Cape Town - Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has stepped in to save the Oranjezicht City Farm Market by offering space at her official Leeuwenhof residence so that Saturday’s market can go ahead.
The 11th-hour deal came hours after the directors of the city farm announced the termination of the popular farm market because of new heritage requirements and other restrictions.
Director Sheryl Ozinsky said late on Thursday that Zille had agreed the market could erect its tent on one side of the rugby field in Hof Street, while parking would be on the other side.
“We are going to give this our best shot. All our traders will be there. Come and join us at the premier’s residence on Saturday. We are chuffed.”
Zille’s office confirmed that the market would be held at Leeuwenhof every Saturday from 9am until 2pm until further notice.
The abrupt closure of the popular market shocked traders and patrons who supported this community-driven initiative.
“It’s not just the closure of a market, it’s about fading hope,” said an emotional Ozinsky on Thursday.
“This project was a project of hope; where communities could work above their own gain and replicate it in other areas that were historically disadvantaged.”
Ozinsky is one of the directors of the farm, a non-profit project that uses the Oranjezicht farm to promote urban farming.
In the statement, the directors said Heritage Western Cape had refused an application to erect tents in Homestead Park, a provincial heritage site with associations with slavery and the history of agriculture. The application was a requirement from the City of Cape Town.
Furthermore, it emerged that the city may not have followed due process in the recent rezoning of Homestead Park and that this needed to be resolved.
The market’s ability to trade has also been threatened by title deed restrictions that have recently come to light. A market carrying-capacity analysis and site plan for the site have been requested.
Ozinsky said the new requirements, which would require additional funding and significant input from several city departments, would take months to resolve.
“We also have little confidence that additional requirements will not surface, and that the goalposts will not be moved again.”
Ozinsky said this type of project depended on partnerships between the community and the authorities.
“If it can’t work in an affluent community that has access to resources, what will happen in other communities?”
Belinda Walker, the city’s mayoral committee member for community services and special projects, said the directors’ decision to can the market was “regrettable”.
The city supported the venture and had provided the old bowling green site and free water for irrigation. The city would do all it could to fast-track any application processes necessary for heritage approval.
But she added: “The market has now grown far beyond just a means of selling fresh produce from the garden, and the popularity of the market has put undue pressure on the historic fabric of a very significant heritage site in Oranjezicht.”
As a result, the city wanted certain aspects of the market monitored and managed to reduce the impact.
Walker recommended that the market activities under the Bedouin tent could be moved to Van Riebeeck Park, less than 5 minutes walk away. The permits to use this site were already drafted and awaiting an application from the city farm project.
Started two years ago, the city farm project has turned an under-used public green space into a thriving small-scale food farm. The aim was to create a sustainable urban farming model that could be replicated in other communities affected by food security and economic challenges.
The market is listed as one of Cape Town’s best and the farm was the winner of the 2014 Eat Out Zonnebloem Produce Awards.
But Ozinsky said on Thursday that Heritage Western Cape and the City of Cape Town had made her feel as if she was single-handedly destroying the city’s heritage. “We need to preserve heritage but not at all costs. The farm will be compromised because it was sustained by the income from the market.”
She said the farm had done all it could to meet the city’s requirements.
But Andrew Hall, chief executive of Heritage Western Cape, said the market had failed to comply with heritage legislation. As Homestead Park was a declared provincial heritage site, no structures could be erected on the site without heritage approval.
A tent erected without the necessary permit recently collapsed, damaging a 300-year-old wall. Tents had also destroyed the historic cobble surface.
Hall said Heritage had not turned down the application, but had asked that certain issues be addressed by the city farm project before a final decision was made.
Ward councillor Dave Bryant said he was a supporter of the farm and the market. “Due to its extreme popularity, let us all work together to find an amicable and workable solution to enable this market to continue. There are options available, so let us pursue this with renewed vigour.”
Ozinsky said directors had encountered “zero compromise” when engaging with the authorities. She said developers were “getting away with murder” while their requests to erect a tent was being denied. “We were told we were the victims of our own success.”
About 70 people would be directly affected by the market’s closure.
The traders who have already filled their orders for Saturday’s market are having to make other plans to sell their produce.
News of the market’s closure sparked an uproar on social media, with one commentator saying: “This is absolutely tragic. The most magical market in the city – and doing so much good for local urban farmers, not to mention the community it was building and the beautiful way it was connecting people to their food again. Devastated.”