If Cape Town is the best-run city in Africa, then its leaders and its managers have two years to prove it, says Murray Williams.
Cape Town - This guy barged up to me and said: “You from Cape Town?” “Yes.” “Well, the way Cape Town is run is shocking.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“You leave there shocked, because everything works! The municipality actually functions! It’s a shocking experience. We’re not used to it.
“I was caught for talking on my cellphone while driving – twice in 24 hours,” he bleated.
“But you know what?” he continued. “I’d rather be fined, and have a fully functioning municipality than the other way round.”
To those who deal with a lot of upcountry folk, words like this are heard often.
This particular man was from Durban. He’s a property developer and explained: “I recently submitted plans for a small, six-unit development. It’s now being held up by 92 objections – not by residents, but by the Durban city planning department. They say my plans have omissions – like no fire hydrants, etc – they sent this long list. But they’re all right there on the plans. The planners can’t read the damn plans.
“And it’s the same with everything. I’m convinced that the whole eThekwini Municipality is perilously close to collapse.”
Now this individual’s experience may or may not be a fair reflection of Durban’s city planning department. So those words remain untested allegations.
But his views echo what a great many upcountry visitors to Cape Town say. People who compare Cape Town favourably with their home cities, like Durban, Johannesburg and PE. They often leave here green with envy.
“It’s so clean. The roads are so good. The administration’s doing what it’s meant to.”
Among us locals, opinion is divided.
Many believe Cape Town thoroughly deserves its reputation as a “well-run city”. Indeed, some believe it’s the best-run city on the continent – including people who travel extensively, like this particular property developer does.
And then there are those of us who disagree. Those who’ll argue that the City of Cape Town is good at cleaning the CBD, but not the streets of Khayelitsha.
Many argue service delivery in parts of Cape Town is disastrous, scandalous. Maybe some of these people don’t understand the various roles the city, the province and the national government each play. But to them the result is the same – miserable lives.
Fair enough. But the point is this: local government is by far the easiest sphere of government to track, assess and evaluate, because its impact is experienced most directly – by the traffic on the roads, by the state of the streets, the quality of the street lighting, the access to public transport. And, and, and.
And local government’s representatives are the most directly accountable – for half of all councillors are ward councillors.
The national and provincial elections are behind us now. And to many, the combined impact of their result is either negligible, too confusing or simply too complex to assess.
But the next elections are just two years away, and they’re the local government elections. And when it comes to voting then, every voter is rightly an expert. Because they have every right to vote according to the view that greets them when they open their front door, every single day.
Until then, it’s every resident’s right to speak out, to make demands. And candidates who’ll be pleading for votes in 24 months’ time would do well to listen very, very closely, and do their utmost to act.
If Cape Town is supposedly the best-run city in Africa, then its leaders and its managers have two years to prove it. Or face the consequences.
The clock’s ticking.
* Murray Williams’s column Shooting from the Lip appears in the Cape Argus every Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @mwdeadline
* The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.