Dear Reader: Supping with the devil

‘These guys are bad news,’ Rob Gillespie, chairman of the Lonehill residents’ association told noseweek when, back in June 2007, we asked him about the Theodosiou brothers, Johannesburg’s notoriously lawless shopping mall developers. “You cannot believe anything they say, you cannot work with them. They’re a law unto themselves.”

In 2005 the Theodosious began building the Bel Air mall in Randburg on land zoned for agricultural use, and with no site approval or building plans. Repeated notices from the council to stop building, and one to demolish what they’d already built, simply speeded up construction work.

The tactic worked. Reneging on its demolition order, the council agreed to rezone the Bel Air land and approve the development retrospectively.

“Their attitude has been to take advantage of the slowness of the process to build furiously, so they have something which looks good, and then, with two fingers in the air, challenge council to come and knock it down if they can”, said city councillor John Mendelsson at the time.

The most egregious example of their contempt for the law is the Lonehill mall in Sandton. Originally meant as a low impact neighbourhood convenience centre, the Theodosious turned it into a monstrosity which residents neither wanted (to put it politely) nor needed. The brothers began extending the centre in 1998 but applied for permission only in 2002, which was granted with conditions – that they ignored. In 2003 they began another extension, also with no public consultation, no approvals and in stark contravention of zoning, town planning and building regulations. (The buildings are more than 50% over the permitted bulk ratio.) Residents of an adjacent upmarket housing complex, who have seen the value of their properties drastically eroded, sent objections to the council, which ignored them.

Eventually, the objections were traced by estate agent Angela Wood – who found them in a file under the desk of an assistant to town planning enforcement chief Alan Wheeler.

Wheeler declared that he knew nothing about them, but shortly afterwards was suspended for taking bribes from developers. He resigned before a hearing could be held.

But early last year the Johannesburg council once again did a deal with the Theodosious: the council would approve all their latest misdeeds, and in return the Theodosious would put matters right, inter alia by buying neighbouring properties in order to restore bulk ratios and provide the required number of parking bays.

Suddenly Rob Gillespie and councillor Mendelsson – the men who’d told us what incorrigible villains the Theodosious are – changed their tack, and were telling us all about what good neighbours the brothers had become. And ABSA forgave and forgot – and rushed to lend them another billion rand.
Since then a year has passed. The Theodosious have not kept their promises. More than a hundred of their neighbours have filed objections with the city planning department. And ABSA is currently desperately trying to put several of the Theodosiou companies into liquidation, in an attempt to recover its billion rands. (See Lonehill boys take Absa for R1.1bn.)

Why are we telling you all of this? There is a belief, shockingly widely held in South Africa, that respectable people can strike a deal or “compromise” with crime (perhaps even share in the spoils of crime) – and still retain their respectability. In fact, all it demonstrates is just how contagious crime is.
It explains how the arms deal has progressively corrupted the ANC and will ultimately destroy it unless the party leadership acknowledges it for what it is: crime.

ABSA, by securing its most recent loans to the Theodosious with huge bonds, is, in effect, conspiring with them in fleecing their myriad small, unsecured creditors. The bank deserves no sympathy.

Mr Gillespie, Mr Mendelsson and the city planning department ought to take a disinfectant bath, and then, before the next election, tell us what their position is on crime and law enforcement.

A reminder: what today is called “going soft on crime”, in a previous age was called Supping with the Devil. It provides only short-term benefits at long-term costs. Ask Dr Faustus.

Happy New Year.
The Editor

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