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Cape Town - Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille says she has no intention of handing over the mayoral chain just yet. Speaking almost midway through her term as political leader of the DA-led metro, De Lille said: “If I am asked to do a second term, I will certainly do that.”
She would not be drawn into speculation that she may stand as the DA’s candidate for premier in the Northern Cape, saying only that she had already done a stint in provincial government and that five years at the helm of the City of Cape Town was “too short”.
“The frustration in government is that it’s so over-legislated. You can’t move faster even if you want to.”
In a one-on-one interview with the Cape Argus, De Lille spoke frankly about perceptions that she manages the 26 000 people in her administration, as well as her mayoral committee, with an iron fist.
“I really don’t care. I care about the mandate of the 61 percent who gave me that mandate. I don’t care about some politician here or some politician there who can’t stand me. Some say I am changing too quickly; I feel we could go faster. But we are constrained by the law.”
She added: “Where does the criticism come from? It’s those nameless people who are resisting because they want to keep the old privileges intact.
“I am driven by a deep personal commitment, as a person who fought against the old system. And when I see this protection of the old privileges surface, I go for it, because that’s how I fought in the struggle against apartheid - confronting these evils.”
De Lille said she was accustomed to adjectives, such as “fiery” and “feisty” prefixing her name in newