Lockdown validated 10 years of PHA Food & Farming Campaign work
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by Nazeer A Sonday
The year 2020 will be remembered for the coronavirus pandemic and a lockdown that closed down the city.
Just two years before, 2018 will go down in our memory for dry taps and Day Zero. Throughout both crises, the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) foodlands proved to be worth their weight in gold as an essential part of the city’s well-being.
Foodlands is a word born out of the struggle to protect the PHA.
It means: “Urban/peri-urban farmlands and farming communities growing horticultural crops of high nutritional, medicinal, and ecosystem value, with short supply chain from the plaas to the plate.”
The PHA foodlands are the centre of the city’s food system. They are where locally grown food protects us from the vulnerabilities of the long-haul food supply chain that came to a grinding halt during the pandemic. Locally grown food eliminates the carbon dioxide emissions associated with food that travels from afar.
The PHA is a unique, drought-proof foodlands unaffected by the ravages of climate change, with an abundance of aquifer water, good soils and a favourable micro climate. It’s where thousands of jobs and livelihoods find sustenance from a shrinking economy. It’s where the city’s potable water is coming from. It’s where your food comes from.
It is the only sector of the city’s economy that continues to demonstrate resilience and growth. Yet our future hangs in the balance. The land that can double our production, double jobs and livelihoods and protect our aquifer for future generations is still held by developers and land speculators.
The campaign’s decade-long struggle in the public participation process exposed how our democracy is subverted to this end: how certain politicians whose only interest is the next election cycle wherein our commons – our water, environment and land for food – is put up for sale to the highest bidder.
In a precedent-setting high court ruling in February 2020 that suspended the 500 hectare Oaklands City development, Judge Kate Savage noted that “decision-makers misconstrued the nature of their obligations under the land use and planning ordinance and as a consequence failed to apply their minds”.
The high court suspended the rezoning permission and environmental authorisation and returned them to their respective appeal bodies for reconsideration. The judgment is an important victory, but the struggle to protect the PHA foodlands continues. The year 2020 will go down as a pivotal year for the PHA foodlands.
The City’s department of water and sanitation is investing millions into the Managed Aquifer Recharge (Mar) programme from which water will flow into city taps towards the end of 2021. This giant water infrastructure investment is based on the premise the foodlands will remain unpaved.
The PHA Campaign is participating in the oversight Mar Water Use Licence Monitoring Committee.
As a result of the 2018 Indego Study Protection and Implementation Plan, we now have a unique statutory community-government platform ‒ PHA ACTT ‒ competently chaired by Cllr Elton Jansen to deal with community issues relating to the protection and management of the area.
During the height of the lockdown, the PHA Campaign responded to the hunger crisis in our community. The target: feed every household and leave no one behind. Dozens of volunteers were issued an essential service permit and packed 6 247 food parcels weighing a total of 58 tons, reaching 2 314 families, or 9 256 individuals. Without all our generous donors this would not have been possible.
This year, the campaign will focus on rolling out the Cu-Ke-Thai project to support vulnerable communities with a focus on self-sufficiency. We appeal to donors to support our efforts.
Housing has always been a vexed issue for the campaign.
The City has in the past attempted to use the housing versus farming binary to pit the campaign against the informal settlement community who need formal housing. The PHA Campaign position has always been in support of housing ‒ but for those from the PHA. The housing which developers propose will not meet our community housing needs and the foodlands cannot solve the City’s social housing crisis.
Informal settlement communities face key challenges. The vast majority are families who have moved to the PHA from elsewhere in the city, from rural areas and from across our borders. The campaign supports all longstanding PHA residents’ efforts to be given formal housing in the wedge. This will be a key challenge for 2021.
Low points in 2020
The low of 2020 was the failure to establish a united community forum. The campaign’s objective for establishing the forum was to give voice to the various community groupings and build a united front to protect the foodlands. But this was not to be.
However, a valuable lesson was learnt out of this 18-month process: that party politics bedevils the affairs of the community and should be kept out. We defined more clearly who the rights holders and stakeholders are in our community and their respective roles and responsibilities.
In future, the campaign will build relationships based on mutual respect and on the basis that such relationships will protect the agricultural, ecological and community integrity of the foodlands.
The PHA Campaign also had to contend with the City’s Future and Infrastructure Planning Committee chairperson, Marian Niewoudt – who reportedly said she is not ruling out the Oaklands City development in 2021.
However, real-world events and concerted effort by the PHA Campaign before and after the high court ruling has overtaken this approach. A day after the February high court ruling, development No 2 (the 100ha U-Vest development) withdrew its court case against the PHA Campaign in their pursuit of a rezone.
In March, the National Water Tribunal refused the Consol Glass Company a water-use licence to mine silica sand in the PHA on the grounds that it would pollute the aquifer.
What’s in store for 2021?
Amidst the ongoing challenges of the pandemic in 2021, the PHA Campaign is looking towards a hopeful new year. The campaign is blessed by the interest shown in our work by various new potential partners.
We hope to build on the high court wins and the pandemic as catalysts to make the PHA foodlands shine.
Our work in 2021 will include: advocating for global best practice in the PHA, reimagining the dysfunctional “buffer” urban edge with a “living urban edge”, exploring new partnerships, engaging in the 2021 SDF Review, supporting local communities with food gardens and communal kitchens with a focus on child nutrition and growing farming livelihoods, modelling and advocating for the small-scale regenerative farm as a commercial enterprise, and farmer-to-farmer training based on the Freirean tradition.
Over the years, the PHA Campaign has pulled together many interesting people: lawyers, organisations, partners and donors from across the city, the country and internationally to work together with the single purpose of protecting the PHA foodlands.
This has been the most inspiring aspect of the campaign. You have walked with us through tough times and joyous times; the high court victory is yours.
We remember and salute those of you who stepped up during the lockdown and risked your health to pack thousands of food parcels for our community, and the hundreds of donors who made it possible.
We remember and honour our loved ones who have passed on during this challenging year: may your souls rest in peace.
* Nazeer A Sonday is chairperson, PHA Food & Farming Campaign. The PHA Food & Farming Campaign work can be supported via a donation to FNB account number 626 056 901 99.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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