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’Stop the auction of public land,' City told

There is a dire need for affordable housing and rentals in Cape Town. picture: Armand Hough

There is a dire need for affordable housing and rentals in Cape Town. picture: Armand Hough

Published Feb 6, 2022

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THE City of Cape Town plans to forge ahead with the auction of public land and property despite an urgent call for its suspension as there is a dire need for social housing.

As many as 18 properties, including three buildings and 15 parcels of land across the city, are set to be sold to the highest bidder on Thursday.

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The planned auction has been slammed by the ANC caucus in the provincial legislature, other political parties and housing activists as "uncoordinated and an ’’ad hoc" approach to public land management. It also represents a failure to transform spatial apartheid, they said.

The ANC wants the entire auction to be suspended and the potential use of each piece of land to be considered for socio-economic development.

The national Minister of Human Settlements Mmamoloko Kubayi has stepped in and is seeking an urgent meeting with mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis on the matter.

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One of the plots for sale in Claremont has been used by the Primrose Sports Club since the early 1960s. The club objected to the City’s plans, citing a lack of proper public participation and public engagement.

The ANC in the Western Cape says this piece of land close to amenties in Claremont could be used for social housing and should not be auctioned. Picture Ayanda Ndamane African News AGency(ANA)

Kubayi requested the withdrawal of the City’s decision to auction certain pieces of land and properties.

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Spokesperson for the Minister Hlengiwe Nhlabathi-Mokota said the Housing Development Agency (HDA) conducted an analysis of the land and properties and found that three of the properties were suitable for government-subsidised affordable housing and rentals.

"The intention is to make the land parcels in Mitchells Plain, Newlands and Claremont available to the provincial department of human settlements," Nhlabathi-Mokota said.

The land parcels are scattered across the city and include one in Claremont, two in the Atlantis Industrial area, four in Blue Downs, five in Mitchells Plain and two in Durbanville.

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The City indicated that it would only put on hold the auction of two of the pieces of land, one in Eastridge, Mitchells Plain, and the other in Claremont for now.

The City said this was at the request of Kubayi but it also wanted the HDA to lodge a written interest in the Eastridge site before Thursday.

In a statement issued shortly after Hill-Lewis had engagements with the Primrose Sports Club, the City said the Claremont site was not viable for state-subsidised housing.

This was after the mayor had, according to the Sports Club, told them that the City had a responsibility to secure housing stock.

ANC member of the Provincial Legislature (MPL) Cameron Dugmore said the Mitchells Plain site, measuring 13 000 square metres, should have never been placed on auction in the first place.

"We are concerned at the possibility of developers purchasing land for a song, getting it rezoned and making massive profits as the value increases," said Dugmore.

Cameron said he would also seek an urgent meeting with Hilton-Lewis as he believed that the Claremont site and several others could be used for social housing.

The ANC launched a campaign for transparent land audits, land identification and release across all municipalities in the Western Cape.

Some of the public land is owned by national government, provincial government, municipalities and State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).

"It's time to open up the land issue and we don't want a chaotic, populous approach where anyone can take a piece of land. But if the land is not being released the anger and frustration among those who don't have will build. We need to resolve it," said Dugmore.

ANC MPL Andile Lili said the party would block any sale of land and described the planned auction as an indication of "an insensitive City".

"There is a serious shortage of houses in the city. The anger of our people is growing every day. If it means that we must mobilise the people to stop the sale of the land through whatever means including pickets, then we will do so," said Lili.

Dugmore said the City had sold more than 318 properties from 2015 until March 2021.

Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU), an activist organisation fighting for access to well-located land and affordable housing, said the City failed to appreciate that public land was an invaluable public resource that should serve a social and redistributive function.

"The sales of these properties are indicative of an uncoordinated, ad hoc approach to public land management. The City’s disposal of publicly-owned land for a short-term cash injection is astounding in the context of a profound affordable housing and segregation crisis," said NU lawyer, Jonty Cogger.

Ndifuna Ukwazi also supported the call for an accessible public land audit as it would “dispel the myth" that the state did not hold significant pieces of well-located public land that could be used for affordable housing.

"It will allow members of the public to hold the state accountable for the failure to advance the constitutional rights to housing and equitable access to land," added Cogger.

He said the City's about-turn on the piece of land in Eastridge, Mitchells Plain, was also indicative of the City's "failure to proactively manage its land and to take its obligation to transform spatial apartheid seriously enough."

"The fact that one piece of land may be suitable for affordable housing means that countless other parcels disposed of by the City each year have been lost to the private market. The City needs to prioritise the release of well-located public land for social housing and not just land on the periphery, far from jobs, good schools, and other social amenities", Cogger said.

GOOD party also said there was "no pressing need" to raise funding through the disposal of public property since the City’s balance sheet showed R18 billion invested in cash and a healthy net asset value of about R58 billion.

The party said the City's priority should be on housing and integration where the sites were suitable.

"The Claremont land, for example, could be made available for a social housing project. Some of the properties, like the houses, could be used for social services purposes, such as transitional housing for homeless people living on the street or safe spaces for gender-based violence victims. That would be a public good even if it means it is not needed for a municipal purpose," said councillor Suzette Little.

She said her party also supported a moratorium on the sale of public land in order to conduct a proper audit of what was available to provide housing and public services or to meet other community needs.

"The current process used by the City of Cape Town is flawed because its assessment of need is based on an internal enquiry to each line department asking whether they need the land or the property for their purposes.  But this process does not consider the community’s need or a potential future need. Selling off public assets is selling off our collective assets. They belong to us all, not the government of the day," Little said.

The Primrose Football Club called for an engagement with Hill-Lewis on February 3 to express objections to the sale of the Claremont land which its members used since the early 1960s.

The Ommedraai Running Club's 500 members also used the sports field on a weekly basis.

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