Upset over demolition

Community worker Igshaan Carstens, founder member of Strandfontein Aquamarine and Boating Association, and Danny Christians, councillor for Ward 81, which includes parts of Rocklands, Portland and Westridge.

The City of Cape Town denies ever receiving an application or plans to make the False Bay coastline, bordering Strandfontein and Mitchell’s Plain, a tourist destination and developing an economy for the “black coastal communities”.

In response to a Plainsman enquiry, Marian Nieuwoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said they had received multiple concepts and ideas but “no detailed plans in terms of explicit sources of funding or detailed urban spatial plans have been received”.

Community member Igshaan Carstens, founder of Strandfontein Agricultural, Aquamarine and Boating Association (SAAMBA), formerly known as Strandfontein Boating Association (SBA), said they had asked the City to maintain and manage the Sonwabe ablution block, which was demolished on Sunday May 17.

In 2007 SBA had tried to manage Strandfontein Pavilion and develop coastal nodes as the City at the time did not want to develop the entire strip but rather do it piecemeal.

The non-governmental organisation would have managed and funded the upkeep of the ablution block from their pockets.

“We could not do anything without the permission of the council. We had requested management rights for the Sonwabe coastal node, offered to take care of this space and restore the spot to its former glory, which trek fishermen frequented and establish a tourist coastal node for the many people who drive past our backyards.”

He said he had in the past two decades submitted proposals and input to the City’s Integrated Development Plan (IDP), a five-year plan required in terms of the Municipal Systems Act, Act 32 of 2000.

“We had wanted to take ownership of this site and out of our own pockets take care of it,” he said.

“All we had wanted from the City was permission and perhaps some signage designated this a spot for passers-by to stop,” he said.

Mr Carstens said he had met with Gregg Oelofse, the City of Cape Town manager for coastal management and integrated urban management, two months ago.

He had tried to lobby Sub-councils 12, 19 and 23 since council passed the demolition motion on October 31.

But it appeared like the City had already decided that the area should be a “ghost, a shadow of what it was in its hey-day”.

Coastal development champion Danny Christians, who is also councillor for Ward 81, which includes parts of Rocklands, Portland and Westridge, said this was a smack in the face of “black fisherfolk” and the “killing of our culture”.

“The ablution block was here but there was no maintenance plan. It was left here to go to ruin.”

In years gone by, people occupied the immediate coastal area between Muizenberg and Strandfontein – a stretch of seven kilometres. Today portions of this land is still known as ‘Vrygrond’.”

He said the locals used horse drawn vehicles to move around and that soon an informal track was created alongside the beach and that people used this spot to crush limestone for the track”.

“This track later gave birth to Baden Powell Drive. The activities at this coastal spot soon gave rise to makeshift structures.”

Mr Christians said locals congregated here to seek shelter against the unfriendly south-easter wind and would go about their day-to-day chores. The introduction of the Group Areas Act imposed forced removals of black and coloured people from Vrygrond.

“The shelters remained and the area became a dumping site,” he said.

Mr Christians said the removal of “coloured people’s history and that of our black culture was like swallowing a hard rock”.

“I am terribly aggrieved by this demolition and wish to demand our rights here and now.

“They best replace what they had taken from us with something better and soon.”

He said that the community was never consulted and that most of his advocacy to bring a change on the False Bay coastline have fallen on deaf ears.

“We had funders and investors who were ready to put shoulder to the wheel but the longer we wait and take it off the agenda the more costs increase and our dream of ensuring a viable economic hub becomes a nightmare,” he said.

Council approved a proposal on October 31 last year to demolish 12 structures, located along the coast at Strand, Monwabisi, Sonwabe, Macassar, Simon’s Town, Witsand, and Table View.

The demolition was due in March but was delayed by the national Covid-19 lockdown but Level 4 regulations allowed for civil engineering for public works.

Ms Nieuwoudt said the Sonwabe building was derelict and had been vacant for more than eight years.

“The roof was collapsing and all fittings had been stolen or removed.”

She said the City was busy with coastal upgrade plans for the Strandfontein and Monwabisi precincts as priority areas. Sonwabe will be reviewed at a later stage.

“The decision was done in accordance with council policy and via the sub-council which is an open and public process.

“This facility and 11 other derelict City-owned facilities, have not been used for several years. Many of these facilities were built in highly mobile dune systems and covered by sand.”

She said their removal was part of the City’s efforts in revitalising the coastline and improving Cape Town’s resilience against the impact of climate change.

She said prior to the council’s decision a team of City officials conducted inspections in 2019 to determine the current state of the buildings, the accessibility and use thereof.

“They found that the buildings were structurally unsafe, badly vandalised or damaged by coastal processes, and that some are illegally occupied and used for anti-social and criminal activities,” she said.

Ms Nieuwoudt said no formal applications for leasing or managing the buildings were received.

“These buildings were completely derelict, an eyesore, unusable and posed a health and safety risk. Approvals to have them demolished went via the long, formal and extensive council process,” she said.