Justice Sachs and MCA must do more than defend their vested interest

Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

David and Goliath is a useful but somewhat cliched metaphor used for too many arguments these days. Yet in a recently published opinion piece, “The secret weapon of Maiden’s Cove for all” by Justice Sachs one could not help but think that one was actually going up against a Goliath of a man. Not that there is an intention to win an argument, for one does not disagree with him, but Justice Sachs is a colossal of justice and a giant of self sacrifice in the history of our country.

How could one possibly go up against a man who has sacrificed so much for his country? A man who has served his country with exception and whose mind has assisted in articulating the Constitution of our Republic. As a founding father of our constitutional democracy, Albie Sachs has put justice to practice through the progressive judgements that he has written and helped close the gap between the law and the realities of our people’s lives.

This response to his article is therefore not so much of a disagreement but is a rather nuanced view to indicate that many people living in Cape Town have been alienated from the issue of the development of Maidens Cove. Too many examples exist where property owners of the Atlantic seaboard, Clifton and Camps Bay in particular, have been left wanting in their assistance of other communities, especially working class ones, when these communities themselves had to fight literally for their lives.

According to non-profit organisation, Reclaim the City, an entity by the name of The Woodstock Hub purchased the homes of a number of Bromwell street tenants in Woodstock in October 2013 and then worked on securing eviction orders for these tenants. The Woodstock Hub was successful and the tenants faced eviction on 9 and 10 September 2016.

According to Groundup, there were over 23 families facing eviction and that Bromwell street residents had fallen victim to the practices of “predatory developers”. There should be no doubt that this is all part of the City of Cape Town’s gentrification plans for all suburbs surrounding the CBD. Yet even more so, there was a “heritage” aspect here which was very similar to the one outlined by Justice Sachs in his piece. Generations had been living and born in these working class streets of Bromwell. Yet not a peep of support from the likes of the Clifton Bungalow Owners Association (CBOA) or even Maiden’s Cove for All (MCA).

In September 2017, the residents of Bromwell street, with the assistance of Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Centre, brought an application in the Western Cape High Court. The matter did not go without controversy. Acting Judge Leslie Weinkove referred to one of the tenants as “just a kitchen assistant” thereby implying that she was ignorant or could not understand anything about the City’s budget. 

The acting judge went on to question why poor and working class families needed to live in close proximity to amenities and school. “What’s the point of being near a school? What’s the point of them being near transport? Where are they going to go?”, asked the judge according to a News24 report. To him that these families were being exiled and dumped in Wolwerivier on the outskirts of the City was justified. 

One wonders if this is the real reason of opposing the development of Maiden’s Cove by MCA, despite the mention of the people from Bokaap and the Cape Flats: to keep the poor and working class out of Maiden’s Cove because there will be a greater influx of people during and after the development. 

Even more so, what was sad was that no one, especially with the clout and resources of the CBOA or MCA, came to the assistance of these residents except Ndifuna Ukwazi. What stopped MCA from applying to be “amicus curiae” in the matter? What stopped Justice Sachs from writing a piece in their defence? What we should have heard was the condemnation of this acting judge by an experienced jurist and activist for social justice such as Albie Sachs. There was only silence.

This year the plight of the community of Bokaap was also highlighted. If ever there is a heritage community in the CBD and surrounds area then it is that of the Bokaap where the slaves under colonialism settled and made their home. For centuries, this community held onto its heritage as it continues to this day in the face of the disease of City-sponsored gentrification spreading to this community. 

The South African Human Rights Commission stepped in while the struggle of the people of the Bokaap has also seen the hallowed walls of our courts. Applications were brought and argued but again this working class community who happen to find themselves surrounded by the opulence of the CBD and Green Point were left to fend for themselves; against the string of lawyers brought by the developers. 

Not a word of support for these Bokaap residents fighting for their heritage and not a step forward by the resourceful CBOA or MCA to again apply to be “amicus curiae” in the Bokaap matter. Bokaap residents are good enough to be used in an argument to “protect” Maiden’s Cove but not for their own areas.

The last example of ‘heritage under threat’ has been the long stand-off between the City of Cape Town and the klopse with their tweede nuwe jaar route. While not a residential matter but one that comes up annually, there have been attempts to declare the route from District Six into Bokaap, mainly along Adderley and then Wale streets as a heritage route. This will prevent the City from banning the annual klopse carnival from the streets in the CBD which they and businesses in the CBD have attempted to do for so many years. One cannot think of something more culturally unique to the City of Cape Town and yet this has been under threat for years. Not a word in support from communities such as Green Point, Sea Point, Clifton and Camps Bay.

Yet despite these three examples where heritage was blatantly a victim, it must not be the only concern. Anyone who is a proponent of social justice will and must demand the spatial integration of our city so as to break down the dividing walls of apartheid which kept our people out and divided through walls of class and race.

Take for example, the long outstanding matter of the Tafelberg property in Sea Point. Again, had the people of Sea Point and surrounding areas advocated the deconstruction of apartheid spatial planning they would have been the first to support moves to convert the property into social housing. In fact, the skyrocketing property prices experienced in the CBD and the surrounding areas such as Camps Bay have seen more and more, even middle class, people pack up and move out because they simply cannot afford it. The CBD has become as elitist as the Atlantic Seaboard has. Yet no one from these areas has really made a fuss about the notion of keeping middle class and working class people out. 

As a result, apartheid continues to be replicated in the fact that the wealthy Atlantic seaboard home owners continue to benefit immensely from the sea views and 24/7 access to the sea. While those living on the Cape Flats and in our townships must pay exorbitant taxi fees and spend hours travelling to it; that’s if they are not exiled to places such as Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier.  

Instead, we should be asking why the working class should reject the Maiden Cove’s development if there remains the possibility of job creation for them. We should ask why the working class should reject the possibility of them enjoying housing in close proximity to such areas near the sea. Why must the rest of us support MCA?

The ANC in Cape Town has come out in support of defending Maiden’s Cove but we cannot ignore these questions nor can we ignore MCA and BCOA’s blatant inconsistency.

Given their unwillingness to assist other communities in their fight against developers despite their resources, it could only be viewed that at heart of protecting the coast line of the Atlantic seaboard these property owners are only interested in protecting their privileges vested to them by apartheid South Africa. It is sad that Justice Sachs thinks this is a noble cause, alas he is a vested property owner of that privileged class.

The home owners of the Altantic seaboard, with some of the most expensive properties on the continent is a stark reminder of the great inequality that continues to exist in our city and country. Yet those who have access to resources to defend the weaker have not utter a word in order to do so. We cal on compatriots, majority white to join us in fighting for equality of services from Khayalitsha to Clinton. The poor must remain our central focus for a better quality of life. 

While the Atlantic seaboard owners will simply lose their view, Bromwell tenants loss their homes of generations and were dumped in Wolwerivier. 

To paraphrase Martin Niemöller, ‘First they came for Bromwell, and we did not speak up for we did not live in Woodstock.Then they came for Bokaap, and we did not speak up for we did not live in Bokaap. Then they came for the Klopse, and we did not speak up for that was not our culture. Then they came for Tafelberg, and we did not speak up for we lived in Sea Point. And then they came for Maiden’s Cove, and there was no one left to speak up for us.’

Faiez Jacobs is the Provincial Secretary of the ANC in the Western Cape and Xolani Sotashe is the Regional Chairperson of the ANC in the Cape Metro Region