Socio-Economic Rights Institute

Submission on the Western Cape Government’s intention to dispose of the “Tafelberg site”, 2016

Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa



1. Introduction

2. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI)

3. Response to the intention to dispose

The “Apartheid City” in Cape Town

The importance of well-located housing for the poor and working class

Affordable accommodation and protecting publicly-held land

Entrenching or disrupting Apartheid urban forms, and the importance of rental tenure

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

On 19 May 2016 in the Vukani newspaper, the Western Cape Government (“the Province”) published an invitation for interested parties to comment on its intention to dispose of two properties (“the Tafelberg site”) to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School NPC. The invitation to comment is published in accordance with the provisions of the Western Cape Land Administration Act, 6 of 1998, and its Regulations.

The Tafelberg site is well-located publicly-held land in Sea Point in the City of Cape Town. Despite the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements having expressed interest in using the site for affordable rental accommodation in 2013, and a rental accommodation feasibility plan having been drawn up in 2012, the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works (the owner of the land) sold the properties on the open market, to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School NPC.

The invitation for comment published on 19 May 2016 follows a campaign directed against the sale of the Tafelberg site to private interests. This campaign succeeded in inducing the Province to temporarily halt the sale of the site, and to re-publish notice of its intention to dispose of the site, thus opening up a 21-day commenting period to close on 9 June (the Province had previously not published notice of its intention to dispose in a Xhosa-language newspaper). The campaign included, amongst other organisations, Reclaim the City and Ndifuna Ukwazi.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) has considered the circumstances of the properties and the sale, and makes this submission to the Province in accordance with the invitation to submit written comments. SERI’s submission provides background to the organisation and its work, comments on the planned disposal of the property, and makes recommendations for how the land should better be used.

2. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI)

SERI is a registered non-profit organisation and public interest law clinic that provides professional, dedicated and expert socio-economic rights assistance to individuals, communities and social movements in South Africa. SERI conducts applied legal research, litigates in the public interest, facilitates civil society mobilisation and coordination, and conducts popular education and training. SERI’s core work relates to the advancement and protection of access to socio-economic rights in socio-economically marginalised (poor) communities.

SERI’s primary thematic focus areas are urban housing, access to basic services and informal settlement upgrading, informal trade, and the advancement of political space for organisation, expression, participation and articulation.

SERI has the following aims:

  • To advance the currency of human rights and particularly socio-economic rights in South Africa.
  • To promote the fulfilment of socio-economic rights by vulnerable communities in South Africa.
  • To assist poor and marginalised groups to realise an adequate standard of living.
  • To contribute to public governance through empowering local communities to understand their rights, government processes and to effectively engage in such processes, thereby holding government accountable [1]

SERI has been involved in litigation protecting housing-related rights from negative violations. [2]  SERI’s advocacy activities also address the right to housing and has published a series of guides and research reports in relation to the right to housing and against illegal evictions. [3]

An important aspect of this advocacy has been the call for South African cities to put in place plans and measures to progressively make available affordable accommodation close to city centres, and to implement a programmatic response to their constitutional obligation to not only provide housing where it is needed but also to proactively work against the legacy of Apartheid.

SERI is a national organisation concerned with issues of housing and urban policy. The Province’s intention to dispose of the Tafelberg site to private interests represents a lost opportunity to provide affordable rental accommodation which would undermine the prevailing urban form of the “Apartheid City”. As such SERI and the clients it represents have a clear interest in the decision to dispose of the Tafelberg site.

3. Response to the intention to dispose

The Apartheid City in Cape Town

On 5 December 1919, a delegation of residents from the African [4] township of Ndabeni in Cape Town met with the then Minister of Native Affairs to discuss their impending relocation to further away from the city. Unhappy with the planned move, which followed a relocation to Ndabeni from the city centre two decades earlier, a spokesperson [5] for the delegation said that it seemed as if Africans were not wanted in Cape Town. It seemed as if

“only their hands were needed at work, and that if some mysterious arrangement could be devised whereby only their hands could be daily brought to town for purposes of labour and their persons and faces not seen at all, that would perhaps suit their white masters better.”  [6]

This dual impulse, which Peter Maylam has called attaining “labour-power without labour” [7], came to define Apartheid-era urban spatial policy. However the effects of this sentiment were evident in Cape Town even before the Union of South Africa was declared, with amongst the first mandatory mass urban relocations in the country occurring in Cape Town in the early 1900s, as Africans were forced from the city centre to the specially constructed site of Ndabeni. Mass relocations continued well into the Apartheid period, with the case of District Six being perhaps Cape Town’s most infamous forced removal. [8] A century of urban policy explicitly designed to condemn black people to Cape Town’s peripheries has left its mark on the city. Central areas close to jobs remain overwhelmingly white, while black people are typically confined to peripheral areas defined by extremely high densities and high unemployment rates. [9] There is consequently an urgent need for policies and measures which democratise the urban core and make this area of relative affluence and better opportunities more accessible to the poor and working class.

