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Drought and drama: In defence of DA-run City of Cape Town — Ed Herbst

JOHANNESBURG — It’s tempting to get angry with the DA amid the current concerning the situation in the City of Cape Town. A crippling drought along with what looks like severe political infighting are raising alarm bells regarding how the city has been run. But as Ed Herbst points out, some are too quick at criticising the city’s managers especially as there have been other examples of much greater incompetence and mismanagement within ANC-run cities and towns. In this piece, Herbst provides some much-needed perspective. – Gareth van Zyl

Water sits in the Molteno reservoir as Table mountain stands beyond in Cape Town. The city has tightened water usage restrictions, banning the use of potable water to irrigate gardens, wash cars or top up swimming pools, as it confronts its worst drought on record and a delay to the onset of the winter rainy season. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

By Ed Herbst*

So why have the national, provincial and Cape metro DA leadership let their premier Western Cape and national project – the City of Cape Town – down so badly, and with it the citizens of Cape Town? Surely, they knew or suspected what was transpiring – the putrid, festering sore of corruption and nepotism – and, to put it mildly, De Lille’s “problematic leadership”, – Thomas Johnson Politicsweb 16/1/2017

Who would have thought that Cape Town’s self-claimed status as the “best run city in South Africa” has been so overstated (and that’s putting it mildly)?

Like so many other cities and municipalities in the country, Cape Town, it seems, has officials who are as capable of, among others, maladministration, nepotism and corruption, much like some of their counterparts in other parts of the country. – Dougie Oakes IOL 17/1/2017

You take it from whence it comes.

Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

Thomas Johnson has never hidden his antipathy towards the Democratic Alliance and Dougie Oakes works for the Cape Times a newspaper which has excelled in its relentless output of Fake News with much of it focused on demonising the Democratic Alliance

There has been one example after another, after another, after another, after  after another, after another, after another and so on and so on and so on and so on and so on and so on and so on and so on.

Without a jot or tittle of proof, without a charge being laid, without anyone being convicted Johnson, on the basis of what are mere allegations in an ongoing and very public investigation, denigrates the Cape Town municipality and its 29 000 employees as a ‘putrid, festering sore of corruption and nepotism’.

And Oakes talks of maladministration, nepotism and corruption, much like some of their counterparts in other parts of the country.

Hello?

Really?

Can Oakes or Johnson point to any Democratic Alliance-related website which is comparable to http://www.gupta-leaks.com/?

Have Oakes or Johnson read Crispian Olver’s book, How to Steal a City – The battle for Nelson Mandela Bay. An Inside Account? relating to systemic corruption in Port Elizabeth when it was under ANC control?

How to Steal a City
How to Steal a City – The battle for Nelson Mandela Bay. An Inside Account?
Accolade after accolade

I ask the question because the City of Cape Town (COCT) has won accolade, after accolade, after accolade, after accolade, after accolade, after accolade, after accolade, after accolade, after accolade, after accolade, after accolade, after accolade, after accolade for efficient, corruption-free service delivery which favours the poor

Can Johnson or Oakes tell us why the COCT is analogous to Johannesburg where the DA has uncovered more than R16 billion in ANC-related corruption, the mere tip of the African National Congress Turdberg?

Or East London when the ANC has seen fit, after its normal due diligence investigations, to re-elect to a leadership position the deployed cadre at the forefront of the unspeakably evil R300 million Nelson Mandela funeral scam?

Or Durban where the Manase report about pervasive and systemic ANC corruption was swept under the carpet and where the city’s municipal administration faces imminent collapse?

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Flag of the African National Congress (ANC)

Or Tshwane which has become a byword for municipal corruption, the place where, as Carte Blanche has repeatedly exposed, the ANC elite consider ‘full body’ massages as a  legitimate, taxpayer-funded perk at all of their innumerable legotlas?

Or Bloemfontein which financed the Gupta wedding with your money and mine and where hospitals and clinics are regarded as death traps?

Perhaps Johnson and Oakes are confusing different eras in the history on the Cape Town municipality?

Perhaps they are thinking about the 2004-2006 ANC interregnum in Cape Town when its ANC-controlled municipality on the watch of mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo and city manager Wallace Mgoqui became as notorious for tender scams as all the other dysfunctional ANC- controlled municipalities are now?

With what authority do Johnson and Oakes imperiously pontificate from the moral high ground about the Cape Town municipality? Have they ever worked there?

