Facebook face-off: don’t throw cobblestones if you live in a glass house
Councillor's Facebook post about a lane upgrade drew him into a row with a property developer - but he has pulled back
A quaint cobblestone lane off Durban’s premier entertainment strip, Florida Road, is at the centre of a war of words between an outspoken DA councillor and international property development firm Urban Lime.
But for councillor Pete Graham – who took to Facebook, insinuating that Urban Lime had bribed city officials to gain preferential treatment in their upgrade of Holden Avenue – the juice may not be worth the squeeze.
He has since admitted: “Sometimes I get it right, sometimes wrong. This time I got it wrong.” Graham said that when placed under scrutiny, his sources had turned tail, so he issued an apology to Katie Friedman and Urban Lime.
His initial comments and a subsequent legal shot across the bow by the developer landed him in hot water with his own party, with provincial leaders now probing his conduct.
The furore began on December 29, when Graham posted about his amazement at seeing that “someone in the city allowed a developer to narrow a road, making it extremely narrow”, with a promise to drill down to the foundations of the avenue’s R500,000 upgrade.
Graham said he’d heard “startling” stories about “overseas trips where [a senior manager] is alleged to have been approached ... but as I say it is only an allegation from three sources not only involving this site ... but the same developer”.
Urban Lime is behind plush property ventures in Durban, Cape Town and London.
“Now that we know who the developers are we will be investigating all deals in eThekwini that they have been involved with ... it is unbelievable that wealthy individuals believe they can flaunt the rules,” Graham added in his post.
Several days later Friedman took Graham on in the comments section of his post, insisting that the company had followed the rules, obtained all relevant permissions and had never engaged in impropriety.
In stressing her point, she said the avenue had been made 30cm wider and that the money for the upgrade had not come from city coffers.
The post and the raft of comments were pulled down on January 10, with Graham falling on his sword two days later.
In a post, he said always tried to use his best judgment and “the best data and information available to me”.
“I based my post on information that I believed to have come from credible sources – sources that have always provided very accurate and insightful information in the past,” he wrote.
“It appears I have been taken advantage of by persons well known to me, completely outside of the political arena, who have an agenda I am yet to understand.”
In response to questions from the Sunday Times, Friedman said she had been baffled to see that “a random councillor from another ward” was inferring very serious allegations in an open letter.
“The accusations were that Urban Lime had acted illegally. Totally untrue and baseless accusations were flying thick and fast on the social media chat,” she said.
Friedman added that they had investigated their own processes and had consulted their legal team who delivered a counter-punch in the form of a pre-litigation letter to Graham, as well as reporting him to local, provincial and national DA structures. Graham had undertaken to respond to questions put to him. No response was forthcoming at the time of publishing. DA provincial chair Francois Rodgers said an investigation into Graham was under way.
“Until the conclusion of the investigation it would be imprudent to comment on the views expressed by Graham.”