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How to Steal a City is an insider account of this intervention, which lays bare how the administration was entirely captured and bled dry by a criminal syndicate, how factional politics within the ruling party abetted that corruption, and how a comprehensive clean-up was eventually conducted.
It is written as a gripping real-life thriller, taking the reader deeper and deeper into the rotten heart of the city. As a former senior government official and local government “fixer”, Crispian Olver was no stranger to dealing with dodgy politicians and broken organisations. Yet what he found was graft that went far beyond the dodgy contracts, blatant conflicts of interest and garden-variety kickbacks he had seen before. It had evolved into a web far more sophisticated and deep rooted than he had ever imagined, involving mazes of shell companies, assassinations, criminal syndicates, and compromised local politicians. The metro was effectively controlled by a criminal network, closely allied to a dominant local ANC faction. What he found was complete state capture—a microcosm of what has been happening in South Africa’s national government.
But there was a personal price to pay. Intense political pressure and threats to his personal safety took a toll on his mental and physical health. He had to have a full-time bodyguard, and never maintained a regular routine. He eventually lost much of his political cover. Olver ultimately had to flee the city as the forces stacked against him started to wreak their revenge.
This is his story.
Cape Town, 2018. South Africa’s mother city is wracked by drought. The prospect of premier Helen Zille’s ‘Day Zero’ – the day when all taps run dry – is driving its citizens into a frenzy. When it’s announced that Mayor Patricia de Lille is off the water crisis, the predicament reaches its zenith and politicians turn upon each other.
And so begins a stupendous battle within the Democratic Alliance: who will lead Cape Town? It’s during this time that author and researcher Crispian Olver applies to the City of Cape Town to gain access to certain official documents as part of a research project. He is baffled when his application is rejected without explanation, but this only strengthens his resolve to explore how the city of his childhood is run. In particular, he has his sights set on the relationship between city politicians and property developers.
Olver interviews numerous individuals, including many ‘chopped’ from the city administration. What he uncovers is a pandora’s box of backstabbing, in-fighting and backroom deals. He explores dodgy property developments at Wescape and Maiden’s Cove, delves into attempts to ‘hijack’ civic associations, and exposes the close yet precautious relationship between the mayor and City Hall’s so-called ‘laptop boys’. But his main goal is to understand what led to the political meltdown within the Democratic Alliance, and the defection of De Lille to form her own party.
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