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Ulema call for decisive action on BoKaap gentrification

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Support for the mass movement against gentrification is growing in Cape Town, with more members of the ulema speaking out against the Muslim community’s endangered heritage. Gentrification was placed firmly on the agenda at a special iftaar hosted by the Muslim Judicial Council in Rylands on Wednesday night in a bid to engage President Cyril Ramphosa and government ministers.

The debate around gentrification has intensified recently in the wake of daily protests by Bo-Kaap residents, mostly youth. These demonstrators have resorted to barricading the main entry points into Bo-Kaap and burning tyres for local government officials to address the issue. The main concern by Bo-Kaap residents is that the staggering property development in the area results in increased property value. This places a huge financial burden on the established community as their municipal rates and taxes continue to soar. Activists from the community say more families are being forced to sell their homes and move elsewhere, as they cannot afford to pay their council bills.

Addressing the audience at the iftaar, MJC second deputy president Shaykh Riad Fataar drove this message to the president.

“Gentrification efforts spearheaded by local government have seen the unilateral increase of rates and taxes. This, in turn, pushed and uprooted our people out of the inner cities to far-flung areas. In Bo – Kaap 4th generation inhabitants of their homes are forced to sell as they can no longer afford to live in the historic quarter,” he said to applause from the audience.

At the event, there was a public call by Shaykh Dawood Terblanche for Bo-Kaap to be declared a living heritage site, in order to stop property developers from usurping more land in the area. In his response, Ramaphosa said he fully supported this idea but that certain processes would need to be followed.
Bo-Kaap was listed in the Most Endangered Cultural Heritage Sites campaign, an annual initiative of the Heritage Monitoring Project (HMP) which identifies the top ten cultural heritage sites that face significant risk from natural or human forces in South Africa.

The historical area is considered one of the Cape’s principal tourist attractions as it contains some of the oldest Cape residential architecture still intact. But many new buildings and businesses are conflicting with the original residential character of the region and the cultural and religious traditions are slowly being eroded.

In a statement, the Claremont Main Road Mosque said it supports the commitment of the Bo Kaap community to not only protect the heritage of the Bo-Kaap, but also ensure the protection and advancement of affordable housing in the city centre.

“We stand in solidarity against predatory developers and complicit city authorities who care only to gentrify the Bo-Kaap and inner-city areas, crowding out black working class and lower middle class residents near the City centre,” said CMRM’s Imam Rashied Omar.

Omar asserted that the City of Cape Town authorities, along with private developers, have to datefailed to implement provisions of the 2015 Spatial Planning Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA), and specifically that of spatial justice. SPLUMA stipulates that the principle of spatial justice requires that past spatial and development imbalances be redressed through improved access to and utilisation of land. This legislation to promote spatial justice requires that persons who were previously excluded, especially the poor, must be included in land use planning policies and that access to land for disadvantaged communities, should be facilitated.

“In the inner city and urban areas, the primary driver of SPLUMA must be affordable and inclusionary housing, not gentrification or the property market. This is a struggle that CMRM is currently also engaging in, in the Claremont/Newlands/Rondebosch areas. The struggle of residents in Bo-Kaap is intimately connected to the broader struggle for spatial justice in the City of Cape Town. We recognise that SPLUMA is a minimum provision, and that we need more than just SPLUMA to effectively reverse acute spatial Apartheid that has worsened in this city after Apartheid,” explained Omar.

In addition to the demands for land by the youth of Bo-Kaap, CMRM has also called for:
•Urgent allocation and provision of affordable and social housing in and near the city centre
(including the Tafelberg school site);
• Urgent expropriation and restitution of land to former residents or their offspring who were
removed as a result of the Group Areas Act in other parts of the City;
• A moratorium and reversal of all decisions allowing for the sale and eviction of long-term
residents in Woodstock and Salt River;
• A moratorium on any plans to develop and build over the Philippi Horticultural Area.

“Bo-Kaap residents are at the forefront and the last remaining community that has managed to stave off the vicious banishment of black and working class people from this City. They need the support of all conscientious citizens who seek spatial and socio-economic justice in our City,” said Omar.

Meanwhile, Fataar also drew parallels with the contentious District Six project, which has reached a stalemate. Currently an advocacy group representing District Six land claimants is in the process of taking legal action against the State, provincial government and City of Cape Town, over its alleged failure to address restitution. Only 200 families of the 5 000 estimated claimants have returned to District Six Since 1994. According to Fataar,  24 years into democracy, the state’s restitution programme,  “merely scratched the surface”.

“Two presidents have attended and opened phases in District Six, however, the project is nowhere near completion. The City of Cape Town is not or refuses to release land as they fear that property prices in the CBD will decrease if the construction of GAP housing is allowed,” he explained.

“Mr President, we request of you to call for and convene a District Six Summit to address this issue.”
There was also reference made to the string of housing and land protests on the Cape Flats and the land invasions, which in most cases, have turned violent. Fataar said that while the MJC understandsthe frustrations and impatience of informal settlement residents and backyard dwellers, some of whom have been living in these conditions for more than 30 years, illegal land occupation has many consequences.

He also highlighted the underlying racial tensions that have come to the fore in light of the protests for housing. Fataar urged Ramaphosa to institute immediate solutions to these challenges whilst the country addresses land redistribution. VOC

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