Julian Sendin

Dear Premier,

As a lifelong Capetonian and young professional working as a researcher in spatial planning and urban legislation I am making a submission objecting to the sale of the Tafelberg site in Sea Point in the strongest possible terms.

As a resident of the City Bowl I know well the advantages of living close to the Province’s major economic hub. My neighbourhood is blessed with a vibrant and robust local economy,  a plethora of social amenities and services and is well endowed with infrastructure. Sitting at the foot of the iconic Table Mountain and peppered with more heritage buildings than anywhere else in the country, the city bowl radiates an almost overwhelmingly attractive sense of place. As a resident of the city bowl yourself, I am are sure that you are familiar with this pleasant environment.  

But I am acutely aware of Cape Town’s painful legacy and the fact that people of colour were historically driven away from the city centre and surrounds to be dumped on  the periphery far away from the opportunities and amenities that are so necessary for neighbourhoods and their inhabitants to thrive. I note, with anger and disappointment, that this segregated urban form continues largely unabated to date.

Appalling record of urban restructuring in Cape Town

Through my own informed observations I have been shocked to note that not a single affordable housing unit has been provided in the central city and surrounds since South Africa’s ascendancy into democracy some 22 years ago. In fact I submit that Cape Town and the city surrounds has gone backwards in terms of affordable housing. There are a number ways one can define the city centre and surrounding suburbs, whether using wards, census data suburbs or demarcations such as those used in the Central City Regeneration Programme 2006 – the picture painted is incredibly bleak. One would have to extend the city centre and surrounds all the way to Brooklyn and Maitland to include the Drommedaris and Royal Maitland development in order to find subsidized housing that is not legacy stock inherited from the previous regime.  

It is noteworthy that the 2006 Central City Regeneration Programme in which you wrote the foreward as executive mayor, set as one of its objectives to triple residential densities and produce at least 20% affordable housing stock. Although, densities have increased the latter objective has completely failed to materialize. Below is an excerpt from your foreword,

We want to ensure that we have a City Centre for all. The CCDS has the potential to provide equal economic and social opportunities for everyone in the region. The City seeks to promote policies to bring poor people closer to the urban economy (not just as commuters but as full participants) and, at the same time, take investment to areas of greatest need through community development programmes. [1]

This is despite the fact that urban integration has been part of South Africa’s development nomenclature since the democratic get-go when it was the heart of the Urban Development Framework (UDF) that was launched by national government in 1997.

It must be understood that  land is a scarce and finite resource and that as urbanization occurs so the competition for land increases, thus driving up the market value of land and making affordability an issue in the city. This phenomenon is not unique to South Africa, across the world affordability is an issue faced by most cities, big and small, rich and poor.Clearly the open market will not provide for these excluded groups on its own volition. This problem, or market externality, as economists call it means that people of low and moderate income are excluded from living in the city close to jobs. This spatial dislocation between labour and economic hubs makes for an inefficient city, threatens social cohesion and has dire impacts on the environment.

Because of this cities around the world have policies in place to ensure that a percentage of affordable housing in and around economic hubs, such as the CBD and Sea Point, are provided for. These policies have moved beyond paper and have been in practice for some time. Ensuring inclusivity in a city has come to be accepted as one of the most important traits of a ‘world class city’.

It is deeply concerning that Cape Town is lagging so far behind this internationally accepted practice. Given our painful history surely we should be leaders in this field? How can we call Cape Town a truly ‘world class city’ given this context?

The fact that little has been done to achieve spatial integration in Cape Town has been acknowledged by Provincial Government in its Provincial Spatial Development Framework where it talks about ‘spatial inertia’,

“Two decades into democracy there is little noticeable change in the country’s spatial patterns, notwithstanding numerous policy statements calling for spatial transformation”

One of the of the main reasons for this is that,

“laudable spatial transformation objectives have not been matched by actionable strategies, specific delivery targets and explicit implementation arrangements.” [2]

Spatial transformation and race relations

Although this form of exclusion is market based it still resonates strongly across racial lines. It is no secret that the economy has been painstakingly slow to de-racialize; a sluggish economy, poor policy, resistance to transformation, collusion between established capital and tenderpreneurship have left us in a position that leaves much to be desired.

As a result of little to no direct state intervention intervention in restructuring the urban form in the context of a racialized economy the inner suburbs which enjoy historical investment in infrastructure and amenities and unparalleled access to economic opportunity remain overwhelmingly white.

As a white Capetonian I firmly believe that this lack of state intervention has compounded and agitated troubling race relations and makes my existence in Cape Town, and indeed in South Africa, a contested one.

