True Champions: resisting casino plans and exposing questionable rezoning

truechampions[notice]A monthly column in which we share testimonies of some of South Africa’s ‘True Champions’ who bring glory to God and bless their fellow-citizens, by opposing the tide of corruption and taking a strong stand for ethics in their spheres of influence. You are warmly invited to suggest anybody you think deserves recognition as a ‘True Champion’. Please email your suggestions to news@gatewaynews.co.za.[/notice]

Teresa Conradie is the managing director of a Pretoria firm of attorneys and currently serves as deputy chair of Advocates Africa and Deputy Chair of the Global Council of Advocates International. Gateway News recently learned that she is at the centre of an ethics-based campaign to protect vulnerable community members by resisting a casino’s plans to  move into an area close to schools, churches and retirement homes. We asked her to tell us more about the campaign. This is her report:

Sun International
I was approached during July 2013 by Pastors Bruce Taylor and Andrew Roebert (Radio Impact) from Choose Life Church in Moreletapark after newspaper articles had appeared stating that a casino was to be established in Menlyn Maine. We made enquiries and found that Sun International had applied to the Gauteng Gambling Board for the transfer of their gambling licence from the Morula Sun to Menlyn Maine. The proposed casino would have twice as many gambling devices as Monte Casino has.

he 6000 objections in our boardroom before they went off to the Gambling Board.
The 6000 objections in the boardroom of Motla Conradie Inc. before they went off to the Gambling Board.

Objections to the approval of transfer of the gambling license were due at the Gambling Board before 16 August 2013. With barely two weeks to go, we drafted a pro forma objection form which was made available to objectors electronically as well as at various churches and at the offices of Radio Impact. In what was a near supernatural effort, nearly 6 000 objections from individuals, Churches and other institutions were received and put together in bundles of 100 at our offices and submitted to the Gauteng Gambling Board on the due date.

Heart breaking
The pro forma objection form, apart from general reasons for objection, also contained a section where objectors could write in their personal objections. On reading these my heart broke and I was overwhelmed by the realisation of how widespread gambling addiction has become and on the other hand what devastating effect it has in people’s lives. Some of these comments included: “My father is addicted to gambling and he sells our clothes to get money to gamble”   “my husband landed up in prison as a result of his gambling habits”   ”my brother committed suicide when he couldn’t pay his gambling debts”  ”my matric son is addicted to gambling – please don’t bring the casino closer and make it easier for him to gamble” Many of the comments testified of gambling habits which had led to divorce and destruction of families.

It struck me that the objections had come from a cross section of society – rich, poor, young, old, white, black, etc. The objections ranged from concerns regarding security, crime and traffic but in particular concerns regarding the vulnerable groups within walking distance from the intended casino. Within a 1, 5 km radius of the proposed casino site there are 10 schools or colleges, 11 Churches and four retirement homes. The Glen High School in fact shares a boundary fence with the intended development site. There is also a large bus stop / taxi rank within 300 metres from the planned casino.

Objectors were distressed that Sun International had explicitly said in their application that the motivation for their application was that the Morula Sun was no longer financially viable and that moving the casino to Menlyn Maine would make it profitable. The application stated that the residents of Tshwane had the lowest propensity for gambling in Gauteng and that by moving the casino to Menlyn, it was Sun International’s aim to change this.

Praying for casino to close down
During this time we were contacted by the pastors of Soshanguve, a township north west of Pretoria where the Morula Sun is situated. They told us that they had been praying for many years that the Morula Sun would close down because of the devastating effect it has had on that community.

Sun International responded in writing to the objectors and public hearings are being held at the Gambling Board during the first week of April. Objectors will get the opportunity to make oral representation. A number of Christian lawyers have made themselves available to assist objectors during the public hearings.

In the meantime it had come to our attention that the rezoning of the property with the City of Tshwane had been approved to rezone the property to “Business 1 with place of amusement”. At closer investigation we established that not a single objection to the rezoning had been submitted to the Local Authority. This was surprising considering the number of objections submitted with the Gambling Board.

Prof Duncan Baker, the Ward Councillor for the Menlyn area, was approached to find out how the rezoning could have taken place without interested parties knowing about it. It then emerged that Prof Baker himself had been kept in the dark and that the rezoning application had been changed to include “a place of amusement” after he had approved the application for rezoning. The category “place of amusement” includes a casino. It was also established that the rezoning was initially advertised without reference to “place of amusement” and then later re-advertised to include it.

No mention of casino plan
According to Prof Baker he had been shown the site by the developer during January 2013 and no mention had been made that a casino was planned. During the site visit the developer compared the development to Lynnwood Bridge or Melrose Arch, neither of which of course have a casino.

Fourteen applicants which included Choose Life Church, Hatfield Christian Church and Hatfield Christian School, The Glen High School, St Alban’s College, St Mary’s DSG, The Weslyan Church, Stadtmission, Derek Prince Ministries, Varsity College, Serene Park Retirement Village and Glenstantia Primary School launched an application in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria during December 2013 applying for the review of the City Of Tshwane’s decision to rezone the property. The Respondents’ answering papers are currently being awaited. Adv Etienne Labuschagne SC has been instructed by our law firm, Motla Conradie Inc.

I have been struck and impressed by how much can be achieved when civil society works together and uses the legal processes which are available to them. In this case various churches and ministries have been leading the charge in an exemplary fashion. While people are fighting for what they believe in and fighting against what they don’t want, we are indeed witnessing true democracy in action!

uelogoUNASHAMEDLY ETHICAL invites True Champions to stand up and be counted: More than 15 000 South Africans have signed the Unashamedly Ethical commitment to a public life of ethics, values and clean living. If you haven’t committed yet, why not do so now, here?

2 Comments

  1. Dave Doveton (Revd)

    Teresa Conradie is a star, she needs our prayers. I was involved in the leadership of a campaign about 14 years ago against the building of a casino in Richards Bay. Most of the churches came together and it took several years and a high court case (which was thrown out on a technicality). However eventually the casino developers gave up the site and built the casino in a neighbouring town. We experienced the same things as you – irregular procedures around land rezoning etc, attempted bribery, even mafia type tactics to force us to abandon our fight against the casino; the same misinformation that it will bring job opportunities etc etc. Strength and prayers, Dave

  2. This is a very interesting issue indeed. My advise to you would be to involve Town Planners in your team, the municipality can easily dismiss an objection of that nature. Your objections need to technical, you’d need to consult your zoning scheme, SDF’s, LSDF’s and PSDP for a more factual challenge. You can take it up with the courts but they will not leave out the documents I have mentioned.