The importance of well-located housing for the poor and working class

The concept of well-located affordable housing is central to any attempt to undo Apartheid spatial forms in South Africa’s cities. The question of residential location is fundamental, as the way urban Apartheid operated was not to blankly exclude urban blacks from affluent white areas, but to define the rules such that black people could enter these spaces only temporarily, in order to supply labour-power, and then had to return to precarious lives on city peripheries. [10] Residential location concerns patterns of spatial development and who has access to this development. In contemporary Cape Town, the white and wealthy tend to live close to nodes of economic production and the social life which characterises cities, while the black and poor are confined to isolated settlements on the Cape Flats.

Apart from entrenching the Apartheid spatial form in an abstract sense, this type of pattern is understood to have severe negative concrete consequences for the peripheral poor and working class. The spatial mismatch hypothesis suggests that distance from jobs decrease prospects of finding employment, while in Cape Town social and public amenities are overwhelmingly concentrated in core wealthy areas, to the detriment of people living on the periphery. [11] The Cape Flats experience extremely high rates of violent crime but receive proportionally few police officers, and basic infrastructure such as sanitation and street lights is often lacking. [12] The spatial form of South Africa’s cities is both a poverty and an inequality issue, as lack of opportunities and amenities on the periphery entrench poverty for the poor while concentration of jobs and services in the core allow for greater opportunities for advancement for the rich.

The Tafelberg site represents an opportunity for the Province to disrupt this inequitable pattern of development, by providing affordable housing so that poor and working class people can take advantage of the benefits of economically and socially well-located land. Instead, the Province has decided to sell the Tafelberg site to a private developer, which will only entrench prevailing patterns of ownership and advantage. This flies directly in the face of the Province’s constitutional obligation to address the iniquities of the past. Indeed it contradicts the Province’s own policy, which recognizes that the effects of Apartheid spatial policy are still clearly evident today, and commits the province to working to undo this legacy.

Affordable accommodation and protecting public land

There is a massive shortage of formal housing in Cape Town, with the City of Cape Town estimating this backlog to be close to 345 000 units housing units. [13] For large numbers of people this is simply because formal private-sector housing is beyond their means. While location is important as discussed above, in order for well-located developments to challenge Apartheid cities they need to be accessible to the poor and working class, and therefore affordable. Formal private sector rental is typically far out of the income range of poor people when it is well-located, which perpetuates a poverty trap whereby poor people cannot afford well-located housing because they are poor, but they are poor partly because they do not live in well-located housing.

Publicly owned well-located land like the Tafelberg site offers a unique opportunity for the Province to help break this poverty trap, and it should not be squandered. While well-located public land in general is valuable, the Western Cape government’s own Department of Human Settlements (DoHS) has recognised the important potential that the Tafelberg site has for accommodation for the poor and working class. In 2013 the DoHS requested internally that it be allowed to use the land for affordable rental accommodation, but had this request ignored. A year previously, in 2012, a preliminary study regarding the feasibility of the Tafelberg site for low-cost rental accommodation suggested that the site could accommodate over 200 households at rentals of between R750 and R2250 per month.

The decision not to use the Tafelberg site for affordable housing is made all the more unfortunate by the alternative decision that was made: to lose the site forever to the private market. Well-located publicly held land is a social asset which must be protected. Experiences in the City of Johannesburg show that it can be cities themselves which create shortages of public land, and thereby compromise on their ability to implement developmental policy. In the case of Johannesburg, the City has argued that it is unable to provide additional social housing or alternative accommodation simply because it does not have enough inner-city land. [14] At the same time, the city has sold off well-located land to the private sector, and has refused to take control of buildings on which it is owed massive debts, and use them to develop low-cost housing. The state, whether at the city, provincial or national level, can create its own capacity issues and the Western Cape Government should take this seriously. The Tafelberg site should not be lost to the private sector, where socially determined objectives and needs will have no impact on its use. Instead, the site should be retained by the Province. If the site is sold, the state loses control forever over an asset which has significant social and political value. In this context the unexplained decision made by the Province to sell rather than lease the site (which was initially the plan) is all the more inexplicable and unfortunate.

