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Roleplayers unpack practical next steps for the reconstruction of District 6

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Restitution beneficiaries are encouraged to take ownership of their socio-economic opportunities and citizenry in the new District Six
Hundreds of restitution claimants were given a strong dose of optimism and ownership as they were briefed on the practical roadmap for their return to District Six by their public and City representatives and other key roleplayers this weekend. The claimants gathered for a public meeting at the Castle of Good Hope on Saturday 1 February.

Among the key takeouts of the meeting were that:
• the project had spurred an unprecedented level of positive political will and friendly cooperation between all three tiers of government (national, provincial and local) and that various government departments within each level of government were now working together to finalise the redevelopment of District Six;
• District Six would be developed not just as a set of houses, but as a thriving neighbourhood where a strong local economy, an eclectic and active community, and cultural life would be promoted. Before the 1960s, District Six had a thriving theatre and entrepreneurial culture;
• the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has costed the project at R1.5b and it has undertaken to source this funding;
• the public participation process, which would include public workshops and opportunities to comment on the proposed plans for the area, would kick off in February. All community stakeholders from all sides of the political spectrum are invited to participate;
• the claimants had won a structural interdict against the national government, compelling it to report back to the Land Claims Court on the progress of the project, every three months until its completion, which means the court will have the opportunity to ensure that nothing derails the project;
• the City of Cape Town has 42ha of land available for redevelopment, and more parcels, owned by other spheres of government, may be added in due course;
• Hanover Street is earmarked as a business corridor, but residents are encouraged to run small businesses from their homes as well to generate income and uplift the local economy;
• Citizens are encouraged to get excited, involved and creative in their own visions for D6.

At the meeting, the claimants were addressed on their current legal standing and an ambitious vision for District Six by their public representatives, their attorneys, and representatives of the City of Cape Town.

Mayoral Committee Member for Spatial Planning and Environment in the City of Cape Town Alderman Marian Nieuwoudt, assured the claimants that all interested and affected parties would be invited to participate in the finalisation of a holistic and beneficial plan for District Six, to ensure transparency and public buy-in. Public participation processes are kicking off in February.

Nieuwoudt explained that the City was not the main state player in the process, but would be working closely with the national and provincial governments to redevelop the area. The City’s role would be to ensure that national government’s court-mandated plan for housing in District Six was implemented within a sensible, transparent and holistic plan for the area, that would include spatial and environmental elements such as roads, water, sewerage, public and green spaces, densification and environmental sustainability, as well as with economic and social empowerment strategies in mind.

Nieuwoudt said she was extremely impressed with national ministers such as Thoko Didiza of Land Reform and Patricia de Lille at Public Works for their friendly cooperation on the District Six project thus far.

“I am an experienced councillor and in all my years I have never encountered such as positive attitude from two national ministers (on a joint project such as this one).

Ministers Didiza and De Lille want you back in District Six.”

She also added that Mayor of Cape Town Dan Plato was “absolutely committed” to seeing the project through to successful completion.

Nieuwoudt implored the claimants to be ambitious about their future in District Six, but also realistic about land use in this sloped area of the city.

“My wish is that District Six becomes the icon of Cape Town. District Six is now an important part of the City of Cape Town – it will no longer lag behind. We need to be ambitious in our vision for the area and take ownership of our opportunities. Do not limit your minds to the 42ha set aside for development, think bigger.”

“With this realisation comes a few non-negotiables: densification is unavoidable, because more of you are coming back than were forced out, because you have children and grandchildren who must also benefit, and the typography of the land is tricky. The land is steep, water-rich and there are many natural springs that take up space, that we must not disturb. We will develop the area in an environmentally sustainable and respectful fashion, and therefore we have to be very careful about where we build and we must make maximum use of the patches of land that do lend itself to development.”

Nieuwoudt was quick to add that no-one would be allowed to put economic greed ahead of the integrity of the natural environment, and therefore natural springs would not be plugged or redirected to make space for buildings or parking lots. Her team was fully committed to “water-wise design”.

Another “non-negotiable” is that the resettled residents needed to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset to lift themselves out of poverty. “Our ambition should be to see our new homes, each with a garage and a second storey, as an economic opportunity. You can make your own bed and breakfast, your own Airbnb, a music school or food business. Your homework is to think about what your interests and talents are and how you are going to use it to generate an income and uplift the community. Think now about the permits you need to apply for to run businesses from your homes and in the neighbourhood.”

Nieuwoudt said the beneficiaries had to accept that their units could be inherited by their children, but could not be sold off immediately, and therefore they needed to embrace their return with a spirit of community and entrepreneurialism in mind.

City councillor Brandon Golding, who is responsible for Ward 77 which encompasses District Six, reminded the claimants that he did not work for the city as an appointed official. He was an elected public representative, and therefore would be working to see that the will of the people was respected when it came to the redevelopment of District Six. His ambition was to see a holistically successful, happy and culturally eclectic neighbourhood, with play parks and sports facilities for children, ECD centres, tourism and interactive heritage initiatives. He encouraged his constituents to get involved.

District 6 Working Committee (D6WC) chairman Shahied Ajam, representing the claimants, implored the public and all interested and affected parties to get involved, instead of being armchair critics.

“Think of what you can do. Start a Saturday market, so that the place can come alive!”

Ajam said public workshops related to the District Six restitution process were being held every Tuesday at 10am in the Castle of Good Hope, and the public was invited.

The claimants’ pro bono lead attorney from Norton Rose Fulbright, Nicki van’t Riet, said the “structural interdict” won by the claimants was a powerful tool to ensure judicial oversight over the process until completion. There was no oversight or accountability mechanism with previous development proposals so they went nowhere. “The state now has to report to the court every three months until redevelopment is complete. Redevelopment means when the last verified claim is finalised. We can turn to the courts again should it become necessary.

Van’t Riet said the state presented the court with a reasonable and adequate plan. “Reasonableness does not mean ‘perfect for everyone’; it means a plan that is viable and workable within available resources. Whilst the costing of the funding has been set out, the State has failed to set out the source of the funding. Instead of litigating on this issue at this stage, the State has been given an opportunity to supplement the plan in this respect.

Van‘t Riet said that the State had allocated 42ha, of which 27.56ha was available for housing. The rest made provision for parks, public spaces, bulk infrastructure, and phases one to three. The initial focus would be on 956 units, for the claimants who applied in 1998, but makes future provision for a total of 6000 units to be developed over time.

“75% of dwellings will be allocated based on order of lodgment of claims before 1998, and the rest will be allocated based on special needs, such as to the aged, indigent or those with special health needs. To facilitate a fair and transparent process, independent service providers would be appointed to audit the veracity of the claimants and their prioritisation on the list.”

The D6WC will be hosting a high-level commemoration of the forced removals at the castle on 15 February. Various state officials, dignitaries and claimants are expected to attend. Furthermore, the public will be kept abreast of all public participation opportunities through the media and City communications channels.


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