On Wednesday 22nd of March 2017, the Western Cape Provincial Cabinet took the decision to sell the Tafelberg property to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School. This is disappointing for some civil society organisations to say the least. For the comrades at Reclaim the City campaign (Ndifuna Ukwazi), this decision is not simply a let-down but a clear reflection of a province that refuses to tackle seriously the legacy of apartheid spatial injustices.
The reality is that the vast majority of residents in our city are working class and people of colour. It is also true that living close to your place of work in this city is near impossible owing to the high rental costs. Without access to affordable housing in the city, this vulnerable group are confined to urban ghettos far from work opportunities and adequate amenities. In fact, the provincial government has a housing policy aimed at addressing this very issue.
Yet, the property in question, which could have been used for well-located affordable social housing, will instead go to the highest private bidder. The intentions behind the province's decision to sell the Tafelberg site are baffling to say the least. In any case, there is a kind of hypocrisy at work here. It is as if the provincial government is saying we acknowledge the spatial legacy of apartheid but poor and working class people will not be accommodated in the Cape Town inner-city.
Aside from the social justice issues, the decision to proceed with the sale of Tafelberg, despite public uproar, raises a concern of a different kind. The question here is that of political party funding, specifically donations by property developers. Whilst it cannot be definitively said that private property developers have financial ties to political parties – as no party is willing to disclose of their private funding - the scenario is not far-fetched. In fact, we have no means of knowing if and which property firms are making political donations to our political parties because our party funding legislation is woefully deficient.
The private funding of political parties, either by individuals or companies, must be regulated if we stand a real chance at combating corruption in our politics.
What we know is, property developers (like other private businesses or individuals) are increasingly becoming an important source of funding for political parties. Since public funding to political parties is inadequate, where else will/are parties finding money to fund the rising cost of politics? Anecdotes aside, businesses or individuals donating sizeable amounts of money to political parties are problematic. Simply because big donations have an influence, which always includes undue influence. In the case of property developers, there is a strong likelihood that developers who make large donations also stand to benefit from the government's planning reforms. This scandal has happened in the UK where the Conservative Party has been accused of receiving large sums from elites in the property industry in exchange for access to ministers and information.
Given our political landscape and current wave of scandalous activities by some government officials, the lack of private funding regulation is troubling. The private funding of political parties, either by individuals or companies, must be regulated if we stand a real chance at combating corruption in our politics. This is doable and has been done elsewhere. The Australian state of New South Wales for instance explicitly bans political donations by property developers. Other democracies like Belgium, Canada, France, and the United States, generally ban political donations by businesses or corporations – which can include property firms. Other countries, like Brazil and Germany, choose to allow these political donations but limit how much can be contributed.
The fact of the matter is that regulation is necessary and possible if there is political will. Some form of regulation in South Africa will undoubtedly improve accountability and transparency in the decisions over city planning and/or planning policies.