Economic growth, job creation is being hindered by activists – Ivo Vegter

South Africa has its fair share of issues and policies that hinder the growth of our economy. Corruption, crime and load shedding spring to mind. But as freelance journalist Ivo Vegter notes, ‘activist obstructionism’ is also to blame, in part. While there’s no denying that the economy was in a slump prior to Covid-19, things have gotten far worse, courtesy of the resultant lockdowns. Now more than ever, investment in South Africa is sorely needed. Recently, the City of Cape Town gave the go ahead for a development to be built on the banks of the Liesbeek River, in the Southern Suburbs of the Mother City. The development – which would create over 5,000 direct and 18,000 indirect jobs – was to also serve as the headquarters of Amazon Africa. This would have been a shot in the arm for Cape Town, in terms of economic stimulation and job creation. However, a number of activist groups have opposed the development. As Vegter notes, “the activists are vocal about the ‘pre-colonial and proto-historical significance’ of the broader area, known as the Two Rivers Urban Park (TRUP), in an effort to have the area declared a protected heritage site. However, their efforts fail to muster any archaeological evidence whatsoever for their claims, and hinge entirely on supposition based on geography and the assumed significance of verdant river valleys to pre-colonial agriculture.” – Jarryd Neves

Activists sabotage economic growth and job creation

By Ivo Vegter*

If cadre deployment, or pervasive looting and corruption, or anti-growth economic policies, or bureaucratic red tape, or trade barriers, or blackouts, or crime, or lockdowns fail to retard South Africa’s growth, one can always rely on activist obstructionism.

The last line of defence between South Africa and economic growth and job creation is the environmental movement, or ‘concerned citizens’.

A heavy burden of economic woes depresses South Africa’s economic performance, ranging from Eskom’s inability to supply sufficient electricity, a cadre deployment policy that values party loyalty over competence and experience, a captured state in which corruption is a matter of course at all levels of government, anti-growth economic policies such as burdensome licensing regimes and exchange controls, black economic empowerment and expropriation via ‘free carry’ laws, onerous import tariffs to protect inefficient local industries, and the failure of basic safety and security services, to one of the world’s harshest and longest Covid-19 lockdowns.

Even before the lockdowns struck, South Africa’s economy was in the doldrums, poised to rack up sub-one-percent growth in 2020 for the third year running – three years that happened to coincide with president Cyril Ramaphosa’s ‘New Dawn’.

If, despite all the reasons that make South Africa a very unattractive place to do business, a foreign company turns up with millions of dollars in hard cash and promises to create tens of thousands of jobs, we can always rely on one last hurdle to keep them out of our beautiful, but needy, country: activist obstructionism.

Last year, after several years of fact-finding, research and deliberation, the City of Cape Town gave the go-ahead for a beautiful R4,5bn redevelopment of an existing site into a mixed-use precinct of residential units, schools, offices, retail space, and hospitality facilities, with global online retail giant Amazon’s South African headquarters as its anchor tenant. The project would generate some 19,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the City.

A ragtag bunch of local resident associations, environmental lobbies and indigenous people’s groups promptly threatened to take the matter to court, and are crowd-sourcing funds to do so.

The site, on the western banks of the Liesbeek River, close to where it flows into the Black River, and surrounded by Observatory, Salt River and Maitland, is currently occupied by the River Club, a nine-hole golf course with a two-storey, 90-bay driving range, a restaurant and a bar.

It should be noted that the proposed redevelopment does not extend beyond the boundaries of the existing golf club. It does not in any way encroach on nearby rivers, wetlands or other undeveloped land.

The activists make no mention of the present use of the area as a golf club, saying only that the site is ‘a unique heritage and environmentally sensitive riverine area’, which ‘holds special heritage significance as the least untransformed wetland in the area and an important site for Khoi history’.

I had no idea that mashie golf and pub lunches featured prominently in the history of various indigenous groups (some of which were established years after the redevelopment proposal was launched) but there you are.

The activists are vocal about the ‘pre-colonial and proto-historical significance’ of the broader area, known as the Two Rivers Urban Park (TRUP), in an effort to have the area declared a protected heritage site. However, their efforts fail to muster any archaeological evidence whatsoever for their claims, and hinge entirely on supposition based on geography and the assumed significance of verdant river valleys to pre-colonial agriculture.

‘Some Khoi undoubtedly once grazed their cattle here, before the Dutch arrived and conflict ensued’ is the totality of their historical heritage claim.

Of course, the City of Cape Town and the would-be property developers did go through a lengthy process before the project was approved. The City conducted or commissioned an environmental assessment, a geotechnical survey, a surface water hydrology study, a freshwater ecology report, a heritage survey, a visual impact study, a traffic study, a civil engineering report, a socio-economic assessment and an economic analysis. The developers have also engaged extensively with ‘first nations’ groups with an interest in the site, and have secured their approval of and participation in the project.

This was not a rushed process, inconsiderate of the environmental or cultural impacts of the redevelopment.

A pattern

This activist obstructionism follows a pattern, however. Environmental activists in particular, and left-wing lobby groups in general, share an ultra-conservative mindset as well as a deep antipathy towards capitalism.

‘The River Club site, as part of the TRUP, is of huge heritage importance and should not be destroyed for private profit’, they say. Ironic, when the site’s sole purpose right now is for the private profit of the golf club owners and the leisure of wealthy golfers.

To them, profit is not the root of all prosperity, which has raised billions out of grinding poverty. To them, profit is evil. They oppose economic development, any development, as a matter of principle. They are opposed to progress and afraid of change, as conservatives are.

They utilise legislated processes to the fullest to achieve their aims, raising the cost of new projects dramatically, and then delay projects in court if decisions do not go their way.

I’ve written before about this tactic with respect to shale gas exploration in the Karoo. Despite losing almost every argument against proceeding with exploration on its fundamentals, the activists in that case tied up the process in the courts for many years, with the hope that eventually, the backers of shale gas development would lose interest and leave the country, taking the promise of productive jobs, cheaper and cleaner energy and an industrial boom with them.

This is the same strategy now employed to keep Amazon’s headquarters out of Cape Town. A great case can be made for constructive engagement by environmental and other special-interest groups in facilitating economic development by formulating research questions, anticipating hazards, and reducing risks.

These groups, however, are not interested in constructive engagement, or in facilitating development. Their sole purpose is to destroy. They wish to block development entirely, and if that’s not possible, to delay it for as long as possible.

South Africa does not need, and cannot afford, such obstructionism. We have enough problems without our own citizens sabotaging economic growth and job creation.

  • The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR. If you like what you have just read, support the Daily Friend
  • Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. As an independent researcher, he is the author of the recent report from the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) – South Africa’s Minibus Taxi Industry, Resistance to Formalisation and Innovation – which assesses the potential for innovation and modernisation in this vital transport sector.

Read more: