This is a complaint to the Public Protector regarding the leasing of public property on the famous East Head of Knysna.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) currently controls the town through a coalition with the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP). In recent years, the DA has become involved in several major property controversies in the Western Cape. That includes the ISDF, the 30-year plan for Knysna, whose first tender was given to a consortium of property developers, with the most conflict of interest, who never won the bid. The East Head leases seem to be a continuation of that arrogant authoritarianism which puts the rights of citizens last.
The national leadership of the DA and ACDP have repeatedly failed to respond to numerous queries of corruption and maladministration. It’s fair to consider that they are more interest in power than their duty to the town.
Although this particular issue may be a crime, it isn’t claimed as such because it’s a challenging legal issue requiring more learned input. But as an activist, I can address the legal basics, present disturbing questions and question political behaviour.
This is a direct copy from the complaint submitted to Gideon Landman, a senior investigator at the Eden District Office of the Public Protector. Evidence numbering is referred to in brackets. For convenience sake, it’s downloadable as a zip folder here [21mb]. I skip the intro and begin with the background of this issue…
The East Head of Knysna is a suburb mostly for the rich and a destination for both locals and tourists. As a geographical location, the East Head is the #1 attraction on Tripadvisor.
At its base, on the Estuary side, on public land curated by the Knysna Municipality, are a scenic deck and walkway, toilets, a shop and two restaurants with a parking lot in between. This land and the buildings are owned by the people of Knysna who have essentially entrusted the Municipality to look after it for them. National, provincial and local laws protect that trust.
Collectively, this asset is referred to as the “East Head lease”.
Cornuti’s won the previous tender but fell R4-million in arrears. Court battles are rumoured to have summed the total loss to R7-million. Strangely, none in the Municipality have been held accountable for the loss.
The East Head Café has been in the uncomfortable position of subletting, paying rent to Cornuti’s which doesn’t get handed over to the Municipality. However, the East Head lease ends on December 31 2016.
It’s arguable that this is the most expensive public property asset in Knysna yet the Knysna Municipality excluded public participation and has failed to put it out to tender.
Instead, they’ve given a separate lease to the current sub-lessee, Alburger No 74 CC (which trades as the East Head Café), commencing January 1 2017. This is a 3-year lease with an option to renew for a further 3 years. It’s logical to assume that East Head Café will choose to renew, effectively giving it a 6-year lease.
There’s an argument that the current leaseholder, Cornuti’s Ristorante, may refuse to depart, creating a limbo that requires East Head Café to been given a separate lease. However, a month-to-month contract, or the 6-month contract that the Knysna Municipality’s Acting Chief Financial Officer suggested, would have sufficed until the lease could’ve been dealt with correctly i.e. via public participation and fair tendering that includes necessary BEE consideration.
The issue captured my attention when I attended the 6 December 2016 Ordinary Council Meeting. Therein, there was an extraordinary happening in the public interest.
Acting Chief Financial Officer Lourie Fourie stated that he was duty-bound to report the Council for pushing the lease through. He referred to his 7-page ‘physical’ report which the Ordinary Council Meeting had excluded from the agenda [EHL01 pg79]. He was bizarrely belittled, publicly scolded that he wasn’t a lawyer and the gravity of his position ignored. Against further objections from the African Nation Congress (ANC), the Democratic Alliance (DA), with support from the Knysna Unity Congress (KUC), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and Independent Velile Waxa, approved the lease.
DECEMBER 6 COUNCIL MEETING
As will be shown later in this statement, I’ve been denied a copy of the recording of the Council Meeting. Consequently, I share my notes from that meeting, to show conflict needing clarification and because some points will be referenced further on:
15.1 Marlene Boyce (Acting Director Planning) stated that the asset value was approximately R9-million and thus the East Head Café section could be valued at half that, R4.5m to R4.6m (this is problematic and will be addressed further on).
15.2 Peter Myers (DA Deputy Mayor): Not worth over R10-million so asset transfer regulations do not apply.
15.3 Elrick van Aswegen (COPE): How is it possible that such prime property is only worth that?
15.4 Victor Malosi (ANC): This application didn’t comply with full BEE. She [Mayor] misled us. Not BEE, only 1 shareholder.
15.5 Eleanore Spies (DA Mayor): I never said that they were “fully BEE compliant”. I said that regards an “aspect” i.e. That there was a black shareholder.
15.6 It was stated that the black shareholder is Nicholas Njozela and works for the state as the Principle of Percy Mdala High School. He owns only 1% of Alburger No 74 CC t/a East Head Café.
