Business Unusual

Survival for the Moneyed: It is a Jungle Out There

Building Planning Department under the scope: Everything goes, who needs an architect when you can buy Council officials...

In Brief

  • A 2008 report on prevalent corruption in the Planning and Building Development Management Department is gathering dust at City Hall even as errant property owners and developers run amok, with unapproved building projects alarmingly on the rise
  • The public protector finally got access to the report, but with the condition to keep it confidential; a condition Adv. Madonsela has accepted and agreed to honour
  • uSpiked found some of the retired officials mentioned in the report engaged in new gigs, including preparing building plans and expediting approval of suspicious developments at City Hall


Do you have an abundance of political connections, or more than enough money to go around? If your answer to either of these is in the negative, you would better be sure to stick within the confines of laws and regulations otherwise you are likely to find yourself cold, hungry and possibly in jail, and you may even wish for a speedy end to your existence. The Global Greed Series steps into that zone which could best be described as ‘selective feeding for national development’: nepotism and corruption in the private and public sectors...

The country is littered with illegal structures that local authorities appear unable to contain. We are not talking about squatter camps or the so-called land-invaders; the culprits in the spotlight here are those with abundant disposable resources. Resources which are so disposable that they can afford to commission multiple architectural drawings for their secondary homes … so disposable that they appear to believe they are above all the laws and by-laws of the land. However, if they are caught, they are more than capable of buying their way out of the quagmire.

Charity begins at home… so what better place to commence our investigation than Cape Town, the home of uSpiked. When a contractor receives millions of taxpayers’ rands under the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) to construct low-income homes that crack within months of completion, there is no sign of the official outcry one might expect. When the same builders fail even to complete the work, we can only wonder why they end up winning more contracts … but this is not about tenderpreneurs, at least not yet.

selective feeding for national development’: nepotism and corruption in the private and public sectors…

A drive through the city’s high-heeled suburbs would make visitors assume that there is a major property or building boom in the country. Owners are competing to show their financial muscles; some of them appear to be on a quest simply to outshine their neighbours, while others are developing additional structures within their homes with the hope of securing tenants to subsidise their living expenses. Many of these supervise-it-yourself owners don’t bother to seek approval for their building plans: of course they are confident that the city would not send the anti-land-invasion unit into their wealthy neighbourhoods.

Camps Bay, Constantia, Newlands, Rondebosch, Bantry Bay, Clifton…

The cowboy constructors are running amok and all the City does is sit back and allow the mayhem to continue. Camps Bay, Constantia, Newlands, Rondebosch, Bantry Bay, Clifton… no area is spared, and should the existing neighbours feel offended by intrusive structures blocking their views of Table Mountain and the ocean or by the construction dust and noise polluting their daily environment, the City seems to dare them to seek legal redress, after all “they can afford it”. However, if it were just about views and dust, we could let it go, but there are underlying issues that must be addressed. The by-laws so readily ignored do have critical safety and environmental implications.

Within the greater City of Cape Town, there is a Sub-Council 8, otherwise known as Helderberg Sub-Council. Despite being towards the eastern side, it is the Wild West of Cape Town. Within Sub-Council 8, anything goes and opposing voices are ruthlessly stifled. Even the fire-spitting Public Protector, Adv. Thuli Madonsela, has not been spared; her Office’s demands for access to various records from the City caused not so much as a twitch in high places.

The City of Cape Town has its owners. Forget the illegal winter eviction of shack dwellers, or the robbing of graveyards previously serving coloured communities for conversion into high-rise residential apartments. As the winds of change were sweeping through the country in the early 1990s, prime public properties were freely dished out to friends of the National Party. As recently as two months ago, a company with legitimate sand mining rights, but deemed ‘not to belong’, got closed down... [a story in the works]

Way back in the last quarter of 2008, the City of Cape Town, then under mayorship of Dan Plato, accepted that there were possible cases of corruption and other improprieties within the City’s Planning and Building Development Management Department. To make certain, for an undisclosed amount Plato commissioned an investigation by Nexus Forensics Services (read consultants). It was a great move that was quickly watered down when the terms of reference provided to the investigators singled out Helderberg Sub-Council and excluded other sub-councils.

While something definitely seemed better than nothing, there was still a shock in store for the Helderbergers. As the forensic investigators were compiling their report, several officials adversely mentioned in the report were allowed by the City to swiftly take early retirement with full benefits. With their departures, the findings of the investigators crumbled.

We have seen a copy of a brief that has been with the Public Protector since March 2012 in which the Department’s Principal Professional Officer, Jurgen Neubert, informed the officials of a civic organisation who had pushed for the audit that as the culprits had left the city’s employment, the finding had been rendered null and void. Neubert’s department, with the backing of various mayoral committees, further decided to shelve the entire report. Despite the fact that the report was paid for from the public coffers, even the Office of the Public Protector’s repeated requests for access were denied.

…when Adv. Madonsela’s Office was finally granted access to the Forensic Report, the City insisted that it be kept confidential…

And when Adv. Madonsela’s Office was finally granted access to the Forensic Report, the City insisted that it be kept confidential, a condition that the Public Protector seems to have accepted. We are still waiting to learn how her Office came to agree to such an irregular condition.

So have the departures of the fingered officials in fact cleansed the Department?

The uSpiked team has traced some of the ‘handsomely retired’ officials to new gigs. One of them, Johan Boshoff, turns out to be a professional building plans designer who is offering cheaper rates than those charged by more highly trained architects. And not only does Boshoff draw plans, but he knows how to manipulate the City’s systems to have any questionable plans quickly approved. [We shall revisit this in the coming weeks].

We can further prove that the departures of the questionable officials has not actually had the intended purging effect on the Sub-Council – to borrow from the Gary Russell novel title, it has remained business unusual. As our next report, Digging the Earth’, shows, if you have the right connections, the officials will gladly look the other way.

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