I experience daily deeply racist white people holed up in their residential laagers whose fear of the ‘other’ drives them to hatred. Their insipid attitudes feed the flames of anti white sentiment that I have noticed is on the incline. I experience daily racism from coloured Capetonians who deride African blacks and also harbour anti-white sentiment. I have witnessed too often Black africans at the bottom of the economic rung full of boiling rage at the injustices which persist around them to this date. The institute of Race Relations recently produced a statistic that the majority of South Africa’s only mix with other races at work and while shopping. This apartness is breeding fear and animosity. If you are serious about tackling racism you must begin with spatially transforming the ‘former’ whites only suburbs. Therefore, there is a dire and pressing need to engineer spatial integration – starting first with state owned land.  

Failure to understand the true costs and value of land

Well-located state owned land, is an incredibly scarce asset. To dispose of such an asset to a private interest without taking due consideration for its potential to meet Province’s socio-economic objectives is unacceptable.

Furthermore, within the context of the state’s poor track record at providing well-located affordable housing the ad hoc sale of state owned land without a comprehensive, integrated and holistic plan for how state owned land can be leveraged to meet this objective is irrational.

Authorities routinely point to the difficulty and costs involved with acquiring well-located land as a major obstacle to providing affordable housing in well-located areas, yet when the state does own land in these areas it is reticent to release the land below market value for the purposes of human settlements. This ‘business as usual’ approach cannot be sustained any longer as it simply entrenches apartheid geographies. In the case of Sea Point, once Tafelberg is sold there is no other state owned site available that could provide a decent amount of subsidized housing. It represents the last opportunity to secure in perpetuity Sea Point’s vibrancy that is currently endangered by soaring land prices.

The short term cash injection of R125 million pales in comparison to the opportunity costs of integration which will be lost. Furthermore, it must be noted that the Tafelberg site represents the last piece of land available in Sea Point to meaningfully contribute to this pressing need. There are also profound long term cost benefits by choosing to house low – middle income people in compact, connected and mature urban environment such as Sea Point.These must be transposed against the huge costs associated with continuing to entrench a deeply dysfunctional urban form that has immense social, political, economic and environmental costs that compound as time goes by.

The narrative of stripping assets to go into some kind of ‘slush fund’ that is used to cross subsidize pro-poor projects is deeply flawed. Not only because no such ring fencing mechanism actually exists but because of the costs mentioned above. This is not to say that disposing of state land for capital injections is never appropriate – but not if said property is extremely strategic to to Province’s socio-economic obligations. This problem is manifest in the way in which the tender process (and indeed the expression of interest before hand) gave no weight to fulfilling any of these obligation – it was merely a search for the highest bidder.

Global practice shows that remedying distorted spatial patterns becomes harder to achieve over time. One could say that it becomes exponentially more difficult over time as populations grow and so does the competition for the scarce and finite resource that is land and which is required at some level or another for almost every private and public function. So in this context we must use this resource wisely especially when it comes to decisions that will have tremendous long term implications for the city and its people.

Understanding the housing crises

Nobody can deny that Cape Town is embroiled in a housing crises. The City’s housing backlog currently sits at 373 641 and is predicted to grow to more than 650 000 if the current delivery of 6 100 new opportunities per annum is maintained. [3] But it’s a major mistake to think that the problem is just about a shortage of houses.

Since 1994 South Africa has embarked on a housing project of colossal proportions. Approximately 2.8 million ( although the numbers differ depending the source) free houses have been built since 1994, costing around US $30 – 40 billion in today’s prices. [4] But have we got ‘bang’ for our buck? Or to pose the question in a less market-centric approach, as we should, have we built the type of South Africa we should have been able to build with the time and resources we have had at our disposal?

The short answer is no.This is largely because we have misunderstood the problem at hand. The housing crises cannot be measured in terms of quantity alone with no regard for quality. One of the key factors determining the functionality of a ‘house’ is its location, it cannot be defined simply in terms of bricks and mortar. Functional neighbourhoods are not determined by top structures but by access and proximity to economic opportunity, social amenities and services and infrastructure. Nationally this realization has been captured in the policy shift away from ‘housing’ towards ‘integrated human settlements’. But despite the fact that we are both policy and law rich on paper this has not trickled down to a reality on the ground.

In Cape Town we continue to build row upon row of dormitory suburbs on the urban periphery essentially replicating our inherited apartheid planning legacy and buying into an urban form which promises disastrous social, political, economic and environmental consequences in the long term. In fact these consequences are already upon us and they must be understood geographically. In Khayelitsha only 36% of those aged 20 years and older have completed Grade 12, the unemployment rate looms large at 38% and some 74% of households earn less than R3200 p/m. [Police commission stats]. These stats must be seen against the backdrop of an entire city that was purposely modelled backwards by the previous regime and colonial powers – so that the vast majority of its residents live in cramped conditions far away from established economic centres while the established urban centres are relatively sparsely populated.

When dealing with a problem as complex as those facing Cape Town we must acknowledge that there are no silver bullets. What is needed is a strategic approach that uses a number of complementary strategies. In order to improve the lives of Cape Town’s economically vulnerable members of society, who as a matter of indisputable fact are disproportionately Black, Coloured and Indian, we need to extend services to periphery locations as well as bringing poor and working class people back into the well-located areas they were historically removed from. Both must be approached to effect spatial justice and spatial efficiency as legislated in SPLUMA and LUPA.

Unique opportunity to change trajectory of Cape Town

I believe that the Tafelberg site represents a unique opportunity to revive the historic Ellerslie School Building and open it up to Sea Point Main road by means of a public open space. In doing so this would contribute to and improve Sea Point’s rich sense of place. By having an affordable housing led, mixed use development that incorporates and is sensitive to heritage assets the Tafelberg site can set a precedent for urban regeneration that is both responsive to heritage and socio-economic concerns.

Beyond Sea Point, Tafelberg offers a unique and incredibly symbolic opportunity to show that Province is dedicated to realising a more just and integrated society. Public ownership of the Tafelberg site makes it a prime opportunity to build affordable housing for low and moderate income workers with jobs in Sea Point and the CBD. Tafelberg could set a much needed precedent for other public entities who own large tracts of well located but underutilized land. It offers Province a chance to lead by example. If this opportunity is seized with both hands then Provincial and local government’s efforts to acquire significant land holdings sitting with national government, parastatals and other state entities will surely be more likely to be met with success.

We welcome innovative projects such as the Conradie BLM development in Pinelands but stress that this is not nearly enough. What is needed is a city wide holistic programme that leverages state owned land to provided well located affordable housing whether provided directly through the state of in partnership with the private sector.    

Lastly, the high land value of Tafelberg should be seen to strengthen the argument that the site should be used for affordable housing – not detract from this purpose. It provides a unique opportunity for on-site cross subsidization with retail and commercial units and could go a long way in debunking the myopic views of affordable housing in the minds of the existing residents in the ‘leafier suburbs’. In short a successful and integrated affordable housing led, mixed-use development on the Tafelberg could do wonders to water down the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) sentiments that all to often frustrate attempts to create a more just city.  

Very often developers driven solely by profit and other individuals whose worldviews simply have no place in our constitutional democracy prey upon these misconceptions to frustrate efforts to make Cape Town a more inclusive city. I implore you to take a more pro-active stance on breaking down the negative perceptions associated with ‘human settlements’ ‘subsidised housing’ or ‘affordable housing’. This can be achieved by strategic public participation targeting NIMBY groups (ratepayers associations etc.) and above all else with successful precedents.

We are of the view that maintaining the beautiful characteristics of the city bowl and surrounds and fostering inclusivity are not mutually exclusive. We acknowledge that the greatest way to celebrate our beautiful city is to make it more inclusive.

Therefore I implore Province to find a lasting solution for Tafelberg that protects the site’s unique heritage aspects but also uses the remaining portion of the site for affordable housing and takes advantage of the high land value to create an innovative and financially sustainable model to debunk the notion that places like Sea Point are ‘unsuitable for housing’.

I am disgusted by the environment of a lack of accountability and transparency that surrounds the way in which the Department of Transport and Public Works makes decisions around the way state owned land is used.

Lastly Province and the City are often lauded for their good governance. Why then not lead by example? I have to listen to councillor’s whine about key strategic land parcels held by national government or state parastatals that they cannot unlock for human settlements because the owner is reticent to release the land below market value and otherwise mismanages the land. It is absurd that for decades the City and Province (and their predecessors) have been trying fruitlessly to wrangle huge tracts of well located land from national government and other parastatals without leading by example on scatter sites such as Tafelberg.

By this point in time Provincial and local government should already have achieved a number of Conradie and Tafelberg type affordable housing developments. If it had  a successful track record of urban restructuring under its belt then politically it would be in a much stronger position to lobby for pieces of land owned by other spheres of government.

It would also send out a clear message that your government is capable of leading the nation.


Julian Sendin


[1] Central City Regeneration Programme 2006.

[2] Western Cape Provincial Spatial Development Framework 2014.

[3] Built Environment Performance Plan at pg 33.

[4] Ivan Turok (2016).



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