The Philippi Horticultural Area


During Module 2 – The Azanians (the name that the Fellows for Cohort for 2017/18 officially adopted for themselves) , along with the Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity [AFSE] (from Australia and New Zealand) – participated in a field visit hosted by Nazeer Sonday, Philippi Horticultural Association, on his farm Vegkop, located in an important horticultural area, within the Cape Town City Metropole. The engagement was an inspiring interaction with an activist who is skilled at mobilising support and has used different strategies to do so.

It was also an opportunity to connect with the AFSE fellows in a relaxed environment to learn and cook together.

The Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) occupies an area of 3,000 hectares, only 20 minutes from the Cape Town city centre and yet produces a large proportion of Cape Town’s fresh vegetables. Nazeer and Qaanita Sonday were our hosts, and farm in the area, while he is also the convener of the PHA Food and Farming Campaign.

Nazeer and his colleague, Suzanne Coleman, who is also involved in the farm, introduced us to his story and this farming community’s campaign (the PHA Food & Farming Campaign) to save this prime horticultural land from housing development. 

Here’s the issue. The Philippi Horticultural area is, firstly, an area where small-scale farmers are able, feasibly, to make a living. There are also some residents farming successfully as a result of land reform procedures. Secondly, the Cape Flats Aquifer (CFA) – an integrated underground water system covering 630 square kilometres and mostly located underneath the Cape Flats – is mostly covered by tar and concrete already. The last remaining area that has not yet been developed is in the PHA. According to UN hydrogeologist Yongxin Xu – currently a professor at UWC – the aquifer holds enough fresh water to supply the city with 30% of its potable water needs almost immediately.

Essential to the health of the CFA is its recharge zone – the above-ground catchment area. The PHA farmlands and wetlands form the last natural green space where rainfall can permeate freely into the underground aquifer, a process integral to its survival. Thirty percent of the PHA floods during winter months, creating numerous seasonal wetlands. These wetlands are habitat to 98 bird species including flamingos, and play a vital function in “recharging” the aquifer. Paving over the PHA farmlands with housing, asphalt and mining silica sand, explain hydrogeologists, will starve and eventually destroy the aquifer.

One of the primary problems the Campaign has highlighted is that one of the spots targeted for development is precisely the most fertile portion of the remaining catchment area …

Even if the whole PHA is not rezoned, it does not matter,  Yongxin Xu says. If the most productive section of the aquifer is built up, it will have disastrous consequences for the farmers on the rest of the land, because the aquifer will not be able to recharge. “We won’t survive it,” he says. “We won’t...”.

The Food & Farming Campaign achieved a victory a few days after Daily Maverick’s visit: Heritage Western Cape opted by a vote of seven to three not to approve the overlay rezoning for one of the two proposed developments in the PHA, namely the U-Vest Property Group. The proposed rezoning of the land from agricultural area to a sub-divisional overlay zone for urban development was rejected.

Sonday called this “a major victory in the ongoing saga of the U-Vest development land-grab in the PHA” (Van der Merwe, 2016).

The process they have followed to build their campaign has involved many challenges, but over five years they have built up a network of over 60 participants. Recognising which level of government to target, and which policy or Act to call upon, is one of the critical areas of advocacy through policy intervention. This might be one of the areas of questioning to bear in mind while you listen to the presentation.