This morning the Municipal Planning Tribunal unlocked the Somerset Precinct for affordable housing. This is some of the most expensive land in Cape Town and the Western Cape Province has committed to develop at least 650 to 1050 affordable homes.
Today, the Tribunal insisted that the Province maximise social housing in any future development. Nobody from government was at the Tribunal, but Reclaim the City members, many of whom live at occupied Ahmed Kathrada House, which would have to be demolished, came in numbers to say, “Nothing about us, without us!”
It was an important milestone and victory for poor and working class people in the struggle for decent affordable housing.
But this was not the idea of Helen Zille, her cabinet or anybody at Province. They have had over 20 years to redress spatial apartheid and they have not built one affordable housing unit in the inner city and surrounds.
This decision is the result of the work of a movement of poor and working class people who have decided to stand together and demand that government uses its best land for people who need it most. Black and Coloured people who were forcefully removed, who have worked for years in the inner city and commute long hours every day, who are being evicted and displaced.
But none of the land can be developed right now. Last month Premier Helen Zille admitted that the Province had lost some of the land to the National Health Laboratory Service and the Somerset Hospital could take 12 years or to move to free up the land.
Many of our members are living in Ahmed Kathrada House, which is the only emergency accommodation for evictees in the inner city. Today we read that Province plans to evict us and that the Premier thinks we are criminals.
Many of us will be made homeless by an eviction and there is no alternative, because there is nothing affordable in the inner city. We are not vandals or criminals, or gatekeepers or anything like that. We are people who need, and have a right to housing. We came together because we don’t want to be forced out of well-located areas that are close to better jobs, schools and hospitals.
It makes no sense to evict people into homeless, so that you can demolish a building and rebuild it for people who need homes. The only solution is for Province to stop selling its land and develop a comprehensive plan to build enough affordable housing on all its empty and underutilised public land in the inner city and surrounds for all people like us. Province can start by committing its smaller parcels of land today and get to building on these. Premier Helen Zille should swallow her pride and stop the sale of the Tafelberg Site in Sea Point. We know it was against the law and the wrong thing to do.
In the mean time, the Province and the City must stop punishing people for being poor and in need and provide basic services to residents living at Ahmed Kathrada House. We live in darkness with no electricity, water or flushing toilets. We are no different to the thousands of Black and Coloured people living on occupied land in informal settlements, and in backyards.
Today we have shown that when we organise we can hold government accountable to do the right thing. But we have a long road ahead to reclaim this city.