15.7 Victor Malosi (ANC): Stated that “SCM s44” must be complied with.
15.8 Malosi wanted the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to comment. There was an objection from Myers. Van Aswegen wanted the report from Melony Paulsen, the Acting Director Corporate Services (and also the Legal Adviser to the Municipality).
15.9 Paulsen condoned the lease, saying that it wasn’t a procurement process or an award.
15.10 Victor Malosi (ANC): “It’s obvious that we care less for people coming from a previously disadvantaged background.”
15.11 Louis Fourie (CFO) [quote/paraphrase]: “I will not belabour the point. Prior to the item before the MAYCO, there was complete disagreement between officials. I went to the effort of making a 7-page report based on legislation and the Council’s own immovable property policy. I requested the MAYCO to include my report before Council which they did not. It is my honest opinion that this recommendation is disregarding the MFMA. In my opinion, it will lead to irregular and wasteful expenditure. In the event that the accounting officer proceeds, I, as the responsible official, must immediately report it. That’s my responsibility as CFO and i shall do so accordingly.
15.12 Peter Myers (DA): “I object in the strongest possible manner… I protest in the strongest possible terms to the speech you allowed the CFO to make. I don’t believe that in terms of the MFMA the CFO is allowed to directly influence the Council. He disagrees with the legal advice we received. He will agree that he is not a lawyer…”
15.13 [Someone in the ANC]: ” I don’t understand how we cannot take advice from the CFO.”
15.14 Victor Malosi [ANC]: “Is there any particular reason why the CFO’s comments were not incorporated into this agenda?”
15.15 It was stated by the DA that there’d been much discussion already in the MAYCO and that the reports the Paulsen and Boyce had delivered to Acting Municipal Manager Bevan Ellman were done so orally i.e. no written report.
15.16 Elrick van Aswegen (COPE): “Here’s an opportunity, for the first time in the history for our municipality, where a black business could run a business at a strategic point.”
15.17 ANC: “We want to condemn this in the strongest terms possible. S14 must be applied.”
15.18 The lease was approved (extract from the agenda below).
It was obvious from the Council Meeting conflict that the matter was of great public interest. Consequently, I made inquiries to the Knysna Municipality and published a series of blogs (that included the ANC’s press release against and Susan Campbell’s argument for):
16.1 ‘ANC Outraged at East Head Café Lease’ (press release) [EHL02a]
16.2 ‘Last Council Meeting Very Controversial’ [EHL02b]
16.3 ‘East Head Lease Obstruction’ [EHL02c]
16.4 ‘East Head Emails: Peter Myers’ Unhelpful Arrogance’ [EHL02d]
16.5 ‘Protesting DA Hide and Seek’ [EHL02e]
16.6 ‘Knysna East Head Lease Deception’ [EHL02f]
DECEPTION & QUESTIONS
The Knysna Municipality and Democratic Alliance (DA) has a poor relationship with me. I’ve exposed many serious issues wherein they seem to be villains against the best interests of the public. Their response, as can be witnessed in my previous submissions to the Public Protector (PP), is to block or attack me, or both (e.g. Knysna complaint #7 to PP).
To date, my Dec. 6 email [EHL03] to Marlene Boyce, who allegedly made an oral legal argument for the lease, and to Fredri Kruger (Supply Chain Manager), has remained unanswered.
However, Melony Paulsen, the Municipal Adviser and currently Acting Director Corporate Services, responded, only 13-minutes later, to my December 7 email to her and others [EHL04].
I considered the speed to be either good news that they valued tourism and local business or bad news in that cover-up was afoot. The latter seemed more probable as, over 6 years, they’d only acted twice in such manner i.e. seemingly helpful. The first was regarding the maladministration of Knysna Tourism (Knysna complaint #1 to PP) and the second the seemingly illegal contracting of Fran Kirsten as Communications Manager (Knysna complaint #3 to PP). Both times resulted in the Municipality suppressing information that was damaging to them. Their subsequent actions, in this case, would seemingly prove my fear true.
That emails (Dec 7->Dec 12) would become a thread involving me, Melony Paulsen and Peter Myers. That dialogue [EHL04a & EHL04c] can be summarised as:
21.1 My PAIA request attached [EHL04c].
21.2 Melony Paulsen stating 14 days ago that she’d provide the requested info but then failing to do so as if she reconsidered or was told not to (today’s date is December 21 2016) [update: now March 5 2017].
