Can we play clean politics in Knysna? Fulfilling our duty
There is a good reason that even friends do not discuss politics or religion at a dinner party, but it would seem that adage does not apply in this town.
Politics in Knysna is like a cesspool, unlike any other town or city where I have ever worked before, and a contributing factor to this is that very often it plays itself out on social media.
Gossip in this town should be declared a notifiable disease, it is so prolific.
On a Saturday morning I get a WhatsApp message on my personal phone number from the wife of a councillor asking why the Knysna-Plett Herald is not reporting on vital issues that affect all in Knsyna. I do not know what vital issues she is referring to and she may be perfectly correct in saying this.
This does, however, ruin my Saturday because I worry that maybe we have failed in reporting something that is very serious – and of interest to the ratepayer.
Another contact, whom I value, sends me a message saying that sparks flew at the last council meeting. But this is politics, after all, and some meetings are bound to be combustible – and happen without necessarily having anything tangible to write about. I check nevertheless lest we missed a bonfire, but are sparks not the nature of the beast?
Smoke, but no fire?
There are constant whispers and rumours heard around this town that the mayor is corrupt and that they deputy mayor is trying to take over the town and is a bully, that certain activists in this town are connected to key management positions in the Knsyna municipality and so it goes on ad nauseam.
I get faceless tip-offs about various municipal and council members up to no good on various forms of social media.
A blogger has all but trashed my reputation since I have been in Knysna for not writing political stories, or writing them with what is perceived to be bias or insufficient facts.
Seems to me, damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
Surely now is the time, if ever, that this town should come together and not be divided. There are still so many serious fire issues to be dealt with that petty personal and unsubstantiated negative opinions should be banned or at least ignored.
But if this is the way some people in this town choose to conduct their affairs, what I want to make patently clear here is that this is not the way any decent newspaper, including KnysnaPlett Herald, operates.
Our duty is to report on any and everything that affects the community in Greater Knysna and Bitou areas, good or bad, as long as it is factual and balanced.
If there are vital issues we are not reporting on, then we need to find out why, but in a professional way.
If I get a letter complaining about something the municipality is or is not (more often) doing, it is sent to the relevant communication channel at the municipality who then investigate and supply an answer. Or we contact the politician directly.
If we see in the course of our work something that warrants answers from the gatekeepers of this town, then we follow the channels and ask the questions until we have the truth about whatever the issue. This is done by getting comment from all involved and has to result in a story that is totally unbiased and fair.
Those who gossip in the faceless manner, that of cowards, will not be entertained.
We thank and value those readers and community members who come forward, sit face-to-face and tell me or our journalists their story. To all our genuine contacts who let us know about issues we need to investigate, thank you and I am not having a go at you here.
What we do not do is rumours, faceless allegations and sometimes utter, simply mean, rubbish.
We cannot be accused of not covering thorny municipal issues. What comes to mind is the story of Senza, the Heads restaurant that owned millions to the municipality and still does; the mosque where both sides of the story were presented; the story of the deputy mayor’s walkout of a meeting; the resignation of a CFO; and the suspension and end of the last municipal manager, which were all reported on.
Political stories of this magnitude have to be told to our readers.
Anyone who feels as though we have not reported on vital issues, please come and see us and we will gladly find out, via the correct channels, what the story is.
We have no allegiance to any one political party or another.
I have no idea whether deputy mayor Peter Myers who is facing a DA investigation is guilty or not. It is not my job to decide or speculate, but rather to wait until the facts are supplied and then publish exactly what has happened, also featuring his side of the story.
What I would like to stress here is that we do not take sides. I have never had any reason to form any opinion about Peter Myers because he has proven to have integrity in the way he responds to our questions I have asked him. I don’t need an opinion about him lest this cloud my judgement.
The same goes for our mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies. She has never hidden anything from me when I have asked her questions, and what people do not realise is that since the fires her life has been hideous because there are no obvious solutions to unprecedented issues that have arisen since then.
The day somebody has proof that BouwSpies or or any other council member or politician is doing anything unethical, bring the evidence and it is our duty to find out.
Since there are people who complain on social media, strangely not once to my face, that our political reporting is not up to scratch, this is what we will be doing as from next week.
Plan of action
We are going to take all 21 councillors and invite them to answer questions, something like a Spanish Inquisition, which we hope will be helpful.
The people you voted on will be asked to account for what they have done since the last local government elections, talk about issues and hopefully we will get a better feel for politics from all involved.
Readers will also be given a forum on the same page as these interviews, to ask their specific ward councillor a question or comment which we will present to him or her.
And just to make it perfectly clear, we have no bias. The list of these questions will be published in this space next week – and then the councillors will be interviewed alphabetically, from Arends Shakespeare (ACDP) who is first on the contact list provided by the Knysna municipality, ending with Martin Young (DA) who is alphabetically the last name on the list.
See the questions for the stories we will be writing next week – and feel free to add to the list should you feel we have omitted something important.