Cape Town - City of Cape Town “sheriff” JP Smith may have to tackle housing with the “same gusto” as he did safety if, as expected, he is moved to a new portfolio when mayor Patricia de Lille reshuffles her top leadership after Wednesday’s elections.
With seven mayoral committee members expected to be redeployed to provincial and national government, depending on how well the DA fares at the polls, a reorganisation of the portfolios is inevitable.
The Cape Argus has been told by two reliable sources close to the city that Smith has been tagged to take over housing when Tandeka Gqada moves to Parliament. One source said he had heard that councillor Benedicta van Minnen, who was among the first 10 spots on the DA’s provincial list, would take up Smith’s position as head of safety and security. Van Minnen’s name was omitted from the final list which was submitted to the IEC.
Also expected to be on the move next week are Garreth Bloor, currently mayoral committee member for economic, environment and spatial planning; Ernest Sonnenberg of utility services; and Lungiswa James who heads the city’s health portfolio.
One of the people who has worked with Smith on various community organisations, said he doubted Van Minnen would have the same clout as Smith, who was known for his hands-on approach.
He was described by a councillor on Monday as “an enforcer, but not a manager”. The councillor said that while Smith was hardworking, he was also “arrogant” and not liked.
Smith, who was named an alderman in 2010 – meaning he had worked in local government for more than 20 years – rose through the council ranks as a ward councillor for the Atlantic Seaboard and then as chairman of the safety and security portfolio.
He was reluctant to comment on his possible move, saying only that he would do what his leadership asked. He also did not comment on his successor.
“I would like to see out my term at safety and security, but I will approach housing with the same zeal,” he said.
Smith said De Lille would make the decision in consultation with the party’s federal leadership. “The nice thing about working with Patricia is that you always know where you stand. There are no secrets.”
Smith has not always been so supportive of his leader’s decisions, though. In 2012, De Lille gagged him and other members of the mayoral committee from commenting on the Cape Town Stadium after Smith rejected plans to amend the record of decision so that the venue could become financially viable.
In media reports, Smith has admitted that he is “not here to be popular” and indeed some of his policies have made him the target of attacks by opposition parties.
For example, he was barked at in council when he spoke about the controversial six-minute time limit for barking dogs during a discussion about the dog by-law a few years ago.
But he has also not been afraid to tackle the police and national government for the way they dealt with gangsterism.
He has fought against plans by national government to integrate the metro police into the South African Police Service and re-introduced the use of reservists and neighbourhood watch officers to bolster the city’s law enforcement.
During his time at the head of safety and security, Smith has spearheaded numerous by-laws – including ones for noise and nuisance, graffiti and trading hours for liquor outlets.
He has introduced specialised units to deal with road offences, land invasions, drugs and problem buildings. Cellphone users think twice about chatting while driving, as Smith’s units have clamped down on illegal activities on the roads.
Motorists cannot dodge their traffic fines or arrest warrants anymore, and there is no leniency for people who contravene any of the city’s by-laws. Sometimes this hard-nosed approach has backfired, as in the case of the assault by city law enforcement on a blind busker last year.
It later emerged that the city did not have a by-law dealing with busking. There was also an investigation into the incident.
The imminent leadership shifts were confirmed by De Lille’s chief of staff, Paul Boughey, who said: “There are of course lots of rumours doing the rounds, but no actual decisions have been taken.” He said the decision would be made in consultation with the party leadership.
Grant Pascoe, who headed tourism, events and marketing, defected from the DA to join the ANC last month. De Lille said Pascoe knew he would be redeployed from the mayoral committee after May 7 and that was the reason for his move.
Smith said it was inevitable people would be shuffled with the elections.