Speculation soars on ‘land grab’

A group of Hout Bay residents are forming a new residents’ association, ostensibly in response to allegations that Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille is “abusing her powers” in terms of development in Hout Bay.

These residents claim that not only is the mayor seeking to retract a section of land above the Meadows, which currently holds the status of a UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) site, but residents also claim the ANC has made an offer to purchase a property in Hout Bay Road in order to establish a new taxi rank. This would free up space at the existing rank for additional housing in Imizamo Yethu.

Should this become realised, they say, it would have a devastating effect on the flow of traffic through Hout Bay, one of two main arteries into town from the southern suburbs.

The March fires in Imizamo Yethu and the subsequent impasse over the City’s “superblocking” of the settlement – the process by which areas are systemically blocked off to allow for the implementation of roads and services – have highlighted the desperate need for space and housing but raised concerns over the illegal building of shacks.

However, the group, operating under the working title “Hout Bay Residents Forum” and reaching out to thousands of Hout Bay residents, feels the mayor is “overriding” her position in order to extend Imizamo Yethu into areas that are demarcated as Unesco protected areas.

In the past few weeks, the residents’ group says, a number of Hughenden and Hout Bay Road residents have also been made offers on their homes by a property agent representing a developer known either as “McGuyver” or “McGiver”.

The name of the agent given to the Sentinel was Stephen van Schoor, who is listed as a Property.co.za agent. We sent an email to Mr Van Schoor to ask what Mr McGuyver’s intentions were for Hughenden on Friday August 4, and this was not responded to at the time this edition went to print. A voice message to Mr Van Schoor on Wednesday this week was also not responded to.

According to Brett Nussey, a representative of the Hout Bay Residents’ Forum, Hughenden residents believe the “buyer” is in fact the City itself. They feel agents have been instructed to pay residents a “fair price” so that Imizamo Yethu can be extended into Hughenden as well.

“When Imizamo Yethu was declared a local disaster area after the fires, the mayor was given powers to override many established by-laws to establish the TRAs (temporary relocation areas), and the areas of Penzance, The Meadows and the sports field were identified for these purposes,” Mr Nussey said.

“We were concerned about the field above The Meadows, which is a Unesco heritage site, but when we approached the City we were told they had no intention of using it. We then received a letter from the City’s lawyers stating as much.”

However, he said, the residents’ forum had learnt “on good authority” last week that Ms De Lille had now put in a request with the ministers of Land Affairs and Housing for de-proclamation of the area. “As far as we are aware, she hasn’t even gone through any official forum,” Mr Nussey said.

“A number of our Hughenden residents have also been approached to sell their properties, but no one knows who this McGuyver is. It seems to us as though the City is looking to push Hughenden people out.”

The group also believes an offer to purchase was made on a property in Hout Bay Road by the ANC. This would be for the purposes of creating a new taxi rank so that land at the existing rank could be used for future housing projects.

ANC PR councillor in Hout Bay, Bheki Hadebe, said in his capacity at local level the organisation did not have the financial capacity to make such offers.

However, he said the local branch had requested the ANC at national level to undertake a land audit in Hout Bay and identity potential sites for sale. It would also look at any national land that was available for housing.

“I will be liaising with representatives at national level on this,” he said.

According to local property agent Shaun Kramer, some property owners across the road from Hughenden have also been approached to sell.

“I am aware some of the last remaining larger properties in the valley along the river have been approached by the Housing Development Agency in order to create a mixture between low cost and Gap housing to alleviate the housing backlog. We’ve also heard they are approaching any large tracts of land within Hout Bay,” he said.

“Recently in Riverside Terrace, a two-acre property sold for R32 million and some of the properties in question are actively on the market for between R23 and R30 million.”

Following queries put to the mayor on Friday August 4 and again on Tuesday August 8, the City’s mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, Brett Herron, responded on Wednesday this week.

He said the City was not aware of estate agents or developers going by the name of “Stephen van Schoor” or “MacGuyver” and they had not been instructed to act on behalf of the City.

He could, however, confirm that the City-owned site above Hughenden was a Unesco heritage site, and was being explored as an option for development.

“We received advice on what process needs to be followed if the City wants to make use of the site. Given the scale of the humanitarian crisis and the need to temporarily accommodate families displaced by the fires as we rebuild IY, we must consider all our options,” he said.

“We are communicating with national government about the crisis and how they can assist us. In order to ensure a dignified and safe rebuilding of IY we will need additional space for temporary and permanent housing and we are exploring various local options. We will make announcements about these options as they firm up and will follow any and all processes, including public consultation, as required.”

Riverside Terrace resident Garth Dil questioned why Hout Bay had become the “dumping ground” for the housing problem.

“Why can’t the expansion be distributed among other southern suburbs too where IY residents also work? There are plenty of tracts of flat land located in neighbouring areas without having to encroach on steep national parks and heritage sites,” he said.

“My fears are that our area will be devalued, and that house prices will plummet.

“Six months ago there was a stock shortage in Hout Bay; now no one wants to live in Hout Bay and estate agents are being inundated with people wanting to sell.”

He said all Hout Bay residents needed to get together in order to tackle the issue of land. “We pay rates in proportion to the value of our properties, and in the event of prices going down, people will no longer be paying the same rates but the City doesn’t see this. If this goes ahead, the City is opening itself up to a class action.”

He also rebuked Ms De Lille’s alleged plans for the Unesco site.

“That is a heritage site. This has been created for future generations and its uniqueness needs to be maintained as such.”

Mr Nassey said in formalising the Hout Bay Residents’ Forum, he was hoping to rally all the residents of Hout Bay, “regardless of status, race or culture”.

“This will include dealing with the City of Cape Town in matters such as urbanisation, housing, environmental and security issues in Hout Bay, in order to provide residents with a clear understanding of any planned development, changes to infrastructure, political and community insights that may be planned by council going forward, and to give residents a voice against what they believe is a well-disguised land grab by the City.

“We as residents have a right to transparency and open communication when dealing with the City, and should also be able to assist the City where we can in improving the lifestyles and living conditions of all residents in the bay.”