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Albie Sachs champions preservation of Cape Town’s Maiden Cove

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Former Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs is on a personal mission to make sure that Maiden’s Cove is accessible to all, and that this area does not undergo development.
by TALI FEINBERG | Oct 11, 2018

“For many people in Cape Town, this was their only outlet to the ocean on the Atlantic Seaboard during the apartheid era,” he tells a group of young people enjoying the tiny beach. Behind him is a grassy verge and Lion’s Head, and boulders extending around rock pools, making the small beach feel both cut off and protected from the outside world.

The retired judge has become the patron of the organisation Maiden’s Cove for All (MCA), and took the SA Jewish Report to the beach to see what would be lost if plans to develop this area went ahead.

MCA is opposing the City Council selling and leasing this land to private owners, who plan to build a commercial and residential development that would alter the unique natural and public features of the cove. While the dispute is over a small spot on the coast, it has critical relevance for the city and the country.

The organisation was recently admitted to intervene in the case brought by the Clifton Bungalow Owners Association in the Western Cape High Court to oppose the development. “The people who use Maiden’s Cove weren’t consulted on this plan. There were no notices put up, the people weren’t involved, they were rendered invisible. We’re not against the area being developed and upgraded, but not a commercial development that will destroy its very special character and heritage,” says Sachs.

If the development went ahead, portions of it would come right down to the edge of this tiny cove, taking away the parking lots used by families to access it, Sachs says. Furthermore, he explains, the incoming residents of the proposed apartments would manage the area, seeking to make it a quiet, “private” beach, and essentially deciding how it could be used.

He hopes that this case will lead the Cape Town City Council to reflect on the way in which it approaches the use of public land. “It holds the land in trust for present and future generations. The people should be the first to be involved in discussing how to improve the facilities here. The question of making money out of the land has got to give way to the question of preserving this astonishingly beautiful coastal asset.”

Since leaving the court, Sachs has not lent his name to a public cause, so why this one? He explains that he grew up in nearby Clifton, so this area has special meaning for him.

“Being raised in a very politicised family, I felt so acutely the fact that Clifton and beautiful parts of Cape Town were preserved for whites only. I climbed Table Mountain regularly, and I’d look down and feel distraught because I was hating beauty... and you know something bad is happening when you hate beauty... because it is being preserved on racist grounds for one section of the community. So, it’s very upsetting that in a way this is being repeated in practice, allowing development to keep Capetonians apart, and preventing the majority of our people from feeling at home on the coast.”

Importantly, MCA has offered an alternative, namely to enhance the area into an urban coastal park, similar to Green Point Eco Park, which is a space for all. Additional braai facilities and playground equipment could further add to the family orientation of the place. “You start with people, not with money,” says Sachs. “So, the process should be started again right from the beginning. It’s something I feel deeply about, so I allowed my name, very comfortably, to be added as patron.”

Why is this relevant to the Jewish community, both in Cape Town and nationally? “In an indirect but not unimportant way,” says Sachs. “The nearby Glen Country Club was built when Jews were excluded from most country clubs. This area was seen as a kind of ‘backyard’ part of Cape Town, so Jews were ‘allowed’ to have a club here, on rocky, wild land. Jews know what it is like to be subjected to racism and exclusion, and many Jews have strongly supported MCA.”

In fact, Sachs’ cousin, Bennie Rabinowitz, was a key leader in Sea Point’s ‘Sea Front for All’, “which also fought for the idea that our beautiful coastline must be kept available for everybody, instead of being used to make quick profits for developers and quick income for the city”, he says.

From Sachs’ point of view, “environmental aspects are crucial for Cape Town, and these precious assets must be guarded. Cape Town is very dependent on the indirect benefit of Table Mountain, access to beaches, the beauty, [the fact that] that tourist buses can stop here, and the mountain extends to the sea. These are priceless things. There are some things money can’t buy, and this is one of them.”

 “Many people in the Jewish community remember the difficulties of their grandparents’ generation, and can empathise quite genuinely with people denied real opportunities. They manifest a great deal of open mindedness and generosity because they genuinely feel for their fellow human beings. In a small way, Maiden’s Cove for All is an example of that larger, all-inclusive vision.”

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