The Great Cape Town Land Grab continues

Andrew Donaldson says the Mayco's decision to give go-ahead to Kommetjie development is shameful


ALARMING news from up north. An unconfirmed report suggests that, in an orchestrated campaign to sabotage the new DA-led administration in Tshwane, ANC members were selling off plots of land at R100 apiece, which has resulted in several massive land invasions.

If true, this was indeed disturbing, a new low in the exploitation of the desperate. As far as we were aware, here at the Mahogany Ridge, plots of land in Pretoria were not worth much more than R30. Such brazen profiteering was truly shameful.

Still, it did give us some perverse pleasure to note that such a monstrous inflation in property prices was not restricted to Cape Town and that prospective homeowners were being gouged in other parts of the country as well.

But the Mother City remains the prize, and it won’t be too long before none of us, let alone the poor of Woodstock’s Bromwell Street, can afford to live here, and the place will be like Switzerland, full of people with white socks.

Recently, the Financial Times ran a puffy feature on Cape Town in which local realtors jabbered on excitedly about their admittedly enviable lot. Visitors from abroad, it seemed, were fairly falling over themselves in a fevered scramble to snap up homes away from home.

Sales to foreigners in the peninsula for November and December last year up 28% compared to the previous year, the newspaper said. “The total value of sales in January and February 2016 was up 21% year on year.”

What bargains they must have been to those in euro-land, what with the fallout from “Weekend Special” Des van Rooyen’s three-day tenure as finance minister. The rand has effectively halved in value since President Jacob Zuma came to power and could further weaken in the coming days for, oh, any number of reasons.

The city is expecting a bumper crop of foreign visitors this summer and, as the FT noted, “extended holidays to Cape Town are increasingly likely to involve a trip to the estate agent”.

Those wishing to pick up a pied-à-terre or two, as these people put it, are advised to act quickly. Prices are rising, the newspaper warned.

“In the past two years, international interest and a shortage of stock have driven value up 25% to 30% in rand terms, according to a report by Christie’s Real Estate. In Camps Bay the price of apartments has risen 50% over the same period, according to Martin Visser of Engel & Völkers. One apartment that sold for R2.3-million in October 2014 is now on the market for R4.2-million.”

Given the money to be made you could well understand the mad rush to “develop” the city. 

The mayor, Patricia de Lille, is a bit of a berserker in this regard; show her a spot of open land, tell her the sort of revenue it’ll earn once it’s covered in concrete, and she’ll put on her war face and start shouting that the builders should have been there yesterday already.

The mayoral committee’s shameful and short-sighted decision this week to give the go-ahead for a controversial housing project in Kommetjie, was a case in point. 

In so doing, Mayco had reversed an earlier decision by the council’s spacial planning, environment and land use sub-committee to reject the proposals on the grounds they had no plans to deal with the heavy traffic over Ou Kaapseweg and could not say how the bulk service infrastructure could cope with the new developments.

Most reports on this issue ignore the fact that much of the proposed developments residents object to fall inside the buffer zone of the Cape Floral Kingdom World Heritage Site. 

The fynbos in these ten hectares has been rated “100% irreplaceable” by the city. This land, abutting the Table Mountain National Park, is part of a critical biodiversity corridor, the only link between the southern and northern parts of the park, crucial for the movement of plant and animal species.

The city has since found a rather sleazy way to shirk its custodial responsibilities here: it moved the goal posts.

One of Unesco’s requirements in declaring this a world heritage site was that the city’s urban edge had to be clearly defined and enforced by legislation so as not to jeopardise this unique corridor. 

But De Lille doesn’t believe the urban edge is a “strict boundary” — it can be shifted as and when required by wealthy developers.

Soon there won’t be much left of the Cape floral kingdom. Maybe enough to fill a small pot on the balcony of yet another hideous apartment block with yet another hideous apartment block right next to it.

We may as well live in Pretoria. Land is apparently cheap there.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.