Rondebosch Golf Club. Picture: SUPPLIED
Rondebosch Golf Club. Picture: SUPPLIED

This is the first of a three-part series by Business Day golf writer John Cockayne on the dispute between the Rondebosch Golf Club, land activists and the City of Cape Town.

In 1955, Mordecai Richler wrote in the novel Son of a Smaller Hero: “There are three sides to every argument. Yours. The other guy’s. And the right side”.

Arguments about the continued use of publicly owned land in Cape Town by Rondebosch Golf Club appear to have put paid to this concept by at least a factor of two.

The key protagonists are individuals and activist groups, the golf club and the City of Cape Town. The opponents to the continued use of the land as a golf club raise the following objections:

  • The historic injustices of forced removals in the Black River area under the Nationalist Party’s Group Areas Act, in conjunction with road-planning decisions, have never been acknowledged or addressed.
  • The white population was complicit in these activities to protect vested interests. It is claimed that these interests are still being protected by actions such as the continued use of public land, such as the lease for the golf course in Rondebosch, which is likely to be renewed with the Rondebosch Golf Club.
  • The legacy of apartheid’s spatial planning continues to be felt with workers having to spend much of their disposable income on transport to get to and from work. Covid-19 has further highlighted this problem as the government struggles with the unrealistic task of creating social distancing within, among a number of factors, an inadequate and overcrowded public transport system.
  • This type of land should not be made available at a nominal rent to subsidise an elitist sport amid an urgent need for housing in and adjacent to the city centre.
  • The city neither considered all factors concerning this piece of ground, nor explored thoroughly all alternative options with interested parties.

The substance of the first point has been clearly made over the years in postapartheid SA. The ANC has failed to address this sensitive issue effectively.

In their balanced and considered letter of objection to the proposal of a renewed lease to the Rondebosch Golf Club, Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie and Koni Benson, both University of the Western Cape academics, highlight the “place of Rondebosch Golf Club in supporting apartheid in the 1950s. In 1955 when a part of the Black River area which adjoined the golf course was advertised as a possible Chinese group area the Rondebosch Golf Club made representations” against it.

The inclusion of the opening quote was partly motivated by its relevance to arguments in general, as well as in terms of the date. On July 16 1955, the captain of the Rondebosch Golf Club, VW Buckland, wrote to the Cape Town City Council to declare the club’s concern about the proposed resettlement of nonwhites (Chinese) adjacent to the golf course under the Group Areas Act.

Buckland, writing on behalf of the club, had objected to the proposed resettlement on the grounds that the “skollie type” should not be allowed near areas such as the golf course. He argued against a “non-European” settlement close to the course because of bringing in criminal elements that would be hard to control.

The renewal of this lease … blatantly ignores a history of forced removals, and actively legitimises, rewards and further entrenches colonial land dispossession and racist segregation
Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie and Koni Benson, UWC academics

Referring to those “non-Europeans” (the Black River community) who already lived near the golf course, he said: “We had hoped that with the advent of the Group Areas Act we could look forward to a brighter outlook for the future.”

In his view, the value and standing of any area would be enhanced when cleared of non-European elements.

Dhupelia-Mesthrie and Benson continue say that “organisations like the Rondebosch Golf Club need to account for their past complicity with apartheid and should not be rewarded by the offer of this lease. We cannot separate the reproduction of privilege and excess from the reproduction of dispossession and poverty — the two have always and continue to be linked. The renewal of this lease ... blatantly ignores a history of forced removals, and actively legitimises, rewards and further entrenches colonial land dispossession and racist segregation.” 

Buckland’s original letter, of which I have a copy, is held up as evidence of complicity with, and the use of, the Group Areas Act to protect and entrench white minority interests.

Regarding the last three points,  especially about the redevelopment of the land being used by the golf club, there are counterarguments that SA’s cities should be decentralised and that the government should create new work and living nodes that have all the required  facilities, but which are outside already congested city areas.

Representatives of NGO Ndifuna Ukwazi, who oppose the continued use of the land as a golf course, have staged protests on the golf course. It focuses attention on their position that the broader community interests would be better served by using this land for low and middle-income housing development.