Did Cape Town favour DA donor?

The Democratic Alliance-controlled City of Cape Town has become embroiled in a row in which it has been accused in a high court application of making a planning decision to favour a political donor.

Mayor Patricia de Lille and the city council, meanwhile, have taken a number of decisions that in effect favour the alleged donor’s controversial plans to build a house in the exclusive seaside suburb of Bakoven.

This includes commissioning a top audit firm to investigate whistleblower Marga Haywood, the DA’s ward councillor for the area.

The allegations revolve around the city’s decision in June last year to approve the building plans of Bakoven homeowner Carol Strong. A group of eight of her neighbours and a ratepayers’ association have applied to the high court in Cape Town to overturn the decision.

DA councillor Marga Haywood. (David Harrison, M&G)

Led by McCain Foods director Mark McCain, they argue that they were not all informed of the plans in good time, that Strong’s plans are undesirable and that the city’s decision was irrational and irregular. The city has denied this.

Strong’s plans include arguably minor departures from the area’s unique and strict heritage rules: a larger building than is allowed, the removal of boundary trees and the installation of a solar water heater.

Such breaches require the city council’s consent, and it is not unusual for this to be granted. But it is the allegation of donor bias coupled with the city’s substantial efforts to counter McCain and Haywood that have raised concerns.

A subpoena has now been issued for Haywood to testify before the high court in October.

Until the credibility of her claims is tested under oath, her version is contained only in a second-hand account by McCain’s lawyer in an affidavit before court.

According to this, DA councillor Errol Anstey told Haywood during a visit to the property that Strong and her family had been “big donors to the Democratic Alliance and that this should be taken into consideration” for Strong’s application.

She reported this to the council speaker, the DA’s Dirk Smit.

AmaBhungane could find no other witnesses to this statement. Anstey denied it, saying: “I did not make remarks to the effect that the Strongs were DA donors.”

Strong’s plans were approved a month later, in spite of Haywood’s vocal dissent during the council meeting – but these circumstances have been disputed.

Strong’s husband, Dixie, said she would not comment because the matter was before court. Haywood also refused to talk.

DA spokesperson Jonathan Moakes said: “The DA does not discuss who does or does not contribute to the party. As a result, we are un-able to comment.”

The Strongs co-own the fish-and-chips chain Snoekies. Dixie chaired Kauai’s board until recently, and the board of HSBC Securities South Africa in the 1990s.

Dixie Strong’s plans to rebuild their Bakoven house might have been biased. (David Harrison, M&G)

De Lille and the council have favoured the Strongs in three ways:

  • At a disputed sub-council 16 meeting on June 18 2014 that approved Strong’s application, of which AmaBhungane heard a recording, Haywood gave no input when the Strong matter was discussed and approved. But later in the meeting she expressed confusion, saying she had missed the item because it was incorrectly labelled on the agenda. She voiced strong opposition, saying: “It is still a huge issue with my constituents.”

DA chairperson Demetri Qually dismissed Haywood’s belated input and closed the meeting.

Qually told amaBhungane it would not have been legally permissible to discuss the matter further.

This was contradicted last week by the sub-council’s ANC representative, Bheki Hadebe, who did not attend the meeting. Hadebe said further discussion would ordinarily have been allowed, and that the events pointed to strong “divisions” among DA councillors.

Qually, Anstey and the DA’s Dave Bryant filed statements under oath in the high court saying: “Haywood did not express any opposition to the application.” This seems incorrect.

  • The second instance involves De Lille’s instruction in February this year that the city should fight McCain in court.

AmaBhungane has seen emails from a city legal official to McCain’s lawyer saying that officials had met and decided that the city would not oppose McCain – subject to De Lille’s approval. It was unlikely De Lille would oppose, the official said.

All that was needed was De Lille’s signature on top of five others, but the mayor held out for a month before instructing that the city must oppose. She defended her decision this week, saying it had nothing to do with the Strongs.

She said that, following advice from Smit, “it was decided that it was most appropriate to defend the systems of a structure of council”.

  • In the third instance, Smit commissioned auditing firm KPMG to investigate Haywood for her opposition to the Strong application.

The investigation centres on a motion tabled by her immediately after the June 2014 meeting where Carol Strong’s application was approved. Haywood motivated that the decision was “erroneous” and should be rescinded and reviewed.

But the councillors agreed to refer the matter to Smit to determine what action, if any, should be taken. It took him eight months to initiate an investigation, which seemed to focus on Haywood herself.

In his affidavit, Qually said: “When councillor Haywood’s ‘motion to rescind’ came before the speaker’s office, there was a concern that [she] had transgressed the sub-council rules and code of conduct. As a result, KPMG was appointed to conduct a forensic investigation into her conduct in relation to the application and the motion she attempted to introduce.” 

Smit added: “I wish to make clear that the investigation, which I have initiated, is related to [Haywood’s] motion.”

McCain’s lawyer Sean Rosenberg said in court: “It is not at all apparent why the unfortunate Haywood should have been rounded on and be the subject of an investigation by the speaker.”

But last week Smit said: “Haywood was not ‘targeted’ as an individual; ‘other matters’ were targeted.”

He said her allegation that Anstey was biased towards the Strongs “is currently under investigation and consideration”.

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email [email protected]

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday