We need new terms for co-creating the future of Cape Town : Re-thinking the sale of the Tafelberg site

“we need to commit to new terms for the co-creation of more equitable South African cities of the future”

Inner City Tafelberg Site 001

The submission by Future Cape Town with regards to the call for comments on the property disposal of the Tafelberg site by the Western Cape Government.






A way forward to promote more inclusive developments on public land :

  1. The urgent development of a joint city-region strategy on housing, mapping current, planned and future developments and proposals for housing to promote city-wide ownership and making information more accessible
  2. Facilitating co-creation workshops or laboratories, including relevant sectors and stakeholders, as part of a transparent and rigorous process to develop a joint proposal for its sites, which can then be presented in a tender or other form of open market process.
  3. The development of an open and transparent decision making framework or model on land which shows how land is declared as surplus, but can also show when land is not suitable for housing development, and the links of public land to city, region and national plans
  4. An increasing in city-city exchanges and visits and dialogues, to and from developing countries to to instill some sense of imagination in the various departments and officials, to do more than simply sell off land as a response rather than a strategy

Read the detailed position statement submitted below.

Prepared by : Future Cape Town ( Rashiq Fataar, Hannalie Malan, Alexandra Fearon, Elizabeth Novacek)

While much has been done to acknowledge and try to redress the over 300 year South Africa history of spatial violence, segregation and oppression – the abundance of post-apartheid policies and actions have made few significant contributions to achieve spatial transformation. A transformation that can begin to address the scale and depth of the inequality in South African cities on a social, economic, spatial and cultural level. And, in the view of many have consolidated this legacy leaving a landscape of neo-Apartheid urbanism in its wake.(1)

Yet, despite the availability of urban design expertise and policy commitment to transformation, we have very few compelling examples of how we can imagine and build our city differently.(2) The former Tafelberg School site in Sea Point – and the questions surrounding its sale –  presents the city-region, and all its actors, with an opportunity to demonstrate how a more inclusive city could begin to be built, step by step.

It is uncontested that the way Cape Town has been designed and continues to grow and be developed is unsustainable on many levels (including on an ecological level), and that addressing spatial inefficiencies by all spheres of government is the foundation on the road to achieving equitable cities.

Future Cape Town has for the last 5 years been engaged with a range of urban development issues and topics in the city-region, both from the community and public engagement lens as well as through our meaningful local and international collaborations with the private, public, public-private, civil society and academic sectors.

Through our research, and more specifically through our website and digital platforms, we have been a part of holding a real time conversation about the future of our city –  documenting, promoting and engaging with the ideas, policies, designs, plans and projects which will contribute towards a more sustainable and equitable city.

While our approach to advocacy has always rested on a combination of dynamic methods including direct engagement with our 100,000+ social media followers, workshops, creatives installations, writing blogs, engaging with the press and various events – the sale of the Tafelberg site in Sea Point, represents an important moment to make a clear stand and contribute our voice, to the core values and interests which underlie the questioning of the sale of the site.

Ward 54 one of the central city’s most densely-populated wards, stretches from Green Point along the sea to Camps Bay and is growing rapidly. Its population has increased by a quarter in the decade to 2011, and is getting younger and more racially integrated. The Black African population of the ward increased from 12% (2001) to 19% (2011) in the decade to 2011, while Coloured residents decreased from 11% (2001) to 8% (2011). Apart from a small Asian population of 2.7% (2011), the Ward remains majority White, (75% 2001, 66% 2011) with a sizable elderly population in this group (21.5%).

The ward’s unemployment rate is 5% (2011), although 20% of households reported monthly incomes below R3200. At the same time, there are many wealthy households – the R1601-R3200 monthly household income bracket is as large as the R102 401+ bracket.

This is an unlikely narrative, and contrary to the traditional urban renewal or gentrification discourse where neighbourhoods become less diverse as the neighbourhood improves in terms of safety and appeal. It therefore represents an opportunity for the creation of sustainable neighbourhood – in for all its facets to be embraced.

In an article published at at our website in 2014 (Sea Point: can the reallest Atlantic suburb hold its own against gentrification? : 17 February 2014) it was noted that while gentrification cannot be fought in its entirety, that the working class that live in Sea Point and the resilience they confer on the suburb could be kept and bolstered.

