The Phillipi Horticultural Area and the fight against gratuitous development


LAST week in Cape Town’s Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA), members of civil society, academia, activists, faith leaders, planners, health and heritage practitioners, public health, environmentalists and politicians presented over four days at the PHA Summit and Declaration 2017. The summit was called to share all the elements of eight years’ struggle to protect the PHA for farming, from unnecessary, irrational and gratuitous development on prime agricultural land. The current status of the PHA is that 1,300 – almost half – of its 3,000 hectares have been signed off by the Western Cape Government for developments and mining. 
The summit culminated in a declaration which we will use to lobby parliament. Signed by 15 experts in their fields, it is the empirical basis for our claim to the irreplaceable value of the Philippi Horticultural Area both as farmland, and guardian of the Cape Flats Aquifer. Their testimony is the foundation for our court challenge of nine administrative decisions made so far by the City of Cape Town and WC Province that will ultimately destroy the PHA.
The PHA Campaign has travelled a remarkable journey. In the eight years of “due process”, during which developments – turned down by city council and national ministry of agriculture alike – have been approved by local government anyway. Fascinating, and kind interactions with academics and experts across fields from food security to geo-hydrology, urban planning to human rights, environment to agricultural and land reform, allowed us to craft a bullet proof high court review now filed to be heard next year. We also knocked on many, still unopened, doors. Along the way, we uncovered many a smoking gun: remarkable and astounding to us at the time; yet apparently uninteresting to a public who cannot process the idea that local government can be just as illegal, irrational and self-serving as their national counterparts. Time, and a couple of days in court, will tell. Justice is on our side.
We are proud to have drawn together presenters who stated in the declaration that, “Our natural resources should be treated with reverence, and be used sparingly. It is a heresy of our time that economic growth will solve everything. We suffer a spiritual malaise from urbanisation, and consumerism has transgressed the balance in life. We have a deep concern that making decisions based only on profitability and not the wellbeing of the planet – of which we are the stewards – is bringing about the extinction of creation. We call this ecocide.”

Future, projected and increased climate change shocks require a conscious, diverse and responsive food system with inherent resilience.The unfarmed land of the PHA is identified as crucial to Western Cape meeting the 2030 national targets of land reform, and a concerted plan to reach this potential poses an exciting solution to investment in farming in the PHA. Agrarian reform is crucial to the sustainability of farming, and a 2ha model is being developed in the PHA to provide an empirical base for the small scale farming contribution.

A Managed Aquifer Recharge program – adequately funded and implemented – may provide up to 30% of Cape Town’s potable water needs. Currently, it could provide perhaps 5%. The capacity for this extraction does not yet exist. Extraction of water, in the absence of adequate data to inform this, poses a grave risk to the aquifer’s longevity.

Paving over or silica sand mining the PHA, will mean destroying the recharge function and integrity of the aquifer.The present and future land use is quintessentially the heritage significance of the whole Philippi Horticultural Area. The historical agricultural context of the PHA is of significant heritage value and that this resides in the land itself.

Our responsibility as citizens of Cape Town and South Africa is to protect and care for the natural resources that are essential for our wellbeing, and that this is of far greater importance and consequence than allowing the interests of finances to destroy our life support systems. In this era, it is a non-negotiable fact that carbon and water sinks must be preserved.

Sustainable development of land requires the integration of social, economic and environmental considerations in both forward planning and ongoing land use management to ensure that development of land serves present and future generations. The urban edge cannot be amended as this boundary cannot be seen as artificial. This barrier should be a permanent structure to protect city assets and promote densification.

Humans – and indeed all life – are totally dependent on clean air and water, unpolluted soil and oceans, and a reliable climate. These provide our life support systems, and without them, we cannot survive. Malnutrition is a direct result of lack of access to vegetables and affordable, nutritious food. Paving over the PHA will infringe on people’s right to access healthy, fresh and affordable food.

We live on a planet that is in a crisis because we are not paying attention to the commons. The flows of ecology are critical. It affects water, it affects soil, it affects birds and it affects people — regardless of property ownership lines. The health of the soil affects the life of the people.
It is not sustainable development to replace unique and irreplaceable farmland with urban development. This is in absolute contrast with city greening projects that are being celebrated as world leaders elsewhere.”
In turn, presenters also declared that:
“Provincial and city development approvals to delete prime farmland are irrational and ill considered. The threat to the livelihood of all farmers, the employment of women and youth, and deleting future job opportunities in the tens of thousands, is unacceptable. Decisions made to the detriment of many to the benefit of a few qualifies as corruption. To allow the proposed “developments” to take place in the Philippi Horticultural Area would be grossly irresponsible to current and future generations. We, the citizens of Cape Town, must do all we can to preserve our heritage. The value of the commons belongs to us all.”

Thus, the Western Cape Premier, the Provincial MECs of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Heritage must initiate the long term protection of the Philippi Horticulture Area from urban development, mining or ANY development inconsistent with horticulture. In addition, the governors of the Western Cape must execute their constitutional oath of office to make decisions in the public interest and provide genuine and meaningful public participation mechanisms, as well as observe with care the principle of co-operative governance. The governors must further adopt the recommendations of 5 existing PHA studies to protect and preserve the Philippi Horticultural Area and declare the Philippi Horticultural Area – which has special and significant heritage attributes – a Grade II provincial heritage resource. 

Further details of this struggle are can be obtained from and here (

Nazeer Sonday is the chairperson of the PHA Food & Farming Campaign