Response to the River Club developer’s claims of apartheid spatial redress

In his response to objections by First Nations Groups and 34 civic associations and NGOs to the River Club development in Cape Town this week, the developer Jody Aufrichtig says: “It is not clear what the agenda of this small group is. We can only infer that they are using the guise of heritage concerns as an attempt to block efforts by the private developer to create social and economic opportunities for the people of Cape Town, and address the injustices of apartheid spatial planning.” (Cape Argus, 19 December, ‘It is pointless to block a development that will bolster the economy’)

It is critical to counter factual inaccuracies dressed up as concern for societal benefit.

The proposed River Club development has nothing to do with addressing injustices of apartheid spatial planning and claims like these are cynical in the extreme. Instead the developer is making every attempt to divide First Nations leaders and dispossess those who oppose his development of any claim to speak for the land. Creating division in local communities is typical of large corporations wanting to extract economic or development rewards when they meet local opposition to their activities.

The development is neither a housing application, nor is it an effort as previously claimed by the developer to “make a nice safe environment for the community and not only for Observatory, but for Rondebosch, Langa and Khayelitsha” (Cape Argus, 14 August).

This is about money, not about social policy. This R4 billion development is proposed for a 15 hectare piece of land recently bought by the developer from Transnet for R12 million, which is around R80 per square meter, well below market value. It was revalued almost immediately for over R100 million by Investec due to its perceived development potential. If permitted to proceed as planned, this development will make the developer even more profit than he has made already.

This pattern is in keeping with the developer’s previous developments, none of which appear to demonstrate any genuine commitment to spatial redress: The Old Mac Daddy in Elgin, the Daddy Long Legs Hotel in Long St, the Grand Daddy Hotel, The Biscuit Mill, and the Woodstock Exchange, which includes the Stock Exchange Apartment Hotel.

Like the River Club development proposal, these are high-end developments, featuring some of the most expensive establishments in Western Cape, far beyond the annual wages of most of the people living in Woodstock and Salt River, where gentrification is destroying the community fabric.

The River Club development is a designer development with minimal affordable housing already earmarked for employed civil servants only. The modicum of affordable housing is not from any attempt to redress spatial planning injustices, but simply to counter public outcry at previous proposals. In total, affordable housing comprises 4% of the whole development. In any event, it is now mandatory that 20% of provided housing needs to be affordable, as a minimum that is expected for new developments where housing is provided.

Our agenda is clear. Heritage Western Cape (HWC) needs to grade the significant heritage of the entire Two Rivers Urban Park site. HWC gazetted their decision to grade the River Club site which has repeatedly come under threat. This appointed heritage body has been trapped in endless appeals by the developers, while having its resources blocked, thus limiting its capacity.

Our group is not small.  More than 400 public submissions opposing the development have been made. Over 30 civic associations and NGOs from across the peninsula and beyond have joined five First Nations Groups in calling for HWC to exercise its mandate of heritage oversight by grading the TRUP site for heritage in terms of Section 27 of the National Heritage Resources Act. Our concern is for a heritage that belongs to all of South Africa.

The historical, cultural and environmental value of the River Club land and the Two Rivers Urban Park are of such national significance that we cannot demand anything less.

Leslie London, Observatory Civic Association (OCA) chairperson