The author made several recommendations directly in relation to the role of housing, in stemming the tide of gentrification. These include

  • Developers must be made to provide a percentage of affordable housing in their projects or pay an equivalent sum into each ward’s public housing budget.
  • Holiday houses that stand empty for ten months of the year have no place in a central part of a vibrant, growing, pro-poor city. There must be an innovative and transparent tax or administrative measure that could fill these places up with off-season renters.
  • Sea Point’s schools are full of local working-class children. The wealth quintile of the school, (which I believe) is one of the systems the WCED uses to monitor schools, should inform the provision of public housing in the area.
  • Releasing more land or allowing more bulk or greater height for high-income housing would, if demand for Cape Town coastal property is assumed to be steady (given our parlous political climate…), reduce pressure on affordable backstreets where the poor and the working class are still able to live.

It must be recognised that Tafelberg site alone is not going dramatically alter the spatial form of the city, even if the maximum density, bulk and height of mixed-income housing is pursued. But more importantly it can be considered a microcosm of the broader spatial issues which South African cities have grappled with (which has generated interest and dialogue across the city) and is at the coalface of unpacking the social and economic interests, attitudes and commitment to affordable housing.

However, it has also been recognised by leading architects in the city that incremental change or smaller shifts could along with an increasing focus on delivering smaller-scale, high-quality social housing in strategic locations – begin to address the form of Cape Town which currently spatially entrenches poverty.(4)

The existence of good to excellent transport and social infrastructure along which the site is situated, including three new bus service routes, minibus taxi routes, the range of good public and private schools, the expansive Sea Point Promenade and so forth – presents another opportunity improve the use and performance of this infrastructure to serve more people. In short, the vast amounts of public investments and infrastructure can perform even better by serving more people.

This is further supported by the associated policies, strategies and frameworks developed by the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Government in relation to the broader development of the city including but not limited to the Cape Town Spatial Development Framework, the Densification Strategy, and even more recently the Transit Oriented Development approach led by Transport for Cape Town. At a national level policy has never been more clear or placed more emphasis on spatial transformation, and the need to densify and integrate along well served transport and public amenity corridors – as noted in the Urban Networks strategy of national government, and its associated instruments related to funding.

In March 2016, a Future Cape Town symposium (5) on housing brought together 14 experts from across the housing sector in South Africa and South America who collectively called for a new path to tackle the future housing needs of South Africa. The event which was attended by 140 guests examined, and recommended solutions to the present issues of South Africa’s housing markets through facilitated dialogue between designers, government officials,  NGO representatives and experts with engagement from the public.

Amongst the key ideas at the event that could be taken into account in the decision making on the sale of the Tafelberg site include:

  • The call by architect and urbanist Alfredo Brillembourg who was emphatic that government should not delegate its responsibilities to developers and let them decide on important matters like the size and even cost of homes. Instead, he stated that government should take full ownership of a development, and appoint qualified researchers, urban designers and architects to finalize all aspects of the settlement before finally opening projects up to developers to build.
  • Currently, inefficient decision making and policies within the public sector hinder the timelines and incentives for all developments. The lengthy process is especially burdening for smaller projects (with fewer resources) as it is far less feasible and cost-effective to deal with the amount of red tape. Smaller scale projects have the potential to propel real change through solutions (often at a grassroots level), rather than the traditional centralised model for zoning and top-bottom power.
  • The process of tendering should include architects and urban design experts when judging for the winning tenders so that housing delivery models remain competitive as well as suited for the demand of the project. According to architect Luyanda Mpahlwa, it is important that professionals are involved at conceptual stages so that they can be involved in decisions around land-use, sustainable development models and advise on a multi-disciplinary approach to such developments. He added that “without such an inclusive approach, it will be difficult to produce the kind of integrated and sustainable settlements our communities deserve.
  • And most importantly, the call for stakeholders to broaden their individual focus and dare to translate each other’s language of finance, development, engineering, and designing, government, NGO’s and the community at hand to develop and achieve a holistic goal. Stakeholders can strengthen their ability through weaving together their diverse expertise and experiences. “We are all are too focused on either design, either statutory processes, either legislation, either finance, either engineering, either, either, either…it’s silent but it’s the willingness to speak different languages” said Deon van Zyl, Chairman of the WC Property Development Forum.

