The Art of Persuasion

Private Property South Africa
Anna-Marie Smith

When battles have to be fought in defending residents’ rights, the co-operation between ratepayers associations and local councils and municipalities, can make or break. Last week’s rejection by the Cape Town City Council of the proposed commercial development of the Princess Vlei Shopping Mall in the southern suburbs near Grassy Park and Retreat set a new president and illustrated the perseverance of an association determined to persuade authorities.

The relentless battle of residents and ratepayers in having their voices heard, that started fourteen years ago when the development deemed inappropriate in terms of cultural, commercial and environmental significance, was rejected. Philip M Bam, Chairperson of the Lotus River, Ottery, Grassy Park Ratepayers and Resident’s Association commented on the positive result: “Now sound planning principles have prevailed and a national asset with major environmental and cultural significance will be saved for future generations.” He said that the ill-advised proposed mall would have impacted negatively on the economic life of major commercial nodes in Retreat and Grassy Park, and the refusal to approve this development will give confidence to local business people. Bam said that the proposed development of this mall was uncalled for, since other economic hubs are being developed to stimulate growth in the area.

As a single presence with no political affiliations, a resident and ratepayers association represents members at all levels of municipal service delivery, as a collective of a group of concerned citizens expressing concerns. Members say that belonging to an association can be enormously rewarding, when seeing the significance of benefits to local communities, through the preservation of heritage, culture and natural environments.

Membership of local associations is open to registered property owners as ratepayers, as well as residents older than eighteen years in a specific geographical area. Associations commonly draw from members with business acumen and professional experience to tackle important issues. Management committees are appointed by members during Annual General Meetings, usually with a chair and vice chairperson, treasurer and secretary, to serve for a number of years within the confines of a constitution agreed upon by elected members. Active committee members say the most challenging issues facing associations are limited time and funds to be spent. Common matters under dispute range from newly proposed developments, zoning, noise and building restrictions, to negative environmental and cultural impacts.

One successful but expensive battle that ended up in court, saw the chairman of the Resident's Association of Hout Bay himself representing his association in court, assisting with the defense of saving the wetlands from development. The association says its success in obtaining directives served on the developer and the Department of Water Affairs by the City, would not have been possible without legal action. The association now urgently requires funds to pay for legal costs incurred in the process of saving the wetland next to the Disa River, the estuarine and the sea.

Another success story is that of Pearly Beach Residents Association who recently obtained municipal funds for the construction of three boardwalks at local beaches, to provide increased accessibility, and protecting the fynbos environment.

The Prince Albert Residents Association in the Klein Karoo continues its success story, with one of many initiatives being the continued drive for recycling , and viewing its purpose as ‘acting on behalf of ratepayers and residents in an economic, effective, transparent and accountable manner.’

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