Power and arrogance in council structures

Philip M Bam
15 August 2013

THE FOOLISH attempt by mayor Patricia de Lille to whittle away the significance of an important step in the planning approval processes caused a stir among the general community, and especially those representing civil society structures. We noted with concern disparaging utterances by our mayor that the rich protest against these things because they don’t want to give up their apartheid-gained privileges.

Other wingmen in the council structures claim the people don’t “understand” and don’t know “the full facts”, and in this way belittle the efforts of well-meaning citizens who want to follow the call of our Presidency to be active and involved citizens.

Logra Civic, representing a “poorer” community that suffered under apartheid, wishes the mayor and councillors to understand that attempts to curtail public participation in planning matters through the proposal to amend the System of Delegations for Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning Matters is of great concern to us as well.

There already seems to be power arrogance at play in these matters, as the impact of public participation is whittled away by emotive responses to community objections to developments which were felt not to be in their best interest. We must have rigorous public engagement to ensure balanced development in the city where nature and the built environment can be in harmony.

The problem here is, of course, that legislation does not give enough weight to the voice of the community. Perhaps those who have the power to construct legislation should also take the blame for this. Two examples of power arrogance are the tampering with the urban edge to allow housing on food producing land and the non-response of the mayor to requests to meet the Princess Vlei Forum.

If the PHA issue is about “urgent” housing needs, then one wonders why would another application on Strandfontein Road, near the business node, not be supported while the one on the eastern end is?

When the city’s own biodiversity professionals and science indicate that no concrete development should take place at Princess Vlei, the city seems hell-bent on ignoring it and continues to consider the sale of culturally and environmentally sensitive land. One wonders why.

We expect the city leadership to engage meaningfully with its citizens, and how fortunate we are to have an active citizenry. There seems to be a fallacious notion that the good people will always be docile voting fodder. A surprise awaits us all if we allow our city politicians to continue on the path of taking advantage of naiveté and respectful obeisance.

We urge the city to reconsider its approaches and not to blame the citizens for the red tape, but to look to its own bureaucracy. This “red tape to red carpet” seems to be a ploy to please the developers’ lobby.


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