The need for a common language has been evident in the discourse around the sale of the Tafelberg site and based on the engagement, research and experience of Future Cape Town, it would be useful to unpack some of the myths and false narratives which have been allowed to circulate :

  1. Low cost or affordable housing needs to be poorly designed, poorly developed and poorly maintained, when several precedents and examples in cities with similar GDP/capita and gini-coefficients indicates otherwise.
  2. The introduction of more affordable housing opportunities would result in an increase in crime levels, when in fact, the collection of 60 years of media tracking the urban development narrative of Sea Point suggests that crime in the neighbourhood peaked in distinct periods unrelated to the provision of low cost or affordable housing.
  3. Developers do not care or are not interested in affordable housing, in contradiction to our interviews with property developers, and housing finance experts, – who would be interested in responding to calls which require the inclusion of social housing.
  4. That local or provincial government does not care about or is not making progress with social or affordable housing, when it can be noted in a council document, that the City of Cape Town has more than 5 000 Social Housing Units in the planning stage (pipeline) in different parts of the City – to be delivered in partnership with various social housing institutions. The Western Cape Government has also made public its draft plans to build at the Conradie Hospital site, some distance from the central business district.
  5. All residents of the Atlantic Seaboard don’t want a mix of social housing in their neighbourhood, which is untrue given the number of petitions, opinion pieces and comments by residents of the community.

These myths have however been able to develop, stir and grow within the broader debate around the Tafelberg site, pitting developers or those with interests in responding to the sale of the site against those who wish to see housing developed- in our view, largely because of the lack of leadership in the situation.

The undocumented pivot in the policy direction from the initial plans in 2014 to lease the site to the decision in 2016 to conduct an outright sale along with the absence of a strong, clear and publicly available housing and land strategy – have set up civil society and private sector interests in a fractious dialogue, when this need not be the case.

The co-creation of inclusive developments in a future Cape Town which is more equitable will require the strengths of developers to conceptualise, design and develop housing for all incomes, as well as the strengths of civil society to hold government to account and bring in a wider group of voices and stakeholders. More concerning, is that the lack of strategy and clear communication, will simply contribute to the replication and reproduction of fractious engagement in relation to other well located sites across the city. Some of the effects would include :

  • A scenario where worthy developments with huge potential for integration, could be stalled, or hindered by both a lack of political will, but now also a fear to engage by the developers and private sectors
  • All forms of debate on land issues being reduced to a low cost housing vs. alternative development debate
  • A spillover effect in other parts of the city-region, reducing citizen trust of government – affecting the engagement processes surrounding other housing developments
  • The inability of stakeholders and interested parties to consider as part of a single conversation both smaller sites like Tafelberg, along with the calls to release larger land parcels like Culemborg, Wingfield etc.

In 2015, and 2016 Future Cape Town has played a specific role in the neighbourhoods of Green Point and Sea Point, through a partnership with a local developer, and the local authorities to re-imagine and re-think what public space could be.

These projects include:

  • the redevelopment and revamp of the Thornhill Park in Green Point with the City of Cape Town, and the formation of a Friends of Thornhill Park, which included amongst others improvements, lowering the fences, and adding an additional gate to improve the public accessibility
  • the highly successful parklet on Regent Road which has occupied two parking bays, attracted a wide variety of residents and workers in the area, due to the seating, bicycle parking and free wifi (two parking bays, previously only serving cars, now acts as a public space for 300 to 600 people a day, an including evenings)
  • the research undertaken at the Colin Eglin Sea Point Library forecourt, used by school children, the elderly, mothers and a number of other members of the public who live outside of the Atlantic Seaboard
  • the proposal to install bicycle parking along the Sea Point Promenade to encourage cycling and attract more people this very diverse and well used public space

More importantly we have through our deep engagement and research of each of these projects uncovered that:

  • Ward 54’s schools are busy and heavily subscribed, and according to the principal of Ellerton Primary, only around 1/3 of learners there reside within the Ward; the remainder uses buses, taxis and trains to commute to school, often from as young as age 6 or 7. These commutes can take upwards of 90 minutes and their departure times are highly variable, meaning that the Library environment and nearby spaces play an enormous role in many learners’ ability to do homework and develop physically and socially – the homes that many children go to are not easy learning environments, since parks and open space are lacking and electric light and a desk are not available in every home.
  • that systems of unseen support that keep these various spaces as part of the social fabric of the neighbourhood e.g. the librarians who work longer hours and oversee the school children, the headmasters who waits with students
  • the true diversity seen at these various spaces, a key strength of the neighbourhood and as captured by an ongoing Instagram account
  • that the sheer amount of good public spaces, parks, and open play areas in the Sea Point neighbourhood can support even more people, and a greater mix of dense developments – as an example the Sea Point Promenade is often only half full during peak periods of the festive season, with more than ample space for residents and those travelling from other parts of the city

It is therefore not unthinkable that this culture and environment of public, private and civil society collaboration in relation to public land, would not extend to the Tafelberg site. It could be the start of a process to co-create an inclusive development, of which affordable housing is a strong component, alongside other mixed uses which would make the project more viable.