21.3 The DA failing to accept my offer of posting their press release regarding the issue.
21.4 Myers being confrontational, accusing me of working for the ANC’s agenda and wanting to damage local business. Myers is a smart man, a qualified chartered accountant and advocate. He must know exactly what he’s doing when he’s twisting my words and intention.
21.5 Myers politically, and seemingly illegally, interfering with the Administration.
21.6 Paulsen and Myers creating the deception that there was no 7-day report by the CFO against the lease.
21.7 Paulsen and Myers, in practice, denying me the relevant mp3 recordings of the relevant meetings, particularly the one which would confirm that my ears had heard the CFO stating the existence of his 7-day report. Paulsen then seemed to deliberately exclude that mp3 from her response.
On December 12, Jerome Simonis, the majority shareholder of East Head Café, emailed me [EHL05a], attaching the documents he had submitted to the Knysna Municipality [EHL05b]. He and I had previously corresponded on December 7 [EHL05c], with me stating that my argument was with the municipal process and not his business, and offering to post a press release if he submitted such.
As stated in my final email to Paulsen, I stopped by her office, on December 12, in an attempt to hear the second recording requested, the Dec 6 Council meeting.
She had a female municipal staff member take me to a nearby office, a few seconds away. Within 3 minutes, the staff member had fetched the external hard drive with the recordings. I was asked if I had a USB stick so that she could transfer it to me. I said “yes” but stated that I didn’t want her to get into trouble. She was confused. I told her to ask Paulsen if she was allowed to. I stated this because the conflict between the politicians, municipal staff and cross-factions has made life difficult for many staff members. I made a decision to respect that lady ahead of the information I wished to gain.
When she returned, she said that Paulsen had said that I couldn’t have a copy. When she pulled out headphones, I requested that she play it through the computer so that I could record it. She said that Paulsen had said that I wasn’t allowed to. Consequently, as my goal is for the public interest, I stated that I wouldn’t listen and told her to tell Paulsen that I would wait for her to respond to my PAIA request.
It was obvious that Paulsen, like in the emails from her and Myers, was being obstructive.
26.1 Despite wanting to charge me an unnamed fee, there’s no cost to gaining a public recording.
26.2 The Knysna Municipality doesn’t want the greater public to hear the recording.
Online, I was faced with an awkward situation involving Susan Campbell, a fellow activist and non-practicing attorney, the only person besides myself whose made regular effort to look into municipal affairs.
Campbell and my relationship had become strained as I considered her friendship with Deputy Mayor Peter Myers and Mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies to have blurred her view. Possibly relevant to this matter is that her best friend is Marlene Boyce who was the Acting Manager Planning & Development when she presented oral argument in favour of the East Head lease. All know the owner of East Head Café, Jeremy Siminois. Additionally, Spies is alleged to have worked with, be friends with, and have a sister who dated, Nicholas Njozela, the 1% BEE shareholder in the restaurant.
For me, the awkwardness of Campbell’s comments on my Facebook and to me on the phone seemed to fulfil the narrative the DA had introduced [EHL06a->c].
29.1 The CFO isn’t a lawyer so his argument is discounted.
29.2 Any argument against the East Head Café lease equates to damaging local business.
29.3 Like Paulsen and Myers, Campbell played with words regards the existence of the CFO’s report. Paulsen had stated no such report was left off any agenda. Myers repeatedly supported her reference to only “oral reports”. Campbell stated on Facebook that there was an “oral report”. But she was at the same Council meeting as me when the CFO spoke of his 7-page report being excluded.
All three are lawyers, skilled with wordplay. I considered them to be deliberately deceptive, a collective creating a false image.
Suspicion isn’t fact and, even if true, cannot be looked at without context. Campbell’s previous work is detailed and applaudable. Any argument she makes has to be considered. Consequently, I posted her legal viewpoint on my website [EHL02f]. In the absence of the requested DA press release, I would, at least, have a counter-argument to the ANC’s press release. The goal was (and remains) to present all facts to the public so that they (and me) can arrive at an informed opinion.
In the morning of December 15, I emailed my complaint at the handling of the situation to the DA’s Federal Executive; Ccing Myers, Wolmarans and Spies [EHL07]. I said that it was possible that the signing of the lease had been delayed because of my queries.
At 11.21am, Myers responded to all, stating that the process was legal but without explaining why. Ironically, he stated that I must provide the legal reasoning for it being wrong (he ignored that my request was for information and that it had thus far been denied). Again, he derides the CFO.
Myers spoke in tense that meant the lease hadn’t been signed i.e. “It is now a council resolution that must be implemented by the administration – therefore there is no question of any delay in the matter.”
The DA’s Federal Executive never responded. At 14.04pm the same day, the Knysna-Plett Herald published that the lease had been signed, quoting Meyers extensively [EHL08]. The narrative continued as he again stated that oral legal argument was made in favour of the lease deal, completely ignoring the CFO’s written argument.
As previously expressed to Public Protectors Bruce Wessels and Gideon Landman, I consider the Knysna-Plett Herald to be the lapdog of the DA and Knysna Municipality (who add to their advertising revenues). The newspaper failed to mention the reasons for controversy or my information. Thus, whether intentional or not, the seemingly framed narrative was hung in the public mind.
The Knysna-Plett Herald ignored that they’d previously published [EHL09]: “The municipality, however, responded yesterday, December 6, saying that due process had not been contravened and that East Head Café’s lease was only a short-term one while the tender process was being completed.” That definition of “short term” will come into play but it’s impossible, in this context, for it to mean a 3-year lease that can be extended into 6 years.
Some definitions of “Deception” to note:
38.1 To give a false impression.
38.2 The act or statement intended to make people believe something that isn’t true.
38.3 To deceive someone and disappoint them.
Summarily, “in order for conduct to be misleading or deceptive, it must constitute a misrepresentation, and it must also take into account all surrounding circumstances.” In this case, the latter (the context) is essential.
In light of what has been related, it’s notable that at 8.08am on that December 15, I’d stated in my blog that I had the CFO’s 7-page report in my possession, courtesy of a whistleblower. Myers ignored that when addressing the Federal Executive and the newspaper. The Knysna-Plett Herald, from their side, ignored that too.
Owing to Myer’s response, and as stated to those included in that email, my intention to submit a simplified version (e.g. Campbell versus CFO) to the Public Protector would be replaced with a detailed version. This is that submission.
CFO’S LEGAL ARGUMENT
Whether CFO Louis Fourie’s ‘s argument [EHL10] against the lease is valid or not, it’s cause for suspicion that it seems to have been deliberately buried. I summarise his main points:
‘42.1 Section 40’ of the Supply Chain Management Regulations stipulates as follows: “Disposal Management: 40.1 a supply chain management policy must provide for an effective system of disposal management for the disposal OR letting of assets…”
42.2 Section 5.3 of the Management of Immovable Property Policy stipulates that: In terms of section 40 of the Municipal Supply Chain Management regulations, a Municipal Supply Chain policy must provide for an effective system of disposable management for the disposal and letting of assets. For that purpose of immovable assets of the municipality, this policy must be seen as the disposal management policy of the municipality.
42.3 The Management of Immovable Property Policy states that:
42.3.1. “disposal” also means “letting”.
42.3.2. “private treaty” means “disposal without public competition as defined in the MFMA to a non-government entity”
42.3.3. This disposal must be done “The Property Management Section is responsible for the administration of this policy, and shall, in this regard, in consultation with the supply chain Management Unit of the Municipality, be responsible for the administration of the competitive bidding process relating to the disposal and leasing of the Municipality’s land.”
42.3.4. The “key consideration is that of the interests of the municipality (and thus its residents) rather than that of individuals should be paramount… there should be maximum benefit to the municipality, its operational requirements and the broader community.”
42.3.5. Core Principles: In terms of section 14(5) of the MFMA, a letting “must be fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and consistent with the Municipality’s SCM policy.” This process must be done by means of public competition and at market value except when the public interest or the plight of the poor demands otherwise.
42.3.6. The Municipal Manager shall conduct a public participation process in respect of Non-High Value Disposals (under R10-million).
42.3.7. Management of Competitive Bids: “For property values above R1 million (incl. of VAT)”, the Municipal Manager “shall establish committees for the preparation of bid documents” and “the evaluation and adjudication of such bids”. NOTE – the East Head Café’s non-escalated rental amount for 3 years is R1.44-million.
42.3.8. It is the role of the Bid Adjudication Committee (BAC) to consider and approve all competitive bids between R200,000 and R10-million.
The CFO proposed that a 6-month lease be granted so that the public participation and tender process could be completed.
Susan Campbell argument must be compared to the CFO’s in paras 42->43 above.
She states that there’s a difference between “disposal” and “leasing”. However, the CFO’s argument is that the Management of Immovable Property Policy states that “disposal” also means “letting”.
Campbell states that section 21 of the Supply Chain Management Policy of the Knysna Municipality allows for “Private Treaty”, making open bidding (i.e. tendering) unnecessary. Outside of estate agents selling by private treaty, it must be asked what is “private treaty” and what rules govern the introduction of such special circumstance?
The point that the East Head Café lease complies as a sustainable economic return to the Municipality is valid. She doesn’t explain why that wouldn’t be so if, for example, another restaurant owner occupied the premises after fair tender. Or, if put out to tender, if it were possible that the current tenants would offer more money i.e. greater benefit to the public.
The property asset is valued at under R10-million and the lease is 3 years, thus not having to be advertised. For Campbell to be correct, she would have to first win the argument on whether the definition of “disposal” includes “leasing” or not.
The argument for deviation from competitive bidding is through private treaty because the “transaction will be exceptionally beneficial to, or have exceptional cost advantages for the Municipality which would not be realised if a competitive process were to be followed by the Municipality”. Campbell doesn’t explain how the Municipality can determine the future, proving that all possible bidders wouldn’t be beneficial.
It cannot be disputed that the East Head Café is a benefit to our town. It’s an exceptionally well run and well-regarded restaurant. However, it also benefits from its location, one of the best, if not the best, locations in Knysna.
The ANC is claiming that there has been political interference in the administration. Their press release doesn’t explain how but it’s repeated sufficiently that they need to be questioned. Additionally, the emails sent to me by Deputy Mayor Peter Myers suggests that he’s arguing in lieu of a silent administration. It must also be discovered why Melony Paulsen, from the administration, backtracked on her intention to provide me with the requested documentation.
“The executive mayor also contravened section 44 of the Municipal Supply Chain Management Regulations which prohibited persons in the employ of the state to do business with municipalities.” Whether it was the Mayor or the Municipality, the fact is that the 1% shareholder is employed by the state as a principle of a school. If there are exceptions to the rule, it needs to be presented.
OTHER POINTS TO CONSIDER
The approval of the lease was made by Acting Municipal Manager Bevan Ellman who, the same day, gave 1-month’s notice of his resignation from the Knysna Municipality. He has little incentive to be accountable for his decision.
Ellman had only been Acting Municipal Manager for 2 months. He’s inexperienced.
Ellman’s predecessor, Carl Mattheus, quit after only 1 month, claiming political interference in his job.
No one currently occupies a permanent position as Municipal Manager, Chief Financial Officer, Director Corporate Services and Director Planning & Development. It’s a handicapped municipality at great risk of political interference. The allegations of such must be considered.
The Budget Officer and Municipal Manager are currently suspended.
Here, like in several of my complaints to the Public Protector, Supply Chain Manager Fredri Kruger is missing. It’s notable and alarming that a key figure is absent. What’s her justification for approving this lease?
The debate over lease terms and the properties’ value seemed interlinked. The ‘under R10-million’ R9-million value means that there were fewer hoops for the lease to jump through.
The ‘under R10-million’ value was emphasised by the DA and Marlene Boyce when the East Head Café was considered to be half the valuation, 4->4.6-million. Conflictingly, the valuation has it at R5.3-million.
It’s reasonable to be confused at the low price of the East Head. An empty plot in Buffalo Bay fetched the municipality R10-million in 2015. This plot has two major buildings which include 2 restaurants, 3 decks, a shop and a parking lot. Considering its location, where the famous Knysna estuary meets the sea beneath the top tourist destination, it could be said to be unique, even priceless. Why is it that the valuer compared it to cheap buildings in town and to the Knysna Waterfront which has a vast array of shops with apparently different deals, some based on their earnings? It’s well known that Knysna Mall, which has no view, is the more expensive place to let. Even the municipality pays R100,000 per month for what is called the ‘Standard Bank’ building in town. Can the valuation be trusted?
Outside of the evaluation, is it not better to compare what money can be earned from the lease? Isn’t the goal supposed to be to get the best deal possible for the public?
As an example, is giving the ‘shop’ to East Head Café as a storeroom for only R1200p/m the best return the Municipality can get for the public?
BEE may have been mentioned but neither the ANC nor anti-lease members of the Knysna Municipality added substance in support. Pro-lease supporters made it the elephant in the room.
The Immovable Property Policy [EHL10] emphasises BEE immediately with: “The inequitable spread of ownership of property throughout the municipal area and the historical causes thereof are recognized, and Council acknowledges that it has a leading role to play in redressing these imbalances by ensuring that the immovable property assets under its control are dealt with in a manner that ensures the greatest possible benefit to the Municipality and the community that it serves…” and continues on the same page with…
From its first page, the Immovable Property Policy conflicts with the act of awarding the East Head Café lease.
It includes “letting” under the definition of “disposal” (pg5).
It states that “public interest” means disposal or letting to:-
“a) promote the achievement of equality by taking measures to protect or advance persons or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination;
b) afford black people who are South African citizens a preference in respect of the disposal and letting of immovable property as envisaged in Section 9(2) of the Constitution;
c) promote BBBEE through disposal and letting.”
As I’m limited by time, rushing the latter part of this complaint, it must be noted that the Immovable Property Policy requires greater exploration than I’ve undertaken.
Does the Finance Department of the Knysna Municipality refer to rentals of public land as “asset disposal”? It is repeatedly clear that the Immovable Property Policy does.
Does an unsolicited bid require comment or approval from Provincial Treasury?
The East Head Café 3->6-year lease will commence on January 1 2017.
In addition to fulfilling the PAIA request and answering the questions herein so far:
The full, original East Head lease, that includes both restaurants, requires investigation. How’s it possible that the Municipality has lost R7-million of the taxpayers’ funds on a bad lease deal? Is it fruitless and wasteful expenditure? How come no one is being held to account?
The original lease was signed by then-Mayor Georlene Wolmarans and then Municipal Manager Johnny Douglas. Wolmarans is now the Speaker. Johnny Douglas returns as Acting Municipal Manager in February 2017 (despite having been paid R1.1-million to leave in 2011). The original lease requires scrutiny. Whilst it’s an opportune time for questioning them, it’s worrisome that Ellman is soon to depart the Municipality.
The Knysna Municipality and Council are clearly obstructive. That must be investigated and the outcome considered an addition to the greater context of my cumulative complaints to the Public Protector.
The East Head Café lease was guaranteed to be controversial. Why did the Knysna Municipality not prepare the salient facts so that the public could be immediately informed into understanding?
Why, 15 days after the Council meeting that approved the lease, are facts still absent, generalisations spilt into the media and obstructions placed before me?
Why was the Chief Financial Officer’s printed advice seemingly hidden from the public?
Why are there no reports from Supply Chain Management and the department referred to as “Property”?
Why were the DA’s and Municipality’s arguments in such an important matter not presented on paper?
Where is the paper trail of discussion that must have taken place internally?
It’s certain that I’m a layman, not a lawyer. I don’t have a conclusive opinion regarding the conflicting legal opinions but consider the possibility that creative rather than clear cut legal thinking supported the awarding of the East Head lease.
What first gained my attention was that Dec 6 Council Meeting. I’ve seen many disputes but that was unique. It made me question. When my questioning was met with resistance, I became suspicious. There’s that saying “where there’s smoke there’s fire”. Suspicion made me look harder. But what insisted I make this request for investigation more detailed was the seeming misrepresentation Deputy Peter Myer’s delivered to the DA’s Federal Executive.
It’s deeply unfortunate that the wonderful business that is the East Head Café is caught in between.
However, I don’t accept the argument that the business is unique or essential. We’re a tourist town full of restaurants. The pro-lease camp cannot say, for example, that if the #2 restaurant on TripAdvisor was in that location, they wouldn’t be #1, or pay more rent. Or that they wouldn’t buy local, also contributing to the economy.
The profitability aspect cannot be ignored in lieu of emotion. This is big business. Considering the papers that East Head Café submitted when applying for the lease, the annual turnover may exceed R15-million annually. Whoever runs a restaurant from that location has the chance of getting rich.
What’s certain is that East Head Café is synonymous with excellence and thus doesn’t deserve to be in any way tainted with what may become a political situation.
As certain is that it dismays me to know that my investigation and blogging about this topic will damage relationships. Even with over 70,000 residents, we’re still a small town in many ways. People make decisions without fully understanding a topic. They often work on rumour. To hear that I’m seeking to destroy people’s jobs and local business is foul and untrue yet some will have that opinion without ever speaking to me.
As an activist, I cannot succumb to fear. My goal isn’t to favour what I love except when it arrives as the whole package called “Knysna”. My role as an activist finds me regularly occupied with local government oversight. That’s what I’m doing here, encouraging our politicians and municipal staff to be clean and transparent. This complaint could only exist because, instead, there is dirt and clouds.
No matter which legal argument wins, the clear fact is that the Knysna Municipality has failed to handle this matter in a professional, transparent or applaudable way.
Yours in hope of investigation leading to clarity,
Michael James Hampton