Opinionista Brett Herron 15 August 2019

Throwing down the gauntlet to the mayor – the truth matters

The Democratic Alliance’s cancellation of five social housing projects confirms that there is a massive pushback on the idea of using well-located public land in the City of Cape Town for the purposes of spatial integration and affordable housing.

In December 2018 I wrote an article with the working title DA goes Post-Truth and Tribal. I say working title because I never submitted it for publishing and it has remained on my laptop for about eight months.

I wrote it in the wake of the fallout of my resignation from the DA, and as Mayco Member for Transport and Urban Development in the City of Cape Town, due to the DA’s blocking of an affordable housing project in Salt River.

What followed my 1 November 2018 resignation was a month of stumbling around by various DA leaders trying to justify their decision to block the disposal of the old Salt River Market Site for a mixed use, mixed income, affordable housing development.

Even Helen Zille jumped in to try to rescue the mess the DA was in – when she wrote her then regular From the Inside Daily Maverick column: Few things more complicated than an acrimonious political divorce.

It was almost impossible to keep up with the lies and I wrote a lengthy piece exposing each lie for what it was.

In my unpublished piece I wrote:

Helen Zille’s From the Inside is riddled with lies. I told her so when she WhatsApped a sort of heads-up to me that she was about to publish a defence of the decision.”

When I replied to Helen’s WhatsApp I told her that she was being lied to and she replied: “Well I will make sure they go ahead if that is the very last thing I do. If they are lying to me I will go public believe me.”

Although I was writing about the numerous and conflicting explanations being given by DA leaders for their blocking the Salt River housing project I was equally concerned about how easy it was to simply lie to the public and get away with it.

In this regard I wrote:

What has become absolutely clear to me is that the DA has wandered down an irreversible path that has them playing in the same post-truth playground with the likes of Donald Trump.

They have gone completely tribal and have chosen primitive solidarity with each other over the truth.”

I decided not to submit the piece for publishing choosing to move on and to let the DA resolve their values for themselves.

Then last week the City of Cape Town cancelled the five inner-city housing projects that former Mayor Patricia de Lille and I launched in September 2017.

The Request for Proposals required private developers to meet a minimum threshold of social housing on each site and the five sites would have introduced at least 4,000 units into the inner city.

The market responded positively and the city received 13 proposals from private developers by the end of February 2018.

From February 2018 until the day I left the city in November 2018 I fought an uphill battle to get the project to move on from there.

It was clear to me that there was a massive push-back on the idea of using well-located public land for the purposes of spatial integration and affordable housing.

Going back to my WhatsApp discussion with Helen Zille – on 12 November 2018 I wrote back to her to say:

I was told several times that there was lobbying going on to stop the projects… in any event an outside stakeholder heard directly from Ian Neilson (the Deputy Mayor), in the 4 days he was Acting Mayor before the court reinstated Patricia (De Lille), that the Woodstock Affordable Housing Projects would not go ahead.

Now those projects have been cancelled.

And once again they are unable to provide a coherent reason for the cancellation.

I listened to Mayor Dan Plato being interviewed on CapeTalk by John Maytham on 6 August 2019.

Plato claimed to be shocked that the cancellation included the Woodstock Hospital because he said the City didn’t even own the Woodstock Hospital site.

Plato was a member of the Provincial Cabinet and he must know that city received a power of attorney in 2017 to start the development process.

He also claimed that there was nothing wrong with the process followed but that the city wanted to follow a different process but he was unable to explain why.

Then the following morning, 7 August 2019, the Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, Cllr Malusi Booi, was also on CapeTalk – this time being interviewed by Africa Melane.

Booi claimed that the Affordable Housing Project was cancelled because the request for proposals we released in September 2017 linked sites to each other and that the new process would see the sites being released separately.

Besides the irrelevance of his point – this is another lie. The five sites were released under the same prospectus but each site was a unique development opportunity.

Developers were required to submit a separate development proposal for each site but were entitled to submit a proposal for more than one site.

Then in Sunday’s Weekend Argus (11 August 2019) Plato wrote an article which introduces a new explanation for the cancellation.

In his piece (Mayor: New Approach will spur housing delivery) Plato claims that the sale of public land without development rights falls foul of the Municipal Assets Transfer Regulations.

A new explanation and another lie.

This lie is easily demonstrated by four full page adverts published in the Cape Argus on Thursday 8 August 2019.

The city advertised four parcels of public land for disposal in terms of the Municipal Transfer Regulations. Three of these land parcels have absolutely no development rights. The fourth parcel is partially zoned for development.

My apologies to Helen Zille for sharing a private conversation but I must assume that she believes residents are entitled to a truthful government no matter who the political party is.

I have challenged Mayor Dan Plato to a public debate on the decision to cancel these projects. I have made it clear that the truth matters. I don’t expect he will accept my challenge. DM

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