The Western Cape High Court has halted the sale of the Tafelberg Remedial School site by the provincial government to the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School. Picture: Tracey Adams

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 very disappointing for the many civil society organisations and activists that have advocated so resiliently against this. For the comrades at Reclaim the City campaign (Ndifuna Ukwazi), this decision is reflective of a Province that is consciously refusing to address the legacy of Apartheid spatial injustices.

The Tafelberg property is also situated in an area that has very limited public land, sandwiched in between the mountain range and the sea. People who work in Sea Point, majority of which are working class black people, have reported that live-in accommodation in the area has changed very little since the Apartheid area. What this means then, is that the Province is effectively saying, that domestic workers in the area must put up with Apartheid era conditions of accommodation and employment, because equitable land redistribution is not going to happen, at least not in Sea Point.

Despite the very worthy social justice issues that this case has highlighted, the decision to proceed with the sale of Tafelberg raises a concern of a different kind. The concern here is that of access to, what is arguably one of the most contentious national issues of our time, land. The challenge of access to land is now frequently and publicly discussed with regards to land redistribution and the government’s current willing-seller-willing-buyer principle. The issue of government owned land which could aid in addressing spatial injustices through land distribution in areas in which the market is dominant has been less of a concern.

There have been allegations that the governing political party in the Western Cape province (the DA) has received funding from some of the individuals/companies involved in securing the Tafelberg property for the Phyllis Jowell Jewish Day School. Private political party funding still remains a mystery in South Africa and we are therefore not able to confirm whether or not these allegations are true. My Vote Counts (MVC) considered sending in a PAIA request to the DA to find out if these allegations are true and if parties involved in this sale are in fact DA donors. However, as the DA is a respondent in MVC’s current court case, and is arguing quite vociferously against transparency in private political party, we accept that this exercise would be futile.

This decision clearly shows two things, that there is an incredible amount of risk and corruption possible without the necessary regulation of private political party funding, and that for as long as we don’t have this legislation the realisation of social justice for those with no financial clout will be trumped by those able to buy access and influence through political donations. This scenario is not far-fetched. We, the public, 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. 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 are/will parties find money to fund the rising cost of politics?
There is a strong likelihood that property 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 problematic. 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.