The DA has a curiously anti-transformation attitude to public land.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE DA’S ATTITUDE TO LAND: Benefiting a few and perpetuating apartheid exclusion.

A month ago I resigned from the Democratic Alliance, and as Mayco Member for Transport and Urban Development, on the back of a string of experiences that exposed how the DA lacks the leadership and courage to tackle massive inequalities in our city.

The last straw for me was a decision by the DA to withdraw a recommendation that the Cape Town Council dispose of the Salt River Market site at a discounted value for a mixed income, mixed use, affordable housing project.

Since my resignation, the public have endured four weeks of DA spin as to the reason for the decision. The DA has a well-oiled PR machine. But in this case that machine was unable to stay “on message, in volume, over time”. The reason is simple – there were no defensible reasons for their decision and they were lying to the public.

I fully expect the DA to reverse that decision at the coming council meeting. The public response to their decision have shamed them into a check-mate position. They have no choice but to dispose of the site for affordable housing.

To try regain some credibility I expect that they will claim to have improved the housing proposal but when we first presented the project it proposed 851 residential units on the basis of the 2014 valuation of the land at R18 million. Four years later that value had been inflated by a whopping 530% to R114 million – which obviously impacted the proposal.

Inflating values has happened on other sites too and I suspect that these are intended to make the projects financially unviable. If Salt River can produce more affordable housing I will welcome that. But, that was never their interest; and any claim that it was is a pretence brought on by the public shaming they have endured.

The DA have been in government for twelve years now. In that time, not a single affordable housing unit has been delivered in the city centre and its surrounds, or in any other important node like Sea Point, Bellville, Claremont, Wynberg or Tableview.

This is not because there’s no public land for affordable housing in those areas. Rather, it is about the DA’s very curious attitude to well-located, higher value public land and who should benefit from it.

The other night I received a frantic phone call from a concerned resident about a stand-off between protesting social justice activists and a private “militia” appointed by Growthpoint.
Growthpoint acquired “Site B” from the City based on an under valuation of the site. The caller was asking for my help as she observed what was about to turn violent. I called a high-ranking provincial police officer and asked that they assist to prevent any violence.

The site of this protest is an interesting case in point. Here is an extremely valuable piece of city-owned land, in the heart of the CBD, sold to a private developer for a massive discount based on an under-valuation. Yet, a short distance away in Salt River, the value of the city- owned land was massively inflated, and the idea of selling it at a discount to a non-profit accredited social housing company was blocked by the DA caucus.

Coincidentally, I was also contacted by a group of Bo-Kaap residents about the sale of the old St Monica’s Home in the Bo-Kaap to a private developer. In this case, the City had transferred the property to the St Monica’s Trust decades ago with a title deed restriction that should the home stop operating then the property would revert to the City.

The home did stop operating but the property did not revert to the city. Instead someone in the city agreed to abandon the reversionary clause in return for payment of about R14 million. I had already been alerted to this transaction about a year ago. I tried in vain to get a coherent answer as to how this had happened since clearly a site like that should have been used to provide critical affordable housing in the Bo-Kaap. I never received a plausible explanation for this secret deal.

Then there is Tafelberg School. For many years the Tafelberg School, located in the heart of Sea Point, had been ear-marked for social housing. Housing professionals from the city and province worked on this project together.

Suddenly the DA provincial government decided to sell the site to the highest bidder – inexplicably abandoning plans for affordable housing. At first they tried to spin a story that the site wasn’t viable for affordable housing and later argued that it wasn’t in an approved location. They also tried to suggest that National Treasury expected them to sell assets to raise funding for projects. Treasury denied this.

The suggestion that Treasury expected them to sell a housing site to raise funds to pay for offices is absurd. The site was sold and every rational argument against this was ignored.

The DA’s attitude to public land isn’t confined to Cape Town. The DA caucus in Durban recently objected to well located, high value, public land in the North Beach area being used for affordable housing. DA members were reported as saying “we should be looking at alternatives, such as selling the land instead” and that the proposed sites “are in extremely close proximity to high-value residential and commercial properties, and the land is potentially worth tens of millions to the city”.

The DA has a curiously anti-transformation attitude to public land. Public land should be used for the public good. It should not be commoditised by a political party for the benefit of a few.