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Dear DA, opposition is easy; governing is hard

Chris Gibbons is a veteran journalist, who anchors the award-winning The Midday Report on TalkRadio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He also presents a morning business report on Radio Algoa and edits the quarterly magazine, Directorship, for the IoDSA.

Between the escalating row over Cape Town stadium and potholes elsewhere, it seems the DA seems to be finding opposition easier than governing.

Residents of Cape Town are baffled. They are now the proud owners of a superb new stadium situated slap-bang in the middle of Green Point Common. Architecturally, as stadia go, it’s a masterpiece. Financially, though, it’s a disaster. At more than R4.5 billion, their fine new edifice is looking more and more like a White Elephant, so typical of third world dictatorships—or any one else that stages either a FIFA World Cup or an Olympic Games.

Beijing’s Olympic centrepiece, the Bird’s Nest, now stands forlorn and unused, visited only by curious tourists. There’s a fair chance that Brazil will have a couple in due course, assuming that country’s notoriously corrupt politicos and builders can get them finished ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. There are substantial fears that London will also acquire one after the current Olympics. Nelspruit, Polokwane and Moses Mabhida in Durban are all on South Africa’s post-2010 list.

But Cape Town? Hold on – none of this was supposed to happen to Cape Town, was it? After all, this is a city run by that most fiscally correct of parties, the Democratic Alliance. The DA was in power when the decision to build the stadium was taken, it was in power when the stadium was built and it is most certainly still in power now that plans are progressing to turn the stadium into something, anything, that will help make some cash to defray the enormous running costs. 

Yes, this is the same DA that is forever gaaning aan about the ANC’s profligacy, about the ANC’s inability to balance the books, about the ANC’s fingers in the till, about the ANC’s general ineptitude and incompetence. In fairness to the DA, none of this requires great brain power because the ANC presents with monotonous regularity some very large and tasty targets.

Now, the boot is firmly on the other foot. Plans for the Cape Town stadium would see the building and its surrounds re-zoned to allow it to house shops, offices, nightclubs. Anything that would avoid the humiliation of having to tear it down and admit that the people were right who said, “Look, Cape Town already has a stadium called Newlands and there’s nothing wrong with that a lick of paint wouldn’t fix.” Newlands was, after all, in the Bid Book submitted to and accepted by FIFA. Green Point came later.

Cosatu heavy and Cape Town Council ANC leader Tony Ehrenreich is having a field day with all of this, suggesting the stadium be turned into low-cost housing rather than a giant version of Teazer’s. When the Green Point deal was announced, solemn promises were given to residents that nothing—nothing, do you hear me! —would ever cause the hallowed land of the Common to be re-zoned. Well, that’s one promise that’s already in the trash can. It seems the Common is like any other piece of land in Cape Town: just plain common.

I have spoken to several people involved in all of this, including Western Cape Premier Helen Zille. When asked how such a bad decision was ever allowed to pass the DA’s eagle-eyed scrutiny, the best anyone can come up with is a mumbled statement about pressure from FIFA and assurances from government. Imagine the same statement issuing from some hapless ANC cadre in Mpumalanga? The DA’s Shadow Minister for This-or-That would be pouring scorn and demanding a Parliamentary inquiry before the first Tweet had hit the Internet.  

Equally interesting is way in which the former DA councillor for the area, J.P. Smith, appears in this little drama. According to the Cape Times, Smith told James Loock of the Green Point Ratepayers and Residents Association that he had walked out of the mayoral committee meeting at which the decision to re-zone was taken. That was in mid-June. Three days later, Smith had been gagged by Mayor Patricia de Lille and ordered to refer all enquiries to Grant Pascoe, as “the political head of the tourism, events and marketing directorate.” Watchers suggest that until now, gagging of politicians has been an ANC speciality only, yet here is the DA employing the same tactics and using words like “directorate” as if they, too, had been trained in Moscow. 

Residents of Johannesburg have endured years of bone-shaking, car-breaking potholes. The “hopeless” ANC-run Johannesburg Metro Council has apparently been unable to fix this hardy perennial. So when, at the last local elections, the DA took control of the town I live in, I thought it only fair to judge them by the same standards. It’s a small coastal town which has some awful pothole problems; like muggers on a dark night, they re-appear, same time, same place, with a depressingly predictable regularity. Sometimes they’re at least as sump-cracking as Johannesburg’s and sometimes even bigger, forcing road closures. Like their Johannesburg counterparts, grumpy locals would swear that this was definitely all part of a deliberate plot by the ANC to destabilise known civilisation.

Nearly a year after the local government poll, as the Cape winter bites and the rains sweep across this part of the land, the same old potholes are there—just like they were when the town was run by the ANC. Clearly, potholes are no respecters of political affiliation!

The evidence of both the Cape Town stadium shenanigans and my pothole problem is clear. Despite its loudly-vaunted claims to the contrary, when it comes to being in power and actually fixing big problems like the financing of a mega structure or even just small problems like potholes in the road, the DA governs much like the ANC. To be in opposition is to shout from the sidelines, where comments are cheap, the ref is always blind and where everyone knows the coach made the wrong choice – and which choice he or she should have made. To be in government is to be on the field and playing the game. It’s quite different—even at a R4.5-billion stadium. DM


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