Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)
‘I’ve lived life to the fullest’
Irrepressible, fiery local lawmaker, who foundered the National People’s Party, was not afraid of courting controversy, writes Michael Morris
BADIH Chaaban, one of the Cape’s most controversial politicians, who revelled in a bruising, shirty style of public life, has died. His daughter, Lee, announced his death in a Facebook post in which she paid tribute to him as a father who “taught me what bravery is every single day and inspired me to live life to its very fullest which you definitely did”.
Chaaban entered politics after a 15-year stint as a lease holder of four-fifths of Greenmarket Square from 1992 – the subject of a claim he owed the city R3.3 million – which was ultimately cancelled amid accusations of mismanagement, racketeering and corruption.
He became a proportionalrepresentation councillor in Cape Town for the Athlone district as a member of the Africa Muslim Party in 2006, but later crossed the floor to establish the National People’s Party (NPP).
In 2007, he was at the centre of a storm in Cape Town over allegations of plotting to unseat Premier Helen Zille, who was then mayor, by trying to bribe councillors to cross the floor.
After a falling out in the city, he shifted his focus to the country districts, serving for a time as mayor of the Winelands District Municipality and dabbling in the fraught politics of Oudtshoorn, where the NPP sided with the DA after the breakdown of the NPP’s alliance with the ANC and Independent Civic Organisation of SA in the Karoo town.
That led to him severing all political ties with the ANC after an eight-year working arrangement in several municipalities.
In November 2015, he announced his intention to resign and hand over the leadership of the party to his daughter Lee, a councillor in the Winelands District.
Chaaban, an immigrant from Lebanon, was widely perceived as a wheeler-dealer, likeable to those who were comfortable with his devil-may-care unorthodoxy and gladly advertised lack of politesse, but disliked by others for the hint of menace and the vague ruthless dogeats-dog underworld morality that hovered about him.
Once, when a lawyer seeking details of Chaaban’s fixed address sent him an SMS, the unbowed Chaaban replied: “Look mate, I invented intimidation, so don’t come talk k*k with me with addresses and such. Do you what you f*****g like, I care less.”
He was that sort of man.
At his retirement from politics, Chaaban hinted at an intention to release a dossier – the Chaaban Report – spanning his political career purportedly intended to address allegations of political espionage, his tussles with Zille, his alleged links to slain underworld kingpins Cyril Beeka and Yuri “the Russian” Ulianitski and reported relationship with controversial businessman Mark Lifman.
On his decision to make way for his daughter to take over the party he founded, Chaaban said of himself: “We political dinosaurs must give way to the youth.
“We simply are not as smart as the youngsters are. We must admit it and make way for cleverer people to govern us.”
But he remained his cocky self, declaring: “I’ve lived my life to the fullest; I’ve beaten cancer and Helen Zille. I have lots to be grateful for as all my remaining days are bonuses, as I was meant to have been dead already. But God intervened and wanted me to remain on Earth to help others.”
Not everybody appreciated his style of intervention.
A 2007 report pictured him, in trademark “pastel-blue peak cap and matching jacket” making a typically disruptive entrance at a Cape Town city council meeting in the middle of an address by Zille, who was then mayor.
There was laughter and cheering, the report said, until “suddenly that faded and there was something ominous in its place, the visibly livid Chaaban seeming unpredictable, gesticulating stiffly, throwing his bag down, grasping a page of a newspaper and shaking it at Zille with angry words drowned in the uproar”.
“His National People’s Party right-hand woman Jameelah Daniels kept patting him ineffectually on the shoulder, apparently urging him to sit down. He ignored her. Four times Speaker Dirk Smit summoned the security men and none came until the fourth exasperated and louder: “Will security remove the councillor, please!”.
“And even then it was a huddle of sheepish-looking men who approached the volatile Chaaban, but then just stood around him imploringly in the hope, presumably, that he’d subdue himself. He seemed, for a moment, untouchable.”
He left eventually. When, sometime later, his booting from the council “came one step nearer with the 105-to-67 vote to ask provincial MEC for local government Richard Dyanti to dismiss him”, Chaaban was nowhere to be seen.
He was, his spokesman explained, “relaxing next to the pool” at his Hout Bay home.
It was a mark of the irrepressible Chaaban’s famous indifference.
‘Look mate, I invented intimidation, so don’t come talk k*k with me’