Mayor Drops Bomb on Property Developers

Knysna’s Mayor Georlene Wolmarans dropped a bombshell in Council Chambers during a Governance & Economic meeting yesterday, August 6. She surprised her fellow councillors with the announcement that she had requested provincial government and Treasury to investigate the Knysna ISDF tender that was awarded to the Knysna Creative Heads Consortium.

For the many of us who have fought and objected against our future been decided by property developers, it’s the first sign of relief in two years of controversy. For those of you who’ve just arrived, let’s play catch-up as simply as possible and tell you why this affects readers around the country:

The ISDF is the Integrated Strategic Development Framework. In the words of Knysna Municipality, it “wants the ISDF to be a BIG PLAN that will shape the future of this town.” Where people live, where roads will go and what business will be attracted are just a few of the things it’ll decide. It’s a plan that will most influence the next 30 years of our lives! And we are the pilot project for South Africa! Are you getting it? THE ISDF IS IMPORTANT to every person reading this.

It’s so important that there are obviously rules attached to maintain it’s morality and objective outcome. The biggest of those must surely be that the tender winners cannot have a conflict of interest. So what did Knysna Municipality do? They gave it to the people with the MOST conflict of interest, local developers.  Worse is that the winners, Knysna Creative Heads Consortium, weren’t even the winners… their bid came second. And thus, Chris Mulder, the most controversial developer in town, got to be in control of our future when he became the director of the consortium.

Conflict of interest abounds through many others too. Reading the full, 6-part story is essential if you want to remotely have influence on yours and your family’s future in Knysna.

Arguably, Lauren Waring, Knysna’s Municipal Manager, became the most disliked person during this process. DA Mayor, Georlene Wolmarans competed with her. Not only did they not respond to all the complaints as required by law but hampered public participation. The DA, who rules the town, took the side of big business over the people who elected them. Stephen de Vries, the ANC Chief Whip, claimed that, “The ANC has always objected,” but without action it’s a laughable comment. Same applies to COPE. The politicians utterly failed us.

As far as i’m aware, i was the first to break the story publicly. I realised that the battles people were fighting around Knysna were part of a single war and that everything was tied together by property developers and municipal officials. Though that, i met Susan Campbell who sent me impressive research and legal arguments against the ISDF. My long-term readers will know that this website has opposed those controlling the ISDF since the beginning. The ISDF is the single most important issue in our town.

After Wolmarans’ announcement, Elrick van Aswegen (COPE) asked a dumb question: “Did you receive an official letter of complaint?” Deliberately dumb because he’d be well aware of the flood of objections mentioned in newspapers and online. As a politician, it would’ve been impossible for him to not have known.

Georlene answered that she had, “from the Knysna Ratepayers’ Association and Susan Campbell.” She left out that she’d ignored so many of our complaints, including mine and the 209 online signatures i’d collected in a petition that had included the request for: “Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance, to launch an investigation into locally failed election promises and illegal tender awards (such as the ISDF which will decide the future of our town).”

When Wolmarans was further questioned, she passed the buck to Lauren Waring, the Municipal Manager who many consider the devil behind the deal. True to form, Lauren Waring lied when she told Council that “there were only 32 to 33 objections” and that she’d responded to all. There were far more and they weren’t responded to.

Some in Council were obviously shocked that they, as a body, were not consulted and included in the decision. It’s possible that Wolmarans would have been outvoted – going directly to Province was the right move. Council has now asked for a report on the matter. It’s likely that it will be delivered at the next MAYCO meeting on August 21.

The DA has been a devil through this period with big weights such as MEC Alan Winde and Premier Helen Zille refusing to address the issue. It’s the first time the DA has gotten a bloody nose from local, white people who remain their biggest support base.

So why the change now?

It makes sense to clean a bloody nose.

I predicted that Mayor Wolmarans, ahead of local elections in 2016, would have to make a move to protect her position, even just her councillorship, after the DA Constituency made a big move by converting Eleonor Spies, the ex-ANC Mayor, into a DA Councillor and then immediately promoting her to Speaker.

Secondly, there’s been much coffee debate regarding divisions in the DA which finally made itself more defined by being either pro-ISDF or anti-ISDF. The recent shake-up in the MAYCO (Mayoral Committee) suggested who some of the anti-ISDF group are. Furthermore, Peter Myers joined the DA Constituency (and became it’s Chairperson) with the goal of opposing the ISDF. He’s a man i distrust but when it comes to the ISDF, we’re on the same side. He was behind the move to bring Eleonor Spies on board. Eleonor is also friends with Susan Campbell.

Thirdly, as i’ve told several DA politicians, including Jaco Londt (manager of the Cape’s Eastern Region), the best way to satisfy their regular voters, who are dissatisfied about so much more at the moment, would be to share our objection. Not only would it be a moral stance but a politically winning one too.

Politics takes so many self-serving twists and turns that it’s hard to trust its motives. What is assured is that failure by the DA to act when they had exactly the same facts 2 years ago has set back planning our future by the same period. That’s a lot of ratepayer-paid, man hours down the drain not to mention the big monies awarded to Knysna Creative Heads Consortium. This war has already cost Knysna but, looking at the bigger picture, it’s worth it.

But it’s not over. The public must show support for the investigation. Let’s get the job done!