Yesterday, the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) Food and Farming Campaign released documentation that would allegedly reveal how the City of Cape Town wasted tax payer’s money and ignored studies for protection of the PHA and a management plan, which the City allegedly commissioned. In recent months campaigners have been calling on the broader community to support the initiative to protect the area and the Cape aquifer, which is considered a vital water source.
The PHP in an attempt to understand the reason for the City’s continued development in the area in light of public concern, investigated public documents with the use of the Public Access to Information Act (PAIA), which provides transparency of any government entity’s documents.
The investigation resulted in the discovery of a letter from MEC Anton Bredell’s office of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning that was addressed to the City.
The letter stated that no development in the PHA would be supported in terms of subdivision of agricultural land of Act 70 (1970); this act delegates all authority for agricultural land to the national minister of agriculture.
While the documents required three months to sift through, the letter in question, which is dated May 28, 2009, was in response to a request by the City for permission to change the designation of 500 hectares of PHA land from horticulture to urban development land.
“The development will change the agricultural character of the area and will lead to the development of a new residential node in an agricultural area, set a precedent for future development and lead to densification of the area,” as stated in an extract of the letter.
Spokesperson of the campaign, Nazeer Sonday, explained that the campaigners began participating in the public participation process in 2009.
Through this process organizes approached the Mayor Patricia de Lille’s Office in 2012, where they requested the Mayor to support the spatial plan in an attempt to protect the PHA and to assist with housing development within the area.
“This was a direct response to the announcement in 2009 of the development of 2000 houses, and we did a lot of voluntary work to address our issues that we thought was in our best interest, but also in the interest of the City,” Sonday said.
He said that despite the numerous attempts by campaigners, the City did not acknowledge their concerns.
“Whenever we thought that we achieved something, the city changed regulations. And city developments are going ahead – nothing we did made an impact.”
Sonday said that as a result of the City’s continued plans, campaigners decided upon using constitutional mechanisms to voice their concerns and, therefore, decided upon using PAIA in an attempt to access relevant documentation.
“We used PAIA to check out the MEC’s documents, to see what are they are using to make their decisions and in the process we discovered a treasure trove of documents, including interdepartmental correspondence, and letters from developers and lawyers, who are making extravagant demands on decision makers, and how decision makers have abused their office to push these developers through,” he explained.
PHA campaigners are scheduled to meet the public protector in June.
“I have no doubt that if any of these developments go through, we will not have a city bread basket in two years…We are saying that the public protector must investigate this matter,” Sonday continued.