Battle over circus land continues

A door inside the one storey-building.

People occupying the old circus-school grounds in Observatory say the City of Cape Town is dodging efforts to negotiate with them over the future of the municipal site.

The 20-odd occupiers, who call themselves the Willow Arts Collective (WAC), have been on the site at 2 Willow Road for about three years, and they are growing vegetables there as part of an “eco-village”. They aren’t paying any rent to the City.

The City has applied for an eviction order to remove them, and the two parties appeared in court again last month.

Moyo Uno, from the WAC, says they’ve been trying to find common ground with the City without success.

“At every turn, the City’s representatives have attempted to dodge their constitutional responsibility to engage us. Instead, they want to bring in corporate lawyers to ‘mediate’ between our lawyer and the City’s legal team,” he said.

The occupiers want the City to lease the land to them so they can continue growing vegetables.

The City had rebuffed WAC’s requests for a meeting with officials to discuss the group’s “eco-village” proposal, Mr Uno said.

“We believe it is important to protect the cultural heritage of Observatory. We also believe that this land must be protected in the name of a sustainable model of food sovereignty, grassroots development and eco-living.

But some politicians in the City seem to be afraid that we have a positive and productive proposal for the land, whereas the City has no plans at all – or, if they do have plans, they have refused to publicly release those plans,” he said.

In a previous media statement, Dr Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services and health, said the land, which is zoned as public open space, was part of the sports precinct and unsuitable for housing.

And while Dr Badroodien acknowledged there was a lack of housing opportunities in Cape Town, he said the City could not sacrifice all open land for that need alone.

“All communities need open spaces, sports facilities, places of worship and green belts in keeping with the district spatial plans. There is a need to extend the sports facility, which would not be possible if it is rezoned and repurposed,” he said.

Dr Badroodien said they were always open for discussion and welcomed constructive engagement with communities.

“In this regard the City has on numerous occasions attempted to engage with the community group.The City also has a responsibility to protect and utilise property on behalf of residents and in the best interest of the broader community.”

He said the City could not comment on the allegations made as the matter was before court.

Mr Uno said as long-standing members of the Observatory community, they would continue to fight the City’s attempt to “steamroll” bad development initiatives.

“We will continue to also seek common ground with our neighbours. This means ensuring participatory development that includes, not only ourselves, but the entire Observatory community. It is in the entire community’s interest that alternatives to the eviction process are put forward. The last thing Observatory needs is an additional 30 residents living destitute without shelter on the village green.”