/Western Cape MEC refuses to answer why the province bought land at inflated price

Western Cape MEC refuses to answer why the province bought land at inflated price

Western Cape MEC for human settlements Tertius Simmers refused to answer whether the province bought land for housing at the allegedly inflated price of R64.6 million because another parcel of land already owned by the City of Cape Town and earmarked for housing would turn Table View into “Khayelitsha by the sea”.

Simmers was supposed to be responding to a question by GOOD MPL Brett Herron during Thursday’s sitting of the Western Cape legislature.

Earlier on Thursday, Herron briefed members of the media about the land in question. He has also written to ask the Western Cape legislature’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) to investigate the matter.

According to Herron’s information, the province through its agent, the Housing Development Agency, bought a piece of land from a private owner for R64.6 million. The land is called Doornbach and is 17ha, of which 12 ha is suitable for development, according to Simmers.

“The province paid even more for the property – far more than double the market rate, according to what City of Cape Town officials had indicated,” Herron wrote to Scopa.

However, the City already owned a piece of land close to the burgeoning Dunoon informal settlement, which was as early as 2014 earmarked for housing projects.

The city-owned land constitutes 20ha and is situated on the corner of Potsdam and Blaauwberg Roads.

“This site adjoins a public transport interchange for taxis and Golden Arrow buses and is on two MyCiti bus trunk routes – one to the City and the other to Montague Gardens and Century City. In other words ideally suited for access to public transport and jobs,” Herron wrote to Scopa.

“The only possible explanation for this decision is that the land the province and City chose to purchase fell within the ‘black footprint’ of Dunoon – out of sight of middle-class and predominantly white Table View,” Herron told the media.

He also provided correspondence between city councillors which would suggest that it was “politically sensitive” to develop the land the City already owned.

“The cost of the land and how long it would take to develop were of no concern; nor taking concrete steps to develop a sustainable, spatially integrated city.”

He said in March 2018, when he was still a mayoral committee member at the City (Herron left the DA for good on November 1, 2018, with Patricia de Lille, and later formed the party GOOD), mayoral committee member Xanthea Limberg alerted him that the Potsdam land was still available for housing.

“We specifically advised, in relation to the growing pressures in Dunoon, that this was important for Dunoon given the threats of additional invasions on the few remaining school fields and impending challenges on removals,” he said.

In July 2018, local councillor Joy McCarthy contacted Herron to request that a lease agreement be fast-tracked for the Potsdam land in favour of one of her residents, specifically, “so that we can improve the appearance of Table View and the safety of its citizens”, Herron said.

“In the days following my resignation in November 2018, the same councillor McCarthy called a former staff member of mine to request housing projects be stopped in her area because they would make her suburb ‘look like Khayelitsha by the sea’.”

McCarthy is being investigated for this comment, IOL reported.

Herron’s original question to Simmers was whether he could confirm that the Doornbach-land was obtained by the province. Simmers affirmed the purchase and said the property was purchased at market value.

Herron then asked: “I wonder if the minister could explain why the province and the City avoided using the city-owned site on the corner of Potsdam and Blaauwberg Road, which is 20ha in size, free, because it is already owned by the public and in the City’s hands, and available, it wasn’t occupied, along two MyCiti bus routes, and with a public transport interchange on it.

“Why did the province and the City avoid using that site and choose to purchase a site at more than double the market value? Were they avoiding spatial integration of black South Africans into the Table View suburb because the local ward councillor doesn’t want to live in what she calls ‘Khayelitsha by the sea’?”

Slimmers’ only response was: “You were fast asleep during your council term. The City was investigating the purchase of the property adjacent to the informal settlement. And I want to repeat myself, I wonder whether you were asleep there by your caucus.”

In his follow-up, Herron asked: “I was definitely not asleep. In fact, deputy speaker, to the honourable minister, the City of Cape Town received an unsolicited offer to sell the Doornbach site to it and chose not to purchase the site because it was being offered at a price that was more than double its market value.

“And instead, we proposed that the people who were living on the Doornbach site in the rail reserve be moved and be housed on city-owned land at the corner of Potsdam and Blaauwberg Road. So my question stands: Why did the province and the City avoid using vacant city land, on the corner of Potsdam and Blaauwberg Road when it was available to them?”

“Under your watch!” DA MPLs interjected.

Simmers only answered with a fairly outdated Afrikaans idiom: “Die is ‘n person wat knolle verkoop as sitroene. (This is a person who is telling us nonsense.)”

Included in the information Herron provided to Scopa and the media is correspondence indicating that the City did indeed turn down buying the Doornbach-property because of its price.    

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