Behind The 'Liberal' Good Goverance Facade: Fear, Loathing and Patronage in the DA's Suburban Heartland

By Dale T. McKinley · 9 Aug 2011

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Picture: Democratic Alliance
Picture: Democratic Alliance

“With one hand we hand out blankets, calm the tide with donations and good-works. On the other hand we unreservedly support a system which treats the poor like filth. We turn a blind eye when those self-same blankets are burnt by the powers we vote into place. We hide and we are afraid; afraid of ‘them’ coming over our walls, afraid of questioning those in power.” 

No, these are not the words of an insecure and guilt-ridden white suburban ‘liberal’ from the dark days of apartheid but those of an honest and angry present day, politically independent resident and activist living in the upscale Johannesburg suburb of Bedfordview. And Samantha Martin is blowing the whistle.

Like its Edenvale neighbour and many other suburbs across the country, Bedfordview represents the heart of Democratic Alliance (DA) territory. For the most part, we hear and read very little about what goes on politically in the DA’s suburban havens outside of the DA’s consistent self-trumpeting of its impeccable democratic and good governance credentials and the usual media fare about crime and billing nightmares. 

The general picture that has thus emerged (whether intentional or not) is one of a valiant and incorruptible DA holding down the predominately white suburban fort against the literal and figurative forces of ‘darkness’. However, a few brave and outspoken residents like Martin, have been at the forefront of trying to fight against and expose what they see and have experienced as the DA’s hypocrisy, arrogance and abuse of political power.

Martin says that the ‘crunch time’ for her came back in 2008 when she discovered that a rich local developer, Budwa Abrosie, had succeeded in getting approval to make use of a local green lung/wetland area (Oriel Park) - mostly used by the ZCC and black soccer players - as part of the development of a new shopping centre, Bedford Square. As it so happened, Abrosie then sat on the DA dominated Bedfordview Ward Committee that was part of the decision-making process. According to Martin, when she personally contacted a local DA member (Mrs. J. Humphreys - who subsequently became the local DA Chairperson) about this blatant conflict of interest she was told that the approval for Abrosie (in the face of evidently stiff competition from ten other companies) was “a political favour.”

Further attempts to raise the issue within the Ward Committee and get support from local residents to oppose the development were, according to Martin, met with public statements by the local DA Councillor, Michelle Clarke and other DA politicians, that the allegations were “disruptive, personal and must be ignored”, that residents had “no right” to question the process and that they should “not contact the party” about the matter.

In the event, Oriel Park quickly became an ‘ecological dead-zone’ as a result of the development and after further resident outcry and intervention the Green Scorpions eventually found the developers guilty of ‘green crime’.

Despite the subsequent resignation of the then local DA Secretary and environmentalist, Nikki Botha in apparent disgust and what for all intents and purposes looks very much like a politically-backed cover-up, to this day no fine has been paid and no one held practically accountable. Not surprisingly, Councillor Clarke and the DA have flatly denied any wrongdoing, choosing instead to use the shallow tactic of political smear/innuendo by claiming that Martin’s actions are, “politically motivated, since she is often seen in the company of well known ANC cadres.”  For her part, Martin refuses to be cowed, accusing the DA in Bedfordview of “strangling Oriel Park by political posturing, smoke screens, cronyism, lies, deflection and blind party loyalty.”

Besides highly suspect development-land deals that inevitably end up serving the interests of the economically and politically well-connected (witness the plethora of luxury ‘eco-golf estates’ that have sprung up over the last several years in DA-controlled municipalities/wards in the Western Cape), the general politics of the DA appears to be infected with a cynical, anti-poor virus. On several occasions, the DA has distributed flyers in Bedfordview urging residents not to give to the poor (most always labelled as “vagrants” as if they simply do not exist as fellow human beings or have any rights).

At a minuted Bedfordview Ward Committee meeting in October 2009, an Ekurhuleni Metro Police officer is recorded as reporting that a force under his command, “burned the possessions of the people living in the veld as it had been proved that burning their belongings prevents them from coming back again." When an objection was raised by a local resident present at the meeting, DA Councillor Clarke refused to entertain it. Instead the local DA extended congratulations to Councillor Clarke for having facilitated such an action in her capacity as DA representative for Safety and Security in the Ekurhuleni Metro Council.

Then, in May 2010 Bedfordview residents were confronted with a detailed proposal by the DA dominated Bedfordview Community Police Forum (BCPF) for the implementation of a ‘City Improvement District’ (CID) almost immediately after one had just been established in the nearby DA heartland of Edenvale. For anyone not familiar with CID’s, they are essentially programmes to privatise and outsource various aspects of service delivery that citizens should be entitled to through payment of rates and taxes. A key component of CID’s entails ‘the clearing of social spaces’ that effectively deems the poor to be ‘urban blight’, who can thus ‘legitimately’ be removed/evicted in the name of urban regeneration and development.

The core of the BCPF’s proposal for the CID was labelled ‘Safehouse’ and foresaw the implementation/construction of a range of high-end and leisure projects, including an amphitheatre, horseback services, pony-rides, extensive landscaping and a new dam all accompanied by large staff components. According to Martin, when she and other Bedfordview residents objected to the proposed CID as something designed to benefit politically connected “friends” of the BCPF and more specifically its “flagrant contravention of public participation, geographic location and residential mix regulations” as well as the unexplained financial implications, they were met by obfuscation and “hysterical insults” from the BCPF. The local DA caucus leader followed that up by stating in writing that objectors must be “ignored.”

