Rondebosch Common: An occupation not a land invasion

Jared Sacks
26 January 2012

Jared Sacks says City of Cape Town wrong to try and ban the protest

City of Cape Town trying to ban poor people from the commons

For months, communities from all over Cape Town have been planning a three day People's Land, Housing and Jobs Summit at one of Cape Town's huge open pieces of unused land. This summit is set to take place this weekend from the 27th until the 29th of January.

Yet, even though community representatives sent in their notification of intention to gather on the Rondebosch Common and have complied with all legislation governing the right to march, the City of Cape Town is attempting to ban the march and summit altogether.

Claiming the commons

This Common is a symbolic public space with a notable history. The Khoisan indigenous people who lived in the area used the entire Cape Peninsula as a common - an inclusive space not owned by anyone and held in trust by local inhabitants to be used for everyone's benefit symbiotically with nature. Khoisan culture understood the importance of sharing, using only what one needs, and protecting one's environment.

After the space was colonised, it was first used as a military camp and sections of the Common later became a vibrant racially integrated community much like the famed District Six. As more and more of the Common was enclosed for housing and other types of developments, about 40 hectares remained. However, it was no longer an authentic commons as people of colour were removed to comply with the Group Areas Act and were not able to return until after 1994.

The Rondebosch Common, therefore, became a pseudo-commons. It was open and accessible to the wealthy and mostly white population of the area but unapproachable for the black poor who remained in distant and overcrowded townships.

For this reason locating the the summit at Rondebosch Common has special symbolic significance for many of the participants. It represents an immediate assertion of equality within one of the most unequal cities in the world. By taking back the commons, thousands of poor and working-class people, together with many middle-class allies, are saying that they no longer want to live in a city which remains segregated under the shadow of Hoerikwaggo (more recently known as Table Mountain), where some live in huge mansions while others live in 10x10 meter shacks, where some are paid millions and others spend their whole lives underemployed.

If the commons is for all in name only, then it does not exist. Thus, the Take Back the Commons movement aims to liberate public spaces such as Rondebosch Common. It must be for all to use and enjoy, not only for a privileged few to hoard.

The true purpose of the summit

Despite scaremongering by opponents of the summit, the 'occupation' of Rondebosch Common is not a land invasion by poor and homeless communities set on destroying endangered fynbos. No one is currently planning to build informal dwellings on the Common (although I do believe such an action would be justified given the obscene segregation of Cape Town's neighbourhoods).

Instead, participants are planing on gathering together for a number of general assemblies, group teach-ins, and self-led discussion groups whose aims are to eventually plan further actions with participating communities. All this will be done with the utmost respect to the environmental conditions on the Common.

The goal is to leave the summit with a better idea of how to achieve the redistribution of land, the building of decent and well located housing, the creation of full employment, and the ending of oppression in our society. Through a three day liberation of the Common, we will make a collective effort to build a space where all are welcome and treated with dignity and respect; a space that mirrors our aspirations for a new world.

A politician and the commons

When Patricia de Lille was beginning her political career after years as a trade union leader, she supported the famous Freedom Park land occupation in Mitchell's Plain. Since that time, de Lille has migrated from the Pan-Africanist Congress to forming the Independent Democrats and now on to the Democratic Alliance.

Ironically, since she assumed the mayorship of the City of Cape Town, she has become just as disparaging of land occupations as her predecessors aggressively attacking all informal forms of land redistribution and house building.

This week, however, de Lille finally fell fully in line with the DA's authoritarian right-wing agenda: the criminalisation of the poor. It was reported in the People's Post that de Lille supported City official's attempts to ban the People's Land, Housing and Jobs Summit from taking place on Rondebosch Common despite repeated invitations by organisers to attend the event.

Patricia de Lille's reasoning was that this public park was the 'private property' of the City. It was also madeknown that at a City Council meeting, it was resolved that if the symbolic occupation went ahead the City would authorise police to clamp down hard on the occupation of the Rondebosch Commons and that warrants would be issued for the arrest of the event organisers.

Illegal banning of gatherings

Based on Section 17 of our Constitution and the Regulation of Gatherings Act, we can conclude that the City is attempting to illegally ban the three day event on public land. Their excuse was based on technicalities: organisers arrived "between 15 and 30 minutes late" for their meeting with officials and organisers insisted on having all nine elected representatives present in the meeting as opposed to four.

However, legislation clearly states that it is the responsibility of the City, not the organisers, to ensure that such a meeting takes place. Furthermore, the Gatherings Act says that the gathering cannot be prohibited except as a measure of last resort and only after such a meeting has taken place between the government and the organisers.

Even though there have been repeated requests to reschedule the meeting, the City has refused to engage with the organisers. As such, the City of Cape Town is acting in contravention of South African legislation.

Resisting the commons

What is so threatening about communities' plan to Take Back the Commons on the 27th of January? Why would the City undermine the law, authorise draconian measures against protesters and even issue warrants against organisers?

It seems most likely that the real reason de Lille has weighed into the fray to prevent the march and summit from taking place is that it threatens to put the real issues facing poor communities at the forefront of the socio-political debate.

For the first time in decades, the Occupy Wall Street movement is placing inequality and class at the centre of American politics. Here in South Africa the rebellion of the poor has been raging for the last decade within in townships and shack settlements. Yet, for the first time since 1994, the take over of Rondebosch Common threatens to put ongoing racial segregation, the urgent need for land redistribution and the popular opposition to the privatisation of public space right smack in the face of Cape Town's politics.

This is threatening for any DA or ANC politician as it means that they can no longer expect the poor to merely tolerate the politicised delivery of substandard public services within their ghettos. It means that the poor are demanding the radical restructuring of Cape Town's socio-political landscape and taking their demand into the space of elite power.

If I was a politician, I too would also be afraid of what might happen when taking Rondebosch Common morphs into taking back all the commons.

Jared Sacks works at the Children of South Africa and is an activist with the Occupy Cape Town movement. He writes only in his personal capacity. A version of this article first appeared in the Cape Argus.

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter


Subscribe to newsletters
News feeds

Share this article

Facebook Facebook Google Google Laaik.it Laaik.it
Yahoo! Yahoo! Digg Digg del.icio.us del.icio.us



If you come across comments that are injurious, defamatory, profane, off-topic or inappropriate; contain personal attacks or racist, sexist, homophobic, or other slurs, please report them and they will be removed.
 responses to this article

video link

This video is a testimonial of participants in the meetings for the occoming summit on the 27 at the Rondebosch Common.

by pablo on January 26 2012, 18:59
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

Rondebosch Common
If the quote from the Peoples post (de Lille supported the ban ...)is correct, and de Lille on 567 Cape Talk said that she was not averse to the summit, one should ask de Lille whether she is or not a public liar.

The land issue is an issue with . .more

by strooth on January 26 2012, 20:23
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

Take back the common or Occupation of the Land
It is obvious where the writers sympathy's lie and like most subjective commentaries one would need an unbiased reporting of the facts around the case to make a judgement. It remains however true that no one in politics can allow for the "integration" of . .more

by Stuart on January 27 2012, 06:27
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

You commentators are idiots
the common was not an issue intil idiots like you and the writer of this garbarge made it am issue and a racial one too ..


by FIve on January 27 2012, 07:43
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

@ five
y call people idiots n involve race topics when the "people" want whats equally theirs,not equally but completely theirs...if they feel a need to claim the land n put out petitions,ur damn sure im in...i stay in cape town n im totally against the ban of . .more

by danie on January 27 2012, 08:26
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

@ five
y call people idiots n involve race topics when the "people" want whats equally theirs,not equally but completely theirs...if they feel a need to claim the land n put out petitions,ur damn sure im in...i stay in cape town n im totally against the ban of . .more

by danie on January 27 2012, 08:30
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

An occupation not a land invasion

by ANCYL on January 27 2012, 09:25
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

Simple realy .....start contributing more and you can share more . It is a universal law .....sow , tend , harvest and you will have.

by kreef on January 27 2012, 09:39
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

An occupation not a land invasion

by ANCYL on January 27 2012, 09:41
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it


by ANCYL on January 27 2012, 09:49
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

Its easy to go around calling people names than face facts. Occupying what is rightfully ours is our right. Its ours. It belonged to our forefathers. Its a part of us. What the regime did to the "people" was strip them of all physical belongings and their . .more

by AfricanYouth on January 27 2012, 10:39
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

Inevitable Land Repossession is unavoidable
the permeable of SA constitution state it clear that South Africa belong to all who leaves in it. Now you hav ppl who want to make the country their own babies & refuse other to stay, this infact contradict those who claim to uphold certain values in the . .more

by Viva on January 27 2012, 11:51
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it


.....calm down, calm down.

Playing the racist whose forefathers are paramount in ownership is a bit like the chicken & egg argument..... and we are still left with both chickens & eggs.

STO playing the selfish & dishonest race card . .more

by John Austin on January 27 2012, 11:59
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

honestly guys, the more you bring back history, the more racism, discrimination and fighting there will be. The only way for this country to move forward is to live in the NOW! You have a problem with difference races? You are living in a bubble and need . .more

by Nico on January 27 2012, 13:41
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

II think the Common should be available to the people. The City should fence off the 'sensitive' endangered fijnbos area, and let the people enjoy doing whatever they wish thereupon - as the land belongs to the people - NOT the City - they are but . .more

by @g33ksa on January 27 2012, 13:53
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

Everyone missing the point
A formal gathering must follow a legal process. All must show good faith during this process. Facts regarding good faith and following due process are not yet clear.

A 3-day event requires a number of logistical arrangements : transport, . .more

by Obs on January 27 2012, 14:07
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

The event was arranged. Logistics were organised. Shelter, toilets, food, etc. We were ready to protect the fynbos. Instead the city banned the entire thing illegally without even checking to see if these things are already organised. We approached it in . .more

by Jared on January 28 2012, 00:14
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it

Same old, same old.
As usual, the whole matter has become about race, and an argument of your ancestors did X to my ancesters. And, as always when this happens, several important things get missed. Firstly, this "article" is so biased its not even funny, if you want a . .more

by CT on January 28 2012, 00:34
Find this comment inappropriate? Report it