Constantia’s hidden history

Caroline Voget, Constantia

Is this what the people want?

Although the suburb of Constantia has a distinctive rural character, little is known of its agricultural past.

Many of Constantia’s farms belonged to “coloured” farmers – one such farm being bought in 1902 by the Solomons family who lived in a large Victorian house on the farm until they, and their tenants, were evicted in 1966 because it had been zoned for “whites” under the Group Areas Act.

Their houses were demolished, but a cemetery and mosque remain and continue to be used to this day by the families who were scattered far and wide.

In the 1990s, the families lodged a land claim, and, after a long process, for some their once extensive land was restored to them. The next step was what to do with this land, which had been run as a municipal dump and left derelict for decades. They needed to come up with a plan to submit to the City of Cape Town under existing city planning policy and law.

The City of Cape Town has a very impressive planning document, the Southern District Spatial Development Plan, which identifies the
land claim site
for “new urban infill” and for “potential medium-density development” and “inclusionary housing” to cater for a wide range of income groups. In their very words, commercial re-zoning here would be inappropriate.

This was a perfect opportunity to put into practice the City’s policy of encouraging “a mix of residential types” that would cater “for single people, elderly people, young professionals, and lower paid professionals such as teachers and nurses”. An opportunity to put into practice the City’s intention to “enhance the unique sense of place”. An opportunity to “enhance the value of heritage resources and scenic routes … in keeping with the special cultural landscape” of the area. An opportunity to “promote integrated settlement patterns … to redress social and land use fragmentation”. Here was an opportunity to create a new suburb – perhaps honouring the names of the families who had lived there.

But has the City of Cape Town capitalised on this opportunity? Could the families scattered far and wide under apartheid be given an opportunity to come home?

No, they have not. The City of Cape Town wants to pave over the soil and put up a Shoprite/Checkers supermarket and extended parking lot. An inappropriate application by
one of the land claimants to develop a huge shopping mall on the corner of Ladies Mile and Spaanschemat River Road (a stone’s throw away from Constantia Village shopping centre) has been approved by the City, despite contradicting its own planning policy document, and despite overwhelming objections from the Constantia Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association (CRRA), other residential associations and private individuals.

* This letter has been sent to the City’s media office for comment which will be published next week.