In light of the above, Future Cape Town would recommend :

  1. The urgent development of a joint city-region strategy on housing which :
    • makes public the mix of available land , housing proposals and resources related to the development of housing and public sites
    • presents a coherent and consistent development philosophy accessible to citizens and providing clarity to developers and private sector parties
    • recognises and reflects that the local and regional government, are both custodians of public land, rather than independent bodies, and capable of jointly collaborating on housing
    • makes transparent, and easily viewable all future proposals, developments and discussions relating to housing, and in particular mapping affordable and social housing for the purposes of public education and information
    • includes timelines, given the finite land stock
    • includes all proposals for housing developments, including the designs, which should be exhibited and displayed at strategic points in the city and online
    • can build a sense of more city-wide ownership in the development of housing
  2. That the Western Cape Government hosts several co-creation workshops or laboratories, including all sectors and stakeholders, as part of a transparent and rigorous process to develop a joint proposal for its sites, which can then be presented in a tender or other form of open market process.
  3. The development of an open and transparent decision making framework or model on land which :
    • determines whether publicly owned land is surplus or not, before decisions about how to develop the site are made
    • includes as inputs into the model various pieces of relevant data, information, demographics which can be used to evaluate the decision e.g. including the fact that no social housing has been built within a reasonable distance of the Cape Town business district in 20 years
    • shows a clear link to what are reasonably good city and regional spatial plans
    • which can also determine when land is not suitable for housing e.g. at parts of the Philippi Horticultural area
  4. An increase in constructive exchanges, visits, and dialogue with cities in other developing countries to view good examples and policies, and where, they have made significant inroads in rethinking the role of affordable housing, and available public land. This would serve to instill some sense of imagination in the various departments and officials, to do more than simply sell off land as a response rather than a strategy.

It is also noteworthy to reference certain parts of the Integrated Urban Development Framework (2016) recently approved by the Cabinet of South Africa which is considered to be the “New Deal for South African cities and towns” (7):

  • For municipalities, increasing land values strengthens their revenue base, but well located land is also needed for the poor in order to achieve spatial transformation
  • Municipalities and private investors both have a vested interest in land value remaining stable and increasing. At the same time, property values reflect apartheid patterns of segregation and mono-functional use, which need to be addressed to promote spatial transformation. 
  • A stubborn spatial challenge to achieving integrated urban development is the location of new housing projects, which currently are still found far from existing developments (or not easily connected to existing transport or economic networks).
  • And as its vision : “Liveable, safe, resource-efficient cities and towns that are socially integrated, economically inclusive and globally competitive, where residents actively participate in urban life”

Given that Cape Town has high unemployment rates by any standard, one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world, and is facing continuous threats of sprawl, it is inconceivable that a tier of government would not be fully invested in innovative models and practices to unlock the true value of public sites – as we have seen in other cities which require components of affordable housing, even at privately owned developments and sites.

Simply selling off public land (as a default), whether it is to be developed for housing or any other development, lacks imagination and the political leadership to take Cape Town into a future – which is more integrated, more sustainable and ultimately more equitable. 

Having reflected on the above, Future Cape Town opposes the sale of Tafelberg site without conditions, and urges the Western Cape Government, City of Cape Town and various other actors, and stakeholders, to commit writing new terms for the co-creation of spatially transformed South African cities of the future.


  1. African Centre for Cities, Density Syndicate. Accessed: http://www.africancentreforcities.net/programme/applied-urban-research/public-culture-research-group/exhibition-2014/density-syndicate/
  2. African Centre for Cities, Density Syndicate. Accessed: http://www.africancentreforcities.net/programme/applied-urban-research/public-culture-research-group/exhibition-2014/density-syndicate/
  3. Accessed: http://futurecapetown.com/2014/02/sea-point-can-the-reallest-atlantic-suburb-hold-its-own-against-gentrification
  4. http://futurecapetown.com/2016/05/guy-briggs-calls-for-social-housing-to-bring-cape-town-out-of-its-apartheid-history-future-cape-town/
  5. Accessed: http://futurecapetown.com/2016/04/media-release-experts-call-for-new-direction-to-tackle-south-africas-housing-crisis-at-future-cape-town-housing-symposium/
  6. Accessed: http://futurecapetown.com/2015/08/future-cape-town-how-visualising-the-newspaper-history-of-a-neighbourhood-can-shed-light-on-the-future
  7. Accessed: http://markswilling.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IUDF-2016_WEB.pdf


Chief Director, Immovable Asset Management,  Western Cape Government

In response to:

Proposed property disposal of ERF 1675 and Remainder of ERF 1421 Sea Point (Also known as the Tafelberg School site)