Entrenching or disrupting Apartheid urban forms, and the importance of rental tenure

The argument that the Province has used to defend the sale of the Tafelberg site is that the revenue generated from its sale, because of its excellent location, will be able to be used on many more housing developments on cheaper land. [15] It should first be noted that there has been no binding commitment from the Province that proceeds from the sale of the Tafelberg site would be used for low-cost housing, rather than on spending which will benefit the rich. However this approach is in any case wholly irreconcilable with commitments made to undermine Cape Town’s Apartheid spatial form. The effect of this approach is to entrench housing for poor and working class people on the urban periphery while wealthy elites enjoy the well-located core. Providing housing and basic services on urban peripheries does not fundamentally contradict the logic of Apartheid cities, with extensive “site and service” houses having been built in this period, and indeed the construction of townships being a very deliberate Apartheid strategy. [16] Apartheid cities are primarily predicated on the exclusion of poor black people from living in the urban core, and it is this which needs to be addressed if the spatial form of Cape Town is to change.

The Province may respond that RDP houses on the periphery, where owners hold title-deeds, can reduce poverty. The argument is that poor people can either use their RDP houses as collateral for loans, or that they can invest in their homes, sell them for a profit, and move up a “housing ladder”, or that these RDP houses will allow for small-scale landlordism and home-based enterprises. [17] However the potential for RDP houses to facilitate poverty exit by being tradable financial assets or collateral for loans has been overwhelmingly debunked, [18] and there is increasingly evidence which suggests that RDP houses are not especially facilitative of poverty-reducing small-scale landlordism or home-based enterprises. [19] RDP housing is an important social asset to which people attach great political and emotional value, but this cannot be the be all and end all of spatial policy. Instead, and as discussed above, housing location is crucially important. The Province must prioritise housing in well-located urban areas, such as the Tafelberg site, which are connected to already-existing economies and functional social spaces. The decision to exclude poor and working class people from well-located areas in order to provide housing on the periphery is unjustifiable.

This raises a last point about the need to protect and advance rental housing. Homeownership should not be disparaged, but it also should not be put on some kind of developmental pedestal. National and regional policy recognizes the necessity of increasing affordable rental stock, as it is only through this type of tenure that fully sustainable and beneficial densification can plausibly take place. The decision to sell the Tafelberg site, which offers excellent opportunities for affordable rental tenure in well-located land, in order to subsidize extremely peripheral housing developments, is simply not a justifiable decision.

4. Conclusion

In the Tafelberg site the Western Cape Government has a unique opportunity to provide affordable, well-located rental housing. This is demonstrated by the desire of its own Provincial Department of Human Settlements to use the land for this purpose, and by the rental accommodation feasibility studies conducted for the site. Instead, the Province has chosen to release this land into the private market, where social control over this publicly-held asset will be lost forever. While the Province justifies its decision by saying that the sale of the land will allow for greater housing construction on the city periphery, the effect of this will be to further entrench the Apartheid spatial form which characterises South Africa’s cities and Cape Town in particular. This is an urban form where the poor and black live far away from jobs and services while the wealthy and white live in the well-located city core.

SERI urges the Province to reconsider this decision, and to use the Tafelberg site for affordable rental accommodation for the city’s poor and working class.

PDF here.

[1] For more on SERI visit the SERI website:

[2] These include: Auto Cinema Investments v Occupiers of Stanhope Compound (‘Stanhope Compound’) eviction – Stanhope mining compound – Johannesburg – access to justice; Blue Moonlight Properties 39 (Pty) Ltd v Occupiers of Saratoga Avenue and Another (‘Blue Moonlight’) private eviction – Berea – City of Johannesburg – alternative accommodation – Constitutional Court; Changing Tides (Pty) Ltd v Unlawful Occupiers of Chung Hua Mansions and Others (‘Changing Tides’) unlawful eviction – inner city of Johannesburg – Johannesburg High Court; City of Johannesburg v Changing Tides Properties and the Unlawful Occupiers of Tikwelo House (‘Tikwelo House’) amicus curiae – appeal against order to provide alternative accommodation – City of Johannesburg – Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA); City of Johannesburg in re: All pending eviction applications where the occupiers’ eviction may lead to homelessness (‘City of Johannesburg ex parte stay application’) stay application – evictions – City of Johannesburg – South Gauteng High Court; Dladla and the Further Residents of Ekuthuleni Shelter v City of Johannesburg and MES (‘Dladla’) rights to dignity, privacy and adequate housing – shelter accommodation – inner city Johannesburg; Hawerd Nleya and Others v Ingelosi House (Pty) Ltd (‘Ingelosi House’) application for leave to appeal – just and equitable eviction – Gauteng Local Division of the High Court – Supreme Court of Appeal; Hlophe and Others v City of Johannesburg and Others (‘Hlophe’) Chung Hua – enforcement application – contempt; Mthimkulu and Others v City of Johannesburg and Others (‘Mthimkulu’) emergency housing – City of Johannesburg – South Gauteng High Court; Occupiers of Erven 87 & 88 Berea v De Wet and Another (‘Kiribilly’) eviction rescission – lack of consent – Johannesburg; Occupiers of 10-18 Salisbury Street, Johannesburg v City of Johannesburg and Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department illegal eviction – Johannesburg CBD – Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) – fire brigade; Occupiers of Jeanwell Court v Khalil Ahmed Properties (‘Jeanwell Court’) inner city Johannesburg – rescission application – South Gauteng High Court; Occupiers of 50, 53 and 54 Soper Road v Motala and Others (‘Soper Road’) urgent application – eviction – inner city Johannesburg – rescission; Schubart Park Residents Association and Others v City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality and Others (‘Schubart Park’) amicus curiae – Schubart Park – difference between ‘evacuation’ and ‘eviction’ of occupiers – Constitutional Court.

