Military land in the Western Cape could be rezoned for low-cost housing


Several military bases in the Western Cape could potentially be closed if they are rezoned for affordable housing. This includes Air Force Base Ysterplaat and some Denel property.

When she was Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille called for five large areas of government-owned land to be transferred to the City or province so that low cost housing could be built there. Now that de Lille is minister of infrastructure and public works, de Lille may push for the transfer of the land.

The five sites are the Culemborg railway ground between the N1 and Cape Town CBD, Air Force Base Ysterplaat, SAS Wingfield, the Youngsfield military base and Denel property between Khayelitsha and Strand. Western Cape Premier Alan Winde on 30 May said these properties could yield up to 100 000 housing units which would be enough to meet half of the affordable housing demand on Cape Town’s database.

He said he was looking forward to discussions with de Lille “on transferring the large tracts of land owned by the national government, to be used for housing. When she was mayor of Cape Town, she led the call for national land to be freed up for housing and we trust that now that she is minister, she will immediately start the transfer process.”

At her Good Party manifesto launch in February this year, De Lille said: “The country is sitting in a situation where there is loads of public land in all three spheres of government, and that public land must be used for public good…So the apartheid spatial planning has not been dealt with effectively and therefore we will go out and do land audits, find this land and start building and stop talking about it.”

In her new position, de Lille is the custodian of all fixed property the state owns.

Former Western Cape Premier Helen Zille also called for Ysterplaat, Youngsfield, Wingfield and the Denel property to be used for low cost housing.

The SANDF said there were discussions last year with the Department of Public Works over unused military land but no discussions have taken place this year.

However, the majority of the Air Force Base Ysterplaat site was donated by the Graaf Trust to the state around the First World War so that it could be used for military purposes and the Trust is the primary rights holder of the land. The Trust would need to approve any development of the land. Zille held some discussions with the Trust last year.

According to Darren Olivier, Director at African Defence Review, “now not only has the South African National Defence Force had its acquisition budget cut to zero, but it has to fend off a new minister eager to close down active and strategic bases without compensation or relocation support. De Lille has not said where 22 and 35 Squadrons should go once Ysterplaat closes.”

22 Squadron is a maritime helicopter squadron operating Lynx and Oryx helicopters on behalf of the South African Navy while 35 Squadron is a maritime patrol and transport squadron operating C-47TP Turbo Dakotas.

“To be clear, I’m not opposed to military bases being closed and used for much-needed housing. I just believe that any proposals must be serious efforts with attention paid to costs, available budgets and the future of resident units,” Olivier stated.

Should Ysterplaat be closed, there would be implications regarding the South African Air Force’s ability to fulfil its airborne maritime search and rescue obligations as most of its air search and rescue assets are located at Ysterplaat. South Africa is expected to carry out search and rescue operations from Namibia to Mozambique and south to the Prince Edward Islands, a region of 17 million square kilometres, as part of its SA Search and Rescue (SASAR) obligations.

Arthur Bradshaw, former head of Aeronautical SAR DoT, and of air traffic management at the Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) company and currently an air traffic management consultant, told defenceWeb that aircraft based at Ysterplaat could easily be relocated along the coast (Air Force Base Overberg is one possible destination) and that just because an aircraft is configured for maritime surveillance does not mean it needs to be based in the Western Cape.

Another issue to consider regarding possible closure of Ysterplaat is the Western Cape’s initiative to add commercial air travel routes to new international destinations, including Australia and South America. Cape Town International Airport is being upgraded to help with double digit growth for international arrivals. Additional over-water flights by commercial operators could mean maritime search and rescue capabilities are needed should something go wrong.

However, Bradshaw said that adding a few more transoceanic aircraft routes out of Cape Town will not change South Africa’s search and rescue commitments or requirements and there is already a substantial amount of transoceanic traffic operating from Johannesburg and Cape Town.