The fight for Philippi

The Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA), a mere twenty-minute drive southwest of Cape Town’s city centre, is a historically agricultural area that in recent years has come under much contestation regarding its future prospects. The land in question is intensively farmed and produces over 50 percent of vegetables consumed in the city. It is being threatened by private property developers and the municipality’s willingness to extend the urban edge to accommodate them.

The latest victory for PHA activists resounded one month ago when Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning Minister, Anton Bredell, turned down an application by MSP Developments for a proposal to rezone the area and change it from an agricultural area to one earmarked for urban development. Although many have praised Bredell for the decision, to what extent does winning this battle further the fight against ongoing threats to the security of those invested in these critical farming areas? Private company Rapicorp still has permission to develop land on the farming area’s edge. Government has also indicated that in future, depending on a viability study of the PHA’s northern sector, there may be the “possibility of releasing some well-located agricultural reservation land for urban development, the scale of which remains to be determined.”

Photo credit: Nazeer Ahmed Sonday/Natalie McAskill.

Philippi possesses an area of agricultural land that is unique in its ideal ecological and climatic framework, allowing all-year production of 100,000 tonnes of fresh vegetables annually. A 2012 City report on the role of the PHA states that the area is responsible for the employment of an estimated 2350 to 3760 people, almost all of whom fall into the category of unskilled labour. Most of them are women.

A study by Dr Jane Battersby-Lennard, an urban researcher for the African Food Security Urban Network (AFSUN) and the African Centre for Cities (ACC), and her co-authors, found that along with having high cultural, social and ecological significance, the PHA also plays a critical role in addressing food insecurity in poorer settlements adjacent to the area.

The PHA’s ideal location and predictable climate has made it a target for private property developers wishing to exploit its economic potential. Various applications to amend the City of Cape Town’s Spatial Development Framework (CTSDF) and rezone the area for housing purposes – the latest of which involved MSP Development wishing to transform 280 hectares into a 5000-unit property development – have been considered by the municipality.

Pro-development arguments have largely rested on the city’s need for adequate housing, as well as the impression that the area’s agricultural productivity is decreasing along with an uptick in land sales by disgruntled farmers. As a result, the City has failed in the last fifteen years to enforce zoning bylaws. This has led to degradation of the area in the form of random squatting and the dumping of industrial waste on what appears to be vacant land, perpetuating speculative support to develop the area for housing and other uses.

It appears that views regarding the PHA to be of little value in its current state are misinformed. Research into the productivity of the area reveals that the PHA is intensively farmed, and involves a complex intra-city network of benefactors. But due to development projections constantly threatening the undergoing agricultural practices, farmers are reluctant to exercise sustainable investment into the area, which further undermines its agricultural productivity.

Considering the realities of a highly dualistic and inequitable city, in which 80 percent of poorer households are recognised as food insecure (2012 City report), one is forced to question the credibility of the municipality’s support for this “breadbasket” being transformed into housing projects that are neither yet proven to be accessible to the very poor nor necessarily need to be placed beyond the urban edge.

David Dewar et al., in their response to the matter, share this sentiment, writing that Cape Town’s defense of property development in the area “makes no sense.”

The plight of Philippi exposes the deep rifts between the spoken possession of democratic values and the explicit exercise of these values that government representatives are expected and yet fail to practise.

Nazeer Sonday, spokesperson for Save the PHA campaign, raises the lack of public participation and reluctance on behalf of government officials to open dialogue as issues, in a recent interview with Voice of the Cape. In a November Cape Times article, Sonday further emphasises the need for appropriate leadership, suggesting that if the PHA is lost, “this will be the lasting legacy of the DA in Cape Town.”


Based in Cape Town, South Africa, Christy Zinn is a postgraduate researcher and urban thinker striving to interrogate the social and spatial dynamics of cities. Believing that people make a city tick, she focuses on invoking a culture of active citizenship within urban communities​.

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