[3] These include: A Resource Guide to Housing in South Africa 1994 – 2010: Legislation, Policy, Programmes and Practice (February 2011); ‘Jumping the Queue’, Waiting Lists and other Myths: Perceptions and Practice around Housing Demand and Allocation in South Africa (April 2013); Evictions and Alternative Accommodation in South Africa: An Analysis of the Jurisprudence and Implications for Local Government (November 2013); Resisting Evictions in South Africa: A Legal and Practical Guide (March 2015); Tenure Security in Informal Settlements on Customary Land (December 2015).

[4] This submission makes use of the four racial categories defined by Statistics South Africa, which are African, coloured, Indian/Asian, and white. The term black refers to someone from the African, coloured, or Indian/Asian subdivisions.

[5]  The source does not identify the spokesperson, but lists the Ndabeni deputation as being made up of a Reverend Mahabane, George Solundwana, Edward Ntwana and Alfred Ngaleka.

[6] Kinkead-Weekes, B., 1985. Africans in Cape Town: The origins and development of state policy and popular resistance to 1936. Department of Sociology, University of Cape Town, pp. 210-211.

[7]  Maylam, P., 1990. The Rise and Decline of Urban Apartheid in South Africa. African Affairs, vol. 89, no. 354, pp. 57.

[8] Ibid.

[9]  Sinclair-Smith, K. and Turok, I., 2012. The changing spatial economy of cities: An exploratory analysis of Cape Town. Development Southern Africa, vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 391-417.

[10]  Maylam, 1990; Turok, I., 2012. Urbanisation and Development in South Africa: Economic Imperatives, Spatial Distortions and Strategic Responses. International Institute for Environment and Development; Wilkinson, P., 1998. Housing Policy in South Africa. Habitat International, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 215-229.

[11]  Naude, W., 2008. Is there a spatial mismatch in South Africa’s metropolitan labour market? Cities, vol. 25, pp. 268-276; Rospabe, S. and Selod, H., 2006. Does city structure cause unemployment? The case of Cape Town. In: H. Bhorat and R. Kanbur eds., Poverty and Policy in Post-Apartheid South Africa Cape Town: HSRC Press, pp. 262-287.

[12] Social Justice Coalition, 2014. Our toilets are dirty: Report of the social audit into the Janitorial Service for communal flush toilets in Khayelitsha Cape Town, Social Justice Coalition; Van der Merve, M., 2016, 8 April. Beyond Khayelitsha: Just how unequal is distribution of police in South Africa? The Daily Maverick.

[13]  City of Cape Town, 2015, Integrated Human Settlement Five-year Plan July 2012 – June 2017: 2015/16 Review.

[14]  See City of Johannesburg in re: All pending eviction applications where the occupiers’ eviction may lead to homelessness at

[15]  Furlong, A., 2016, 8 February. Calls to halt sale of prime city land. GroundUp.

[16]  Wilkinson, 1998.

[17]  Rust, K. Supporting the housing asset triangle: South Africa’s real housing challenge in Are Hernando de Soto’s views appropriate to South Africa? 2007.

[18]  Kihato, M., 2014. Housing microfinance in South Africa: An update. Johannesburg: Centre for Affordable Housing Finance; Lemanski, C., 2011. Moving up the Ladder or Stuck on the Bottom Rung? Homeownership as a Solution to Poverty in Urban South Africa. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 57-77; Muyeba, S., 2013. Does low-income homeownership work? The effects of titling among beneficiaries in Cape Town and Lusaka. Department of Sociology, University of Cape Town; Payne, G., Durand-Lasserve, A. and Rakodi, C., 2009. The limits of land titling and home ownership. Environment and Urbanization, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 443-462; Royston, L. Barking dogs and building bridges: A contribution to making sense of Hernando de Soto’s ideas in the South African context, in The perpetual challenge of informal settlements, 2004;

[19] Lemanski, 2011; Muyeba, 2013.



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