I worked as a consultant in the media department between 2007 and 2009 and I hold the people in Cape Town’s Civic Centre in the highest regard.

R2 billion in tender scams

When I joined media department of the Cape Town municipality in 2007 I was told that within days of the ANC gaining control in 2004, deployed cadres were parachuted in from around the country and they all knew one another. Within hours they were roaming the corridors of the Civic Centre claiming the best paintings for their offices and within days they were ordering bespoke furniture – rosewood was the preferred choice. Within weeks they were flying all over South Africa to ‘attend conferences’ – always flying first class and always staying at the best hotels, of course. Within months they were attending conferences all over the world. Within little more than two years – until they were ousted at the next election – they had stolen the municipality blind, snouting an estimate R2 billion in tender scams.

Prior to this the ANC had set the stage for the forthcoming and predictable embezzlement through a pre-planned purge of senior white officials because they were perceived to be gatekeepers who might prevent the tender scams which were to follow. Senior managers were simply told that ‘in the interests of transformation’ they were to be replaced by their juniors who were not white. They could however, accept a very generous retrenchment package that was on offer – funded of course by rate and tax payers. This ethnic, Idi Amin-type purge cost the municipality R80 million in severance pay-outs and lost untold centuries of corporate memory, institutional knowledge and skills-    transfer potential as about 100 senior managers saw what was coming and left.

The next vital step for the ANC was to close all the municipal meetings which, under the previous DA administration, had been open to the public. The most important for them, obviously, were the tender meetings. Thereafter followed an orgy of plunder over the next three years with tender scams like Big Bay 1 &2, Jewellery City, BTH Transport, Thubelisha Homes and many others. Exactly the same thing happened at provincial level.

On 4 August 2005 a letter about BTH Transport was published in the Cape Times by Dave Dalling a disillusioned former ANC MP and whip:

The process of awarding tenders also seems to be operating in a non-transparent manner, and the city has reputedly lost millions of rands by awarding a huge road construction contract to a company patently unfitted for the job, this after an ANC member of the mayoral committee, councillor Danile Landingwe, is alleged to have interfered in the decision making process.

Here are some contemporary newspaper reports about the time when corruption really was pervasive in the Cape Town municipality:

CAPE ARGUS:  (Feb 24, 2004)

Big Bay’s bargain sell-off

By: Lynnette Johns

The mayor and her committee that rules the city have ignored the recommendations of officials and selected a local black-owned consortium over two higher international bids to develop Big Bay, north of Milnerton.

Former Gauteng premier Tokyo Sexwale’s Jonga Entabeni put in a R115 million tender for the land-way below the R151m bid by an Italian company and Irish company’s tender of R147m.

In her book, In Your Face (Tafelberg, 2009) Rhoda Kadalie speaks of ‘.. the prime piece of sea front real estate, Big Bay at Bloubergstrand, gifted by the ANC-NNP alliance that now rules the cash-strapped Cape Town municipality – usually from behind closed doors and without the benefits of minutes – to Tokyo Sexwale. Sexwale offered R36 million less than the highest tender but won (against the recommendations of the committee) as a ‘previously disadvantaged’ entity with a stronger ‘black empowerment’ component to his bid.

‘It is difficult to see Sexwale as ‘disempowered’. This deal, however gives us an understanding of why, in less than a decade, he has vaulted, with unprecedented speed and ease, from what he now probably regards as a politician’s pathetic tithe, to a fortune estimated to exceed R1.5 billion.’

When he was bidding for the tender, Sexwale promised to build houses for the poor.

When I joined the municipality in 2007 I made a point of asking senior officials in the Housing Department whether such houses had been built. I was told that the poor had not benefited in any way from a deal which saw the city losing tens of millions when the Mfeketo administration accepted Sexwale’s bid. The reason for this decision, apparently, was because he had strong links with the ANC and a few more black people in his employ than rival bidders who offered the municipality between R32 – R37 million more.

One of the losing bidders was Irish philanthropist Niall Mellon who was famous on the Cape flats because, each year, he would bring out Irish citizens who would build dozens of houses for the poor which became legendary because they were so solidly built and so well finished. He built them at no cost to the state.

Here’s a report which, in the context of the Big Bay scandal, summed up that era of typically-corrupt ANC control.

