sale from supporters, academics, NGOs and faith based organisations, and submitted a report, which demonstrated that around 300 social housing units were feasible.

Regardless, the Province decided to go ahead with the sale. In April 2017, NU Law Centre interdicted the sale a second time and took the Province to court to review the decision. That matter is still in Court.

We hope, favourable judgment will significantly alter the legal and political landscape in terms of how Province approach their land assets in well-located areas, especially smaller parcels of land, but we cannot rely on this one matter to secure the systemic change we need at the Provincial level. The struggle for Tafelberg unlocks the struggle for all well-located land because it challenges government to reconsider the role of urban land in the transformation of our society and economy, and when it comes down to it, whether government bows to powerful interests that would capture state land, or to the vision our Constitution.

#Implement Housing Commitments

Ensuring committed public housing is built on well-located public land

In 2017, our campaigns resulted in a commitment from the City of Cape Town to develop 8 new parcels of public land for affordable housing in the Woodstock and Salt River areas. For the first time, the City adopted the slogan that “Where people live matters”. This is a significant commitment which will, on completion, release up to 4000 housing units for poor and working-class families.

Three of these parcels have been issued to social housing companies for the development of public housing lead mixed-use precincts. Five further parcels have been put out on public tender. The City has put binding conditions on each development regarding the extent and nature of the affordable housing component, with scope for mixed-use mixed-income precincts.

Too often plans are announced and sit in turgid pipelines. Having secured this commitment, activists at Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim the City intend to monitor the implementation of these plans and hold the City accountable to deadlines to ensure the efficient rollout and delivery of these projects.

We want to see bricks and cement on time and ensure that this approach is scalable. We needs hundreds of new housing projects like this.

#StopTheLease of City Owned Land

Despite a profound housing and segregation crisis, the City of Cape Town continues to lease well-located public land for next for bowling greens, parking lots, golf courses, and other inefficient and exclusive uses. It has become common for the City to lease public land to private sports clubs and associations that are mostly accessible to a wealthy white minority living in the area. Many of these leases find their origin in apartheid and even colonial city planning decisions.

For example, in Green Point, there is more public land being leased for this use than anywhere else in the city. And while preserving some public open space is important, we have to ask who is benefitting from the status quo and at what expense to the city as a whole? Mostly, the City has not intentionally revised it’s own land use in terms of its obligations under the Constitution to advance redress and equitable access to land and housing. In a housing crisis we can’t tolerate a business as usual approach to leased land.

#StandWithBromwell and all tenants facing eviction

Securing transitional housing for evictees who are made homeless

In 2016 and 2017 we raised the profile of tenants facing eviction and highlighted the City’s obligation to provide temporary alternative accommodation where tenants would be made homeless.

Through the support of a row of tenants facing eviction on Bromwell Street, we argued in the public and in the courts that it is morally unacceptable to put tenants into relocation camps on the periphery of the city; and that the City must relook at its policies to ensure tenants can be accommodated within the inner city, close to where they currently live.

Initially the City argued that nothing was possible and that the only option for tenants facing homelessness such as the Bromwell Street families was to move to relocation camps.

Since then, the City has agreed to build two pilot transitional housing projects in Woodstock and Salt River. These would provide temporary cheap accommodation in basic dorms for evictees.

In the meantime, tenants continue to be evicted every week both inside and outside the court and many are made homeless. Reclaim the City has occupied two public buildings which the movement is using to provide emergency accommodation.

What is missing is a systemic city-wide response to the problem of high rents and displacement. Either an extensive rollout of transitional housing, or attempts to better regulate the rental market. Neither are feasible unless more affordable housing is built in both the public and private sector.

Resisting Unjust Evictions: Advice Assemblies and Support at the Courts

Securing systemic change at the Court for evictees in the inner-city 

Transitional housing can only provide a limited number of affordable housing units for evictees who are about to be made homeless through eviction. This is essentially treating the symptom. What is really required is intervention in the private rental housing market; and proper implementation of eviction law at the courts to stem the tide of unjust evictions.

In 2017, we developed a successful paralegal service in the form of a Reclaim the City advice assembly which meets weekly. Here, tenants who have faced eviction and dealt with it, meet with tenants who are having problems and share advice and tactics. This has had some success already, insofar that tenants are empowered to resolve their issues without relying entirely on lawyers who are expensive and often don’t know eviction law. We hope to roll this out in at least one further location in 2018.

The advice assembly and the consolidation of the Reclaim the City movement chapter has also opened up the opportunity to take further advocacy and political action to support tenants. Leaders have approached the City to work together with the Magistrates Court to ensure that tenants are always present when evictions are granted; that enquires are made as to whether families will be made homeless; that the City is joined to applications where alternative accommodation is required; and that the City is then required to make detailed responses on its plans in each matter. We hope that this reform action, together with the city’s commitments to build transitional housing might lead to systemic change in the system.

In the meantime, chapter members have been standing in solidarity with each other to resist unjust evictions peacefully where families are to be made homeless by the sheriff of the court. Our position is that no eviction can be just when there is no affordable housing.

Inclusionary Zoning: Land Use must align with Spatial Justice

Securing inclusionary housing, advancing spatial justice and equitable access to land in planning and land use decisions in the private sector. 

The City of Cape Town is experiencing a development boom. High land and property prices in the inner city are resulting in a glut of new residential developments and they are driving up prices. Almost all are exclusively targeted at the super-wealthy. Middle class families cannot access these buildings, let alone poor and working-class families

The Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA), passed in 2014, obliges City governments, for the first time, to consider redress and the principle of spatial justice in all land-use applications. But is has been poorly implemented at the local level and the City is years behind updating its land-use regulations.

We think that access to exclusive developments by race and class should be used as a measure of spatial justice and that the City government must include conditions that developers build a fair proportion of truly affordable housing so poor and working-class people can access well-located land and housing.

Ndifuna Ukwazi DARE TO KNOW
18 Roeland Street (behind City Varsity)
Cape Town
South Africa

Telephone:  +27 (0)21 012 5094