PHA in the spotlight

Campaigners fighting to save the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) from being paved over with development held a four- day summit last week where they signed a proclamation calling for the farmlands to be protected.

The event took place in the heart of Cape Town’s agricultural area at the PHA Food & Farming Campaign Centre in Schaapkraal Road.

During the summit, PHA Campaign founder, Nazeer Sonday, lodged papers for a high court review challenging numerous development approvals by the City of Cape Town and the provincial government.

PHA Campaign volunteer, Susanna Coleman, said the aim of the summit was to provide a platform for experts’ opinions and scientific studies that have underpinned the court action.

The 3 000ha PHA lies inside a tranquil triangle of mostly agricultural land, with Strandfontein Road to the west, Weltevreden Road and Mitchell’s Plain to the east and Spine Road and False Bay to the south.

It is also known as the City’s “food basket” because it has provided an annual 150 000-ton yield of vegetables and flowers since 1885 and presently employs about 6 000 people, most from surrounding communities.

The PHA is also a major catchment for the Cape Flats Aquifer (CFA), an integrated underground water system covering 630km², most of which lies beneath the Cape Flats and is covered by tar and concrete.

Ms Coleman said the land had been chipped away over the years with 1 000ha owned by developers and property speculators. But it was in 2009 that Mr Sonday decided to act when he heard of plans to build a 30 000-house gated community, a private prison, private schools and two shopping centres, public buildings and a light industrial zone in the southern section of the PHA and to rezone (cheaper) agricultural land.

Ms Coleman said the latest application was in the north-west corner, where there were plans to mine silica sand for the glass industry.

Mr Sonday said the PHA Campaign did not dispute the urgent need for housing, but not in an area that had supplied Cape Town with fresh produce for generations.

“The skills, labour, water and micro-climate are all here. Research has shown that there are alternative, non-arable, areas for development near Cape Town,” he said.

Speakers at the summit included academics, activists, faith leaders, planners, health and heritage practitioners,environmentalists and politicians.

Mr Sonday provided his rural agri reform vision of moving away from keeping afloat 40 farmers with 25ha each with subsidies and grants.

“Instead, provide start-up financial support to 500 farmers with 2ha parcels of land without using chemicals and fertilisers. This would create 34 000 indirect jobs for those producing seedling production, compost making and working the land,” said Mr Sonday.

The proclamation was read out on Saturday September 16. It calls on provincial government to commit to keeping the PHA free of urban development, mining or any development inconsistent with agriculture; act in the public interest; provide genuine opportunities for public participation; adopt recommendation of five studies recommending the protection of the PHA and declare it a provincial heritage resource.

The campaign also wants national government to step in and make sure the PHA is protected for food, water and climate security.

In July 2009 the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries denied the City a right to sub-divide agricultural land in the Philippi area. Earlier this year, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning approved the southern site saying the land was on the urban edge of the city. The City of Cape Town redrew its plans in 2013.

Mr Sonday said that in February 2017 Heritage Western Cape found that the Cape Flats Aquifer and its relationship with the land, the city and climate change was of critical importance.

Keynote speaker at the summit, Dr Ruth Hall, of UWC’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), said a new vision was needed for land reform.

“Over the past 20 to 30 years our ideas of transformation in terms of land and agriculture have been very narrow. We need a totally different way to be thinking about this. Just because we haven’t got it right doesn’t mean it can’t be.”

Bishop Geoff Davies, of the Westlake-based South African Faith Communities Environment Institute (Safcei), said natural resources essential for wellbeing trumped profit-making.

“And that this is of far greater importance and consequence than allowing the interests of finances to destroy our life support systems. The wellbeing of people and our only home, the planet, is more important than economic

“To allow the proposed developments to take place in the PHA would be grossly irresponsible to future generations. We, the citizens of Cape Town, must do all we can to preserve our heritage.”