CAPE ARGUS: (Feb 14, 2005)

Big Bay row takes new twist

By Ashley Smith & Henri du Plessis

The scandal around the handing out of discounted luxury Big Bay beach plots to corporations with links to political parties has deepened with the disclosure that Cape Town manager Wallace Mgoqi’s wife Dolly was, until two weeks ago, a shareholder in one of the companies.

The Cape Argus can reveal today that Dolly Mgoqi was a shareholder in Nationbuild Investments – one of 17 companies that were given three or four plots each at heavily discounted prices by the ANC-run City of Cape Town.

Once the Democratic Alliance regained control of the municipality, the tender meetings were once again opened to the public.

Professional bureaucracy

It is important to differentiate between the municipality’s professional bureaucracy and its political component which is always fraught with internecine tension.

Helen Zille worked hard when she was mayor to persuade the dozens of highly qualified municipal officials who had been previously paid by the ANC to resign because they were white – the sort of people that Tony Ehrenreich openly despises – to return to public service with their vital institutional knowledge and their expertise.

Today, the Civic Centre building in the city’s CBD is packed to the rafters with people dedicated with passion to serving the people of Cape Town to the best of their considerable ability.

Their job is made easier by the fact that Capetonians realise they live in a different world to the municipalities rendered dysfunctional by manic levels of ANC snouting.

(An article on the Business Tech website highlights the fact that 19 of the worst-administered municipalities in South Africa are controlled by what is now known as Loot-freely House and nine out of ten of the best-run municipalities are controlled by DA councils.)

At the behest of the COCT, Cape Town residents and businesses are surveyed annually by an independent company whose brief is to establish levels of customer satisfaction with service delivery and year after year the results have been positive.

In ANC-controlled municipalities on the other hand, everything is routinely obscured by its uniquely characteristic avatar – the ‘Smoke that Calls’ – while incumbent ANC councillors are slaughtered by aspirant councillors, something as unique to the party as necklacing and the strewing of faeces.

Cogent analysis

The dismal performance of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma who was voted into 9th position on the ANC’s NEC list despite the efforts of her Fake News media supporters, augurs well for an improvement in the party’s fortunes and one welcomes measured, cogent analysis from people like Yonela Diko and Ivan von Memerty.

What is not helpful is the manufactured outrage of people like Dougie Oakes and Thomas Johnson and their manifestly false assertions about pervasive corruption in the Cape Town municipality.

There is nothing new, no radical change in what the DA is currently experiencing with Patricia de Lille. Helen Zille, for example, wrote at length in her recent book about the tensions that arose within the party during the Lindiwe Mazibuko era

I have, however, become increasingly disturbed by newspaper reports which might relate to the sins of incumbency.

The accusations against de Lille are troubling and her unpopular drought levy, had it been implemented, would have cost the DA dearly in next year’s national election.

Democracy will be better served with more political competition in Cape Town.

The ANC’s Xolani Sotashe is doing an excellent job in holding the DA to account as the leader of the opposition in Cape Town council meetings.

The ascendancy of Cyril Ramaphosa is sure to diminish the number of ANC stay-at-home voters in next year’s election, but I am sure that the DA realises that it must up its game.

All the indications are that our democratic hopes are more now likely to be realised – as one Johannesburg woman expressed it in a social media post cited in the Sunday Times by Tony Leon:

Ramaphosa has won – I am weeping with joy

This is all to the good – but please spare us the Fake News articles alleging that the Cape Town municipality is a cesspit of corruption.

In 2013, during a disciplinary hearing at Independent Newspapers, the chivalrous and gentlemanly Dr Iqbal Survé verbally abused the editor of the Cape Times, Alide Dasnois and screamed that he was going to use his ‘billions’ to destroy her reputation – allegedly because she had produced a memorial tribute to Nelson Mandela that Time magazine rated as one of the best in the world – and to harm her future employment prospects.

In this he conspicuously failed because she is now playing a singular role at Groundup which is consistently producing well-researched and well-written articles which rank among the best in contemporary journalism.

As an example read this article on the Cape Town water crisis and the political polemic surrounding it. It is headlined As Day Zero approaches, nonsense is spread and the headline is apt given the sort of biased articles being produced by Survé’s newspapers – the Fake News article by Dougie Oakes alleging that the Cape Town City Council is as corrupt as the dozens of dysfunctional ANC municipalities now under administration being an obvious recent example.

  • Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.
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