Even though the CID was eventually abandoned – clearly in no small part due to resident whistle-blowing and opposition – it would appear as though the DA dominated BCPF has yet to learn much about legal as well as public accountability and transparency. In direct violation of the interim regulations governing CPF’s, not to mention the voluntaristic intent behind CPF’s, the BCPF has illegally registered itself as a Section 21 company, with salaries being drawn. Further, according to Martin, the BCPF’s books remain hidden from public scrutiny.

Fast forward to June 2011. It’s mid-winter and in the neighbouring DA stronghold of Edenvale, a combined force made up of Edenvale SAPS, the Ekurhuleni Metro Police, private security forces and the Edenvale Community Policing Forum (ECPF) descend upon “vagrants” and “illegal immigrants” (read: the poor)  living on a vacant field. Fleeing in terror, many are arrested leaving behind what meagre possessions they own including blankets and mattresses. The ‘task force’ gathers and burns them all.

Since then, sustained outrage and numerous enquiries to the parties involved by some Edenvale and Bedfordview residents have been met with vacillation and contradictory versions of what occurred. But for Linda Mackenzie, Vice-Chair of the DA-dominated ECPF there is clearly no political or moral case to be answered given that she proudly and without a trace of contradiction announced on the day of ‘raid’ that, “we are not going to let up until we have a cleaner and safer Edenvale for all..."

Not surprisingly then, the response to direct communication by Martin and other residents about whether the DA condones and facilitates such callous racism, xenophobia and inhumanity has been arrogant and dismissive. DA Leader Helen Zille’s Chief-of-Staff Geordan Hill-Lewis has even cynically suggested to Martin that she take her complaints to Julius Malema. As Martin assiduously notes, “clearly, the concept of ‘governing’ a DA Ward does not entail oversight of the abuse of police power or the illegal action taken against the poor within these Wards by the party…they want to have power but not to take responsibility for governance where they are in power."

For all of its campaigning and publicity about a ‘caring’ and ‘clean’ politics and being a new political ‘home for all’, the picture that emerges from two of the heartlands of DA-run suburbia is exactly the opposite. 

Dr. McKinley is an independent writer, researcher and lecturer as well as political activist.

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9 Aug

Brilliant Piece

Excellent work Dale.

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Lee Cahill
9 Aug

At Last!

At last - someone is speaking out about the DA's "hypocrisy, arrogance and abuse of political power".

As a resident in an area neighbouring on Bedfordview (also a "DA stronghold") and a member of an active advocacy group in the city, I've frequently been subjected to outright bullying for opposing the DA's poor performance in the city council and its methodologies at ward level, as well as its failure to commit to more democratic processes within the party itself.

My open opposition to DA policies and practices has also meant that I have been largely isolated by the community in which I live, where most residents are DA supporters.

This, amongst many other things, gives lie to the fact that the DA is the party of good governance, social and economic justice, and political tolerance.

In contrast, although the city's ANC administration has, without a doubt, made many really and serious mistakes in governing the city, at least it shows itself willing to accept critical submissions, to discuss the issues, and to work collectively towards finding workable solutions.

DA supporters are quick to call ANC supporters who continue to vote for the ANC despite its failings "stupid" and "uneducated". I would argue that the ideological gap between the two major parties is so great that most voters simply can't make the leap to the DA. They would rather try to work from within the ANC to improve the state of governance in the country than vote for a party that talks one game and plays another.

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tony weaver
9 Aug

Golf Estates

The comment "Witness the plethora of luxury

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10 Aug

Capitalism vs Socialism

This is what Capitalism as opposed to the dreaded socialism, always comes down to: some citizens use other citizens for their own ends. The word use could be substituted by "exploit". This system seems to be the genius of western man.

It has nothing to do with clean and effective governance and it has absolutely no resemblance to Christianity.

Ina Brand

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10 Aug

@ Tony Weaver

Tony Weaver, I suggest you read Noseweek back articles "Bullied into Submission" and "Out with the Old in with the New" detailing the DA's involvement with luxury estates and developments in the Western Cape. Yes, the ANC are involved too...hence the themes in the article that they're both pretty much the same...

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12 Aug

Provincial Government

I wish some intrepid investigative journalist would spend some time sourcing and writing stories from within the corridors of the Western Cape Provincial Government instead of holing up with Zille's head of communication at Doppio Zero in St Georges Mall. If one could be found, they'd have a whale of a time getting squeeky clean Zille to explain the packages some civil servants are on, why so many millions are being paid as consultants for work that should be done by in-service staff, why so many staff have been put out to pasture and are being paid, and the conduct around a few tenders (like the branding and communications tender, for one).

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20 Sep

The DA is Not Real Political Opposition

We are being played by our mistrust for the ANC. This article I'm sure will reveal the irregularities and old-boys club rules that govern "the official opposition". Noticeably absent is the media! So much for the "free" press. As we know, the real South African apartheid heritage is nothing is free if you don't have money.

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