President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2020 look into the development potential and the framework that would allow for military-owned land such as Youngsfield. Picture : Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)
President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2020 look into the development potential and the framework that would allow for military-owned land such as Youngsfield. Picture : Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Call for release of military-owned land for Cape Town housing

By Bulelwa Payi Time of article published Jun 14, 2021

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Pressure is mounting on the government to release three well-located military owned sites to address the rising housing crisis in the city.

Several civic organisations working on land and housing as well as community activists held a public meeting this week to discuss various ways in which the parcels of land could be released and their development potential.

The organisations included the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC), the Development Action Group (DAG), the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), and Ndifuna Ukwazi.

The meeting came a few months after a submission was made to the Presidency to urge the national government to release the Youngsfield, Wingfield and Ysterplaat land parcels.

President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2020 look into the development potential and the framework that would allow for military-owned land such as Youngsfield. Picture : Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Development Action Group (DAG)'s director Adi Kumari described the meeting as historic as it brought together various participants to map out the future of the significant land.

"Some intensive planning work has gone into mapping out the development future of this land. We have shared the plans with various government structures including the City of Cape Town and the Public Works minister who have expressed their support," Kumari said.

He said if the three parcels of land were to be developed this would help solve 30% of the housing backlog in Cape Town as these could yield between 40 000 and 70 000 houses.

Senior researcher at Ndifuna Ukwazi Michael Clark said legal mechanisms and a policy framework already existed that would allow for the release of the land to be developed for housing needs.

"All that is  required is a political will to implement these mechanisms effectively," Clark said.

He cited the Government Immovable Asset Management Act and the State Land Disposal Act as some of the mechanisms which he said could be invoked to release the parcels of land.

"In the extreme circumstances, expropriation of the land could be used," Clark said.

Cape Town is facing an acute housing crisis that disproportionately affected poor and working-class families, who were predominantly black and coloured, the activists said.

A large part of the Youngsfield parcel of land owned by the Department of Defence remains unused. Picture : Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

At least 67 000 affordable housing units for low-income families could be built on the three parcels of land, according to research by the organisations.

DAG's project officer Ryan Fester said the three sites were 10km away from the Cape Town central business district and to amenities.

They were also close to existing economic and industrial nodes, offering considerable employment opportunities and implying less money spent on travel – often a disproportionately heavy strain on poor households’ budgets.

"It is in this context that we urge the national government to release the  unused or under-used military land for the development of affordable housing," Fester said.

The sites were also close to waste water treatment plants, although the capacity of these would need to be considered, and the bulk infrastructure was also available along the periphery of the parcels of land.

The organisations called for an incremental development approach to target different types of housing units for different income groups.

Ndifuna Ukwazi director Mandisa Shandu said socio-economic fallout from Covid-19 exacerbated the housing crisis, leading to many people homeless.

Shandu said Cape Town's history of dispossession as a result of colonialism and apartheid had resulted in inequality and exclusionary nature of housing.

The average sale price for a home in Cape Town was currently the highest in South Africa and buying a home was unaffordable for the vast majority of residents.

In 2019, the city registered the 17th highest year-on-year property inflation in the world at 9.1% , higher than any other city in Africa.

According to 2011 census data, 75% of households in Cape Town earned less than R18 000 a month and most people could not afford to pay more than R3 000 a month in rent or R281 000 to own property.

In 2019, Statistics found that the median income of a South African was R13 546 per year, or just R1 129 per month.

This meant that rent and homeownership in well-located areas close to Cape Town’s economic nodes was out of reach for most middle-class South Africans, let alone the poor or working class.

In 2019, the Western Cape provincial housing backlog stood at over 600 000 families, of which 365 000 were in the City of Cape Town alone.

"If the state is serious about addressing the persistent urban spatial disparities that plague Cape Town and diminishing the disproportionate economic and health consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, all levels of government need to pro-actively unlock and release well-located public land for the development of affordable housing as a matter of urgency," the submission to the Presidency said.

If the land was to be developed, it would help create inclusive, integrated, vibrant and resilient neighbourhoods, the organisations said.

This, they said, would help create racially, economically, socially, culturally, and gender-inclusive communities.

They also called for transparency and accountability in public land use and management.

Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille also called for the release of the land for human settlements when she was mayor of Cape Town.

The minister's spokesperson Zara Nicholson said in January De Lille undertook a joint site visit with the ministers of Defence and Rural Development and Land Reform to see which parts and how much of the land was being utilised by the Department of Defence.

"Following the visit, the three ministers made recommendations to the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC)  on Land Reform regarding the potential use of the land.

"The IMC has agreed that the Minister of Defence must prepare a Cabinet memorandum to make recommendations to the Cabinet for consideration", Nicholson said.

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