Ferrial Adam
Ferrial Adam

Public open space — my right of access!

Last weekend I spent some time collecting signatures for a petition to stop the development of the Sea Point Pavilion in Cape Town. The development being planned consists of a hotel on one side of the Sea Point swimming pool and a three-storey shopping complex, restaurants, a gymnasium and other retail outlets on the other side of the pool.

One of the main concerns is that for the development to go ahead, the area would have to be rezoned from “public open space” to a zone for commercial purposes. This could result in a precedent that will allow wall-to-wall development along the coastline.

I know that this may sound rather insignificant in comparison to the issues hitting the headlines at the moment — and on the surface it does seem small, local and provincial — but if we delve a bit deeper, it has the potential of changing our landscape from one of few open public spaces for all to one of privatised property for a few.

Perhaps this sounds a bit sensationalist — this is not my intention, especially since I was recently told that environmentalists are doomsayers and should walk around with a sign that says “The end is nigh” as they have nothing positive to say. I can say a lot about this comment, but I’ll save it for another day and another blog!

Back to the issue at hand: the matter of developing the Sea Point Pavilion dates back to 1998 when the area was not being used much and was actually quite dilapidated. The City of Cape Town issued a call for proposals for the redevelopment of the site. Importantly, since the city’s call, the area has been revamped and has resulted in people from all walks of life using the area along the coast — from the swimming pool to the Mouille Point Lighthouse (3km in distance) — as a place to meet friends, get some exercise, walk the dog, play soccer or just watch the sun set.

In 2004, the then national minister of environmental affairs, Valli Moosa, gave assurances that the project would not go ahead. However, in August 2007 the provincial minister of environmental affairs and development planning, Tasneem Essop, issued an amended record of decision (ROD) authorising the development. A voluntary organisation called “Sea Front for All’ is contesting the ROD with a judicial review in the high court. (For more information please go to www.seafa.org.za.)

During my short stint collecting signatures, I encountered many people who agreed to sign against the development in the area. However, there were a few who objected and raised the following “angry” comments:

  • It was implied that I was only involved in the campaign because I lived in this area. Actually, I am from Johannesburg. I do believe I have a right to enjoy public open spaces and I am just tired of the privatisation of so much of South African land.
  • The development will be good for jobs. This project is not going to result in the creation of hundreds of jobs. In fact, building a mall would affect the small businesses in close proximity to the area. (“Snow jobs” written by George Monbiot on “employment figures attached to large projects” in relation to the UK is a useful read and can be viewed on www.monbiot.com.)
  • There is no point — government gets what government wants and we are fooling ourselves in thinking that we have any power to change anything. Hmm, and I thought I was a doomsayer bunny-hugger!
  • The beachfront needs attention. I most definitely agree. But why do we think that development means malls and hotels? I support Seafa who is calling for a well thought-out and public process to decide what should be done to improve the area.

At the moment most of the organising has been done in Cape Town. I think that this should be extended all over the country — a public open space must belong to the people.

The campaign is ongoing. If you would like to voice your objection, please add your name to the petition on the Seafa website (listed above). In addition there will be a public protest at the Sea Point Pavilion on April 13 2008 from 2pm to 5pm to hand over the petition to a yet-to-be-determined public official.