Veggies v homes in land fight

Sunday Times
September 1, 2013

TOKYO Sexwale has a substantial stake in a company that is mired in controversy because it plans to build 6000 homes on farmland used to supply fresh produce to Cape Town.

MSP Developments wants to build on a 260ha slice of the 3 000ha Philippi horticultural area – made up of farms, dunes, wetlands and two informal settlements.

The city council backed the plan last month, despite it falling outside the official urban edge and being in an area providing local fresh-food markets with about 100 000 tons of food a year. The plan awaits final approval by Western Cape MEC for local government Anton Bredell, but residents have gone to court to block him from giving it the go-ahead.

It is the latest of several controversial development applications backed by the city, which include:

• A 200 000 home “mini-city” called WesCape on farmland north of the city;

• A shopping mall in the Princess Vlei recreational area near Muizenberg; and

• A R1.5-billion gated estate on a Durbanville winelands estate.

Now developers are targeting one of the last undeveloped areas close to Cape Town, which is considered to be the city’s breadbasket.

MSP has a major interest in the middle-class housing market in Cape Town, which has limited land for housing because of its position on the ocean and its mountainous terrain. A director of the company, Philip van der Berg, said Sexwale’s Mvelaphanda had a “significant” shareholding but was not actively involved in MSP operations. He said MSP had launched its MSP application before Mvelaphanda invested.

Mvelaphanda Holdings chairman Mikki Xayiya said on Friday that its investment in MSP was a passive one. “It is our view that their proposal strikes a proper balance between alleviating the city’s pressing housing needs and the continued survival of environmentally sustainable agricultural activities in the affected area,” he said.

“There is tons of land inside Cape Town that belongs to the government. That land is mainly in white areas. There is no talk about developing housing there”

The Philippi farmlands have become the front line in a stand-off over development around the city involving farmers, developers, city officials and civic organisations.

Officials insist that the city is responding to the need for housing. But some residents are concerned that powerful developers are dictating urban planning policy. Soaring food prices have also put a spotlight on the shortage of arable land close to the city.

Mvelaphanda Holdings owns tracts of farmland in Durbanville and Constantia.

Nazeer Sonday from the Schaapkraal Civic and Environmental Protection Organisation, which opposes the Philippi development, wants Sexwale to intervene “He may not know the full story and does not know the impact that this development will have on the food security of the city,” said Sonday.

Trade federation Cosatu’s provincial secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, said land had to be retained for small-scale farming. “That there is an urgent need for housing can’t be used as justification for moving the urban edge,” he said.

“There is tons of land inside the city of Cape Town that belongs to the national government. That land is mainly in white areas, in upmarket areas. There is no talk about devel­oping housing in those areas.”

But a Cosatu pension fund has emerged as part of a consortium that wants to develop low-cost housing on another part of the Philippi farmland a development already approved.

Garreth Bloor, Cape Town mayoral committee member for economic, environmental and spatial planning, said the city’s urban edge had already been moved to accommodate the “Cosatu” application to build 16 000 homes. “A fund owns that land. It manages six pension funds, of which one is a Cosatu pension fund,” said Bloor.

Ehrenreich said: “If there are Cosatu people involved, they must review it now.”

Phlippi farmers are also under pressure because of crime. “If they can’t guarantee our safety then we have to go.” said Leon Rix, chairman of the Cape Flats Farmers’ Association.

Bloor said farmers faced other challenges such as deteriorating water quality and land invasions. “We have such a land shortage for housing. If the city is able to acquire land that does not affect agriculture, then that is the first priority.” he said.

Van der Berg said the development plan made provision for both farming and housing.


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