A three year long legal battle between the City of Cape Town and the African Brothers Football Academy (ABFA) is coming to a close. On 14 May the academy’s Craig Hepburn will appear in court, charged with failing to comply with the City’s zoning laws.
The academy, which offers football coaching to about 100 children aged between 7 and 17, was given a reprieve when on 17 April the City Council approved ABFA’s appeal to rezone its facilities in Gardens.
Hepburn, a former Orlando Pirates goalkeeper, signed a lease agreement with Gardens Commercial High School in late 2009.
But in 2012 neighbours complained to the City that there was noise from the fields and the nets were blocking their view of Table Mountain.
The City Council found that the football fields, which ABFA had created on old tennis courts, were being operated as a “place of assembly” within a residential zone. Hepburn was charged and the academy’s coaching hours were reduced.
After three years of battling, the City approved a request to rezone the property as a “community zone”.
The football team.
But Hepburn will still have to appear in the magistrate’s court. If charges are not dropped and he is found guilty of breaking zoning regulations, he faces a fine of between R10,000 and R100,000, or up to five years in prison.
“We had no intention of transgressing the law,” says Hepburn. “The neighbours never approached us directly in order to solve the issue, despite our best efforts.” ABFA recently built an extra fence in order to reduce the noise coming from the 5-a-side football fields. “For the last two years the City Council has reduced our operating hours by 60 percent instead of recognising the good that ABFA is doing for the community.”
“The children have a right to play football, not a right to silence,” he says.
Councillor Johan van der Merwe, Mayoral Committee Member for Energy, Environmental and Spatial Planning for the City of Cape Town, said the City was “entirely supportive” of “grassroots projects which serve to uplift and empower the community.”
But the City had to take into account the interests of all in the community, he said. “The activity taking place was unauthorised and a number of complaints relating to noise and the hours of operation were received from the surrounding residents.”
ABFA was founded in 1996 in Hout Bay by Hepburn and his friend Siphiwe Cele. The academy started operating in Gardens in 2006, using money from international donors to renovate the fields, before signing a formal agreement with the school three years later.
Dino Alberto, who coaches the ABFA youth teams, came to South Africa from Mozambique 12 years ago to look for work. “In 2006 I was living under a bridge here in Gardens, getting what income I could as a gardener, when Craig approached me. He asked whether I played football and if I wanted to change my life.”
“Together we cleaned the garbage from the fields and planted new grass–some of the grass we got from the Green Point stadium! It was a lot of work but slowly things started coming together. Kids were no longer drinking or doing drugs in the area but were coming to play football,” Alberto said.
ABFA hopes to build an education centre on the grounds to teach unemployed individuals to become football coaches and then to start other academies in the country.
“Through football, we have uplifted illiterate and unemployed people,” Hepburn says. “The ABFA vision has touched and changed many people’s lives over the past 16 years and we are committed to continuing the legacy.”
The new conditions stipulated by the City Council in terms of the rezoning approval limit the use of the school facilities to training football to children for two hours daily, excluding Sundays and public holidays.
Gardens Commercial High School principal Pieter Janse Van Rensburg says: “As far as the school is concerned, the matter has been resolved and ABFA is legally operating within the new stipulated regulations.”
Field in Gardens where ABFA plays.
Source : GroundUp