Land for sports, says City

The clubhouse at the old circus grounds in Observatory.

A handful of people occupying the old circus grounds in Observatory threaten the future expansion of the surrounding sports precinct, says the City.

However, the two dozen occupants, who have dubbed themselves the Willow Arts Collective (WAC), say they’re trying to improve the site at 2 Willow Road.

The occupiers have been on the site for about three years, and the City has applied for an eviction order to remove them.

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

“It is common knowledge that this land previously housed the South African National Circus School. Unfortunately, the previous lease holder sublet the clubhouse illegally to a number of individuals. This group has since grown and their activities have damaged the integrity of the land at this sporting space,” he said.

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.

“The realisation of this intended purpose is being hindered by the ongoing eviction process and the repeated refusal of the occupiers of the clubhouse to take up alternative forms of accommodation offered to them,” he said.

Moyo Uno, from the WAC, said the City had gone ahead with the eviction process without trying to engage with them as was required by the Prevention of Illegal Evictions (PIE) Act.

The City’s original court papers hadn’t offered alternatives for accommodation but during lockdown, in an about turn, the City had offered emergency accommodation at Kampies temporary relocation area in Philippi, he said.

The collective denies “repeatedly” rejecting alternative accommodation and says it asked to visit Kampies but it wasn’t possible during lockdown.

Kampies woud not be acceptable if it was anything like Blikkiesdorp, and a move to Philippi would make it hard to continue working Observatory, Mr Uno said.

There was land in Observatory that was a more suitable alternative, he said.

Dr Badroodien said the City was committed to ongoing engagements with the occupiers to ensure they had access to alternative accommodation.

With regards to the illegal subletting to, and occupation, of the old clubhouse by individuals, Mr Uno said they did not know the City’s lease agreement with the circus had prohibited such an arrangement and they could not be held responsible for that.

Furthermore, the group said the City’s reference to illegal activities seemed to imply that growing food for themselves in their organic vegetable garden was an illegal activity. This comes after they started work on their eco-village and growing basic kitchen vegetables such as maize, carrots, spinach, cabbage, peppers, as well as indigenous plants earlier this year.

WAC also denies claims it damaged property, saying it has instead spent a year cleaning the site and growing vegetables and preventing crime there.

The City also accused the Observatory Civic Association (OCA) of supporting these “illegal activities”. OCA spokesman Edwin Angless denied that, saying the claims were unfortunate and misinformed.

The association, he said, had supported the principles outlined in a WAC project proposal, relating to urban agriculture and heritage uses, among other things.

“We requested further details from the WAC so as to come to an informed position on the proposal. It is unclear why that would constitute an illegal activity.”

The OCA had asked to meet with the ward councillor and Dr Badroodien to explain its position but the request had been denied as the association was said to be in support of the illegal occupiers, he said.

“The group indicated that they would approach us to solicit our support for their project. Nowhere does it state that we support their occupation and or that we have committed to supporting the project,” he said.

Mr Angless said they had not taken a position to support any illegal occupation as it was for the courts to decide.

“We have indicated, in principle, support for the elements of the project that would make the site attractive as a community project.”

Dr Badroodien said he could not comment further about the accusations the City has levelled at the civic association because the matter was now before court.

Mr Uno said WAC wanted to turn the property into an open and welcoming common space for all residents of Observatory, where people could come work in the garden, have a picnic, play chess and do other forms of recreation.

“We are not suggesting the sacrificing of open land. In fact, we are acting everyday to preserve open community land,” he said.

Dr Badroodien said the Hartleyvale Stadium would be reopened in line with the relevant directives and legislation.