Housing activists occupy government buildings to demand social housing

An occupation of two buildings owned by the Western Cape provincial government is currently under way in Cape Town. Reclaim the City, a housing pressure group, occupied the buildings over the weekend to demand affordable housing in the Cape Town inner city.

The occupation follows the decision made by the Democratic Alliance-led provincial government last week Wednesday to sell Tafelberg school in Sea Point privately instead of developing the property for social housing.

In a statement, Reclaim the City says that it occupied the Helen Bowden Nurses Home in Greenpoint, near the V&A Waterfront shopping mall, and Woodstock Hospital to ensure the Western Cape keeps its promise to develop the two properties into social housing.

The provincial government said that the two buildings, which are empty, would be used to build social housing after it decided to sell Tafelberg.

Reclaim the City has now made a list of ten demands in response.
The first is that the decision to sell Tafelberg must be reversed so social housing can be developed there, and the second is that the provincial government must provide timelines for social housing at Helen Bowden and the Woodstock Hospital.

“Like the Tafelberg site, both properties are well located and must be used for affordable housing. When deciding to go ahead with the sale of Tafelberg, Province made vague affordable housing commitments on Helen Bowden and Woodstock Hospital. We believe that these are not real commitments,” Reclaim the City said.

On Wednesday last week, the Western Cape cabinet, which is led by Premier Helen Zille, made a unanimous decision to sell Tafelberg to Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School. The school says that it needed a new building in which to teach its increasing student population. Reclaim the City called the decision made by the cabinet “indefensible”, saying it excludes poor people from the inner city.

“With this decision cabinet showed a deep contempt for the needs of poor and working class black and coloured people – who were forcefully removed and excluded from our city during apartheid and continue to be isolated in townships, evicted from inner-city homes, sent to relocation camps and denied affordable housing in areas well-located areas,” Reclaim the City said.

The South African Police Service arrived outside Helen Bowden late on Sunday night, but no one has been removed from the buildings as yet. Negotiations are currently under way between SAPS and protesters at Helen Bowden.

Bonginkosi Nadikizela, the interim Western Cape DA leader, told the Mail & Guardian last week that the decision to sell Tafelberg was made to increase funds for the provincial government. Madikizela said the government is currently facing a shortfall.

Many of the protesters occupying the buildings live in areas that are facing housing troubles in Cape Town, including Khayelitsha, Blikkiesdorp, Sea Point, Woodstock, and the Marikana informal settlement in Philippi East township.

A protester inside the Woodstock Hospital told GroundUp that she is protesting to “reclaim this space”.

“I live in hell – an informal settlement in Khayelitsha. We are here to reclaim this space, because if the government doesn’t want to build housing for our people, we need to take it,” Nthombi Sambu said.



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