Wolff Architects

Submitted By: Ilze and Heinrich Wolff (Wolff Architects, Cape Town)

Date Submitted: 6 of June 2016


Dear Premier Helen Zille and advisors to the Premier,

I have been following with keen interest the proposed sale of Tafelberg School site for redevelopment. The case intrigued me because I have often admired the stature of the sandstone school buildings, the generous front garden with its avenue of wild fig trees, not to mention the compact modern apartment building at the back. Often I have driven past and thought, what is the history of this site, and how could its present unoccupied state present a new opening for the future of Cape Town? Thanks to a heritage assessment that your department commissioned, I learnt that the site (and Sea Point in general) was occupied, settled and worked by Gorachoqua and Goringhaiqua groups about 2000 years ago. These groups and their descendants encountered the arrival of European settlers during the 17th century. European settlers laid claim to the land and brought slaves from Angola and other European colonies, such as Indonesia. Enslaved people laboured on the farms and estates along Lion’s Head during the 18th century.  We are told, also, about men such as Captain Sam Wallis, a master of one of Captain James Cook’s ships, who named Sea Point. A men’s club was established in 1776 in Sea Point, presumably as a space of establishing networks of power and property. In 1813, as a consequence, 28 plots were sold for private residential development employing noteworthy architects such as Thomas Inglesby and other men to design and construct private property in the english colonial style. Later too, parts of Sea Point were settled by the descendants of slaves, of indigenous people, of descendants of immigrants from the African and Asian diaspora, living in homes as tenants in cheap city housing. By then legal slavery was abolished, but social structures ensured that these, mainly poor black inhabitants, serviced the homes and businesses of white Sea Point residents enriched by the structures of cheap/slave labour. Forced removals under the mid 20th century apartheid government, violently enforced laws that racialised zones in Cape Town and developed sites along these racialised national imaginaries. Sea Point was zoned as a site for people racialised as white, thus relocating all others not classified as such to new urban zones at the edges of the city, often without any infrastructure to fully support dignified human settlement.   

I first heard about the effort to stop the sale of the Tafelberg site at the launch of the Reclaim the City campaign earlier this year. At the launch three other sites were identified, Alfred Street Complex (46 000m2), Top Yard (46 484m2) and Helen Bowden Nurses Home (32 121m2) next the the V&A Waterfront. The four sites all have the same thing in common: they are located within a rich network of opportunity which is the central city. Other parts of the city, like the apartheid residential suburbs, do not offer a density of networks of opportunity which are currently available in the central city. This includes good public transport, well located healthcare facilities, cultural institutions, educational institutions, leisure activities, public space, economic and commercial opportunities. Added to this kind of density of urban infrastructure, is the close proximity to the sea and the mountain, spaces of contemplation, spaces of dreaming. The location of settlement near this kind of spectacular nature is a human desire and shared benefit that cannot be disregarded.

Currently, the site has been sold to private developers who have none of the intentions of historic redress that is required for equitable spatial justice. The sale is supported and vehemently defended by the Sea Point, Bantry Bay, Fresnaye ratepayers association, who have vocalised in the media, their strong opposition to correcting historic spatial injustices and violent claims to land in Sea Point. Many are white men, ironically speaking for the continued exclusion of black women and children, mothers who clean homes of rich Sea Point residents.

The past lives in the present in the most powerful ways.

Unjustified historic claims to desirable space, apartheid and subsequent forced removals, have given a racial, patriarchal and imperialist dimension to the modern development of Cape Town. Tafelberg is public land and with that comes the opportunity to redress historic spatial violence. Tafelberg presents government with a rare opportunity for spatial justice. This potential, amidst a dominant culture of land acquisition for private gain, is an invaluable and fragile opportunity for social justice, using space to set up networks of care, respect, dignity and inclusion. If we consider the deep history of the claim to power through land and space, selling off and privatising public land is an opportunity lost. It is a disposal of the potential to redress historic spatial injustices and thus a violent continuation of the racialised, patriarchal imperialist project of the past. I fully support the campaign to stop the sale of Tafelberg. A sale without conditions addressing  historic spatial injustices means the continuation of these historic injustices. I do not support the sale if it means the continued exclusion of poor black people from desirable parts of Cape Town. I, together with my partner, Heinrich Wolff, fully support the campaign to imagine Tafelberg as a site of contemporary spatial justice.

Ilze Wolff & Heinrich Wolff

Wolff Architects, Cape Town.



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