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

This is the third and last instalment in a series on a land dispute between the Rondebosch Golf Club, land claimants and the City of Cape Town.

The coastal city of Cape Town is known for its wind, not least by the golfers. It has been said that a baboon with a knobkerrie is not safe out on some of the region’s golf courses with a full blow-on.

Some parties involved in this argument are looking for winds of a different type, winds of change, which it is hoped will change the way the city is seen to be managing its land use and urgent housing issues.

So it would seem that the Rondebosch Golf Club finds itself facing not only  its own issues in terms of its lease renewal but is in the eye of a much larger storm about lack of real change nationally.

The battle lines are drawn, and the core issues are clear, even if the possible solutions, equitable or otherwise, look about as straightforward or as appetising as a downhill 15-foot putt across the surface of a tilted mirror.

The arguments of the lobby that opposes the new lease are based on the premise that a golf club’s needs are irrelevant compared with the urgent need for more middle- and lower-income group housing to be made available nearer to the city centre.

This is coupled with arguments by Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie and Koni Benson about the historical legacy of apartheid’s spatial planning and the effects of the Group Areas Act. Dhupelia-Mesthrie and Benson are academics at the University of the Western Cape with backgrounds in history.

Groans of disbelief

These issues are black and white. However, this colour scheme does not apply to arguments about effective land use and the commercial values accrued from the land’s current use as a golf course.

Add into this volatile mix the type of assurances from the city council that it recognises the need for change and transformation and to address the spatial injustices of the past, all of which will be greeted with groans of disbelief.

Comments that the city is looking for suitable well-located land in urban centres in and about Cape Town, will only further fuel the fires of debate about the continued protection of vested interests.

It will also add impetus to the narrative about the lack of any real change everywhere and questions such as, “how much longer before we see any tangible change”, and “why should we continue to patiently watch and wait, while management teams, committees, subcommittees, etc all debate endlessly about the possible solutions that must be put in place”?

The golf club and the city council have argued to the commercial merits of continuing the lease, albeit that the principle of the peppercorn rent is being reviewed.

The city has stated that it will be reviewing lease charges and tariff mechanisms applicable to all sporting precincts, regarding each facility’s unique nature. It has also proposed applying a monthly tariff, subject to the following:

  • The club will provide annual audited financial statements and copies of commercial sublease agreements;
  • Any commercial activity — excluding the pro-shop, functions and events, tea room, restaurant and bar — will be subject to a rental review;
  • Rental will exclude rates and utilities.

It would appear that the nominal nature of the lease is being reviewed, but are there any real villains or victims in this piece?

The golf club is not to blame, insofar as it needs to apply and motivate for its continued access to the property and appears to have done so.

Long road

The objections of Mesthrie and Benson are relevant and laudable, as are the activities of Ndifuna Ukwazi in highlighting, through activities such as the Rondebosch Golf Club lease protest, the broader problems with housing in Cape Town.

A long road lies ahead for all parties involved. Concessions will be needed from all sides to reach a workable solution.

My experience of negotiations is that you know you are close to an equitable outcome when all parties finally leave the negotiating process feeling slightly dissatisfied with the outcome.

Golf is often described loosely as “elite”, an incendiary device. The Oxford dictionary defines an elite as “a select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society”. Considering that there are about 50-million golfers globally, and about 500,000 players in SA, even in relative terms this hardly constitutes an elite as owners of Lamborghini motor cars might.

For those in the golfing community thinking that this is “just” a Cape Town issue: do not be lulled into a false sense of security.

For those clubs, golf and otherwise, that lease municipal land in or near city centres, this should be a serious wake-up call.

Just as many are looking for winds of change, so should golf.

I have often bemoaned the game’s inability to share its own good-news stories effectively. Golf is not team sport, but it is now time for a collective effort, to motivate the game’s raison d’être as well as its value to the economy and the community.