/ 31 August 2015

Right of reply: Facts not integral to spinning a tale

De Lille wants the commission to investigate if the charges she brought were pursued by the NPA and
De Lille wants the commission to investigate if the charges she brought were pursued by the NPA and

In “Did Cape Town favour DA donor?” (August 21), Craig McKune told a story of how there may have been undue political interference in a sub-council planning decision that favoured people who may or may not be politically connected to the Democratic Alliance as donors.

The article seeks to draw a link between court actions, sub-council planning decisions and political favouritism.

Here is how it does so. It offers a contention that people may be DA donors without having any proof that this is the case. It relies on the alleged remarks of a councillor who apparently said that she was asked not to object because doing so would prejudice DA donors – but this councillor does not provide comment for the story. And it rounds this off by saying that I instructed the city to oppose court action despite the recommendations of officials.

Together, these add up to something near a conspiracy for McKune. This is the story his mind has put together: the mayor tries to defend political interference favouring political supporters in council processes.

It’s a ripping good yarn, to be sure, in keeping with his previously expressed view that the DA is just up to no good when it comes to planning and development decisions.

But, with a little bit more probing, the story does not actually have all the evidence it claims. It contains no evidence or comment from the councillor who apparently alleges political interference.

It says that the councillors who allegedly pushed through with politically motivated actions have all sworn that this is not the case in official affidavits. Further, it notes that it has no evidence that the Strongs are donors. The story also observes that, in fact, there was no objection raised by the supposed “whistle-blower” during the relevant item of the sub-council.

It goes on to ignore the fact that, in law, once a decision has been duly made by a relevant authority it cannot be unmade unless through a process of review or appeal.

It also fails to mention the full context of my remarks about approving legal action: the decision is that of the delegated authority, which, in this case, is the executive mayor. Numerous sources inform the exercise of delegated authority, but ultimately the decision is that of the decision-maker.

There is nothing untoward about this, yet the story chooses to find fault by supposedly drawing on the opinion of some unnamed person with whom the decision did not rest. I also made it clear that the decision was not motivated by the political position of anyone, whether donors to the DA or not.

It will be noted from my words that all of these caveats do appear in some way in the story. I can only assume that this is how the Mail & Guardian tries to indemnify itself from claims of reporting unsubstantiated gossip and not substantiated fact: it has made all of the qualifications of the facts appear somewhere. This is quite cunning, if not entirely robust, from the point of view of making a strong argument.

For these tactics do not change the reality. Once again, in this newspaper there is a narrative about possibly unethical behaviour that is not supported by facts, witnesses, evidence or the record of actual events. But these things are not necessary to spin a tale.

And if spinning tales is now the primary business of the M&G, then there is no need for concern. – Patricia de Lille, executive mayor of Cape Town