The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) is taking Polokwane Municipality to court in yet another protracted struggle to squeeze what should be public information from a government branch.
The information relates to an August 2011 amaBhungane investigation that revealed a long list of connected individuals who benefited from the public sale of highly sought-after municipal land in 2009.
The article bolstered claims by those in the know that an inner circle of Limpopo politicians, officials and businessmen – close to Julius Malema and Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale – had used their influence to benefit from what should have been a public sale conducted on a first-come, first-served basis.
At the time of the article, the centre asked the municipality to provide the list of potential buyers – those who allegedly “came first” and were “served first”. But spokesperson Simon Mokoatedi refused, saying the centre should request the information under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia):
- On August 24, 2011, amaBhungane filed a Paia request for: a) The database of potential buyers – including the order in which they were registered in terms of the municipality’s “first come first served” stipulation – who registered to purchase one of the 115 properties from the municipality in Bendor in 2009 in terms of a public notice issued by the municipality, and b) The list of people who entered into agreements with the municipality to buy these 115 properties.
- The initial application was refused on the claimed grounds of “third party confidentiality”.
- AmaBhungane launched an internal appeal on November 21, 2011 requesting release of the information in the public interest. The centre argued that the municipality had failed to specify what third party confidentiality would be breached, and in any event the compilation of the database was a public, not confidential, process. It also argued that as the eventual buyers’ identities would ultimately be made public through the deeds office, their identity could not be considered confidential.
- For eight months, despite protracted back-and-forth correspondence, the municipality failed to clarify whether or not it had accepted or rejected the appeal.
- In August 2012, Polokwane Mayor Freddy Greaver asked amaBhungane for another 21 days in which to consult third parties before releasing the information. No further response was received.
- On October 26 2012 the centre once more requested a decision, this time by October 31, failing which the appeal would be deemed to have been refused. Again, it received no response.
More than 19 months after amaBhungane phoned spokesperson Mokoatedi to ask for the list, the centre has lodged an application in the North Gauteng High Court seeking an order for the release of the information.
AmaBhungane advocacy co-ordinator Vinayak Bhardwaj said the application was made “in the interest of promoting transparency, in keeping with our commitment to journalism in the public interest and in order to challenge Polokwane’s the blatant disregard for constitutionally-derived legislation”.
Attorneys Webber Wentzel are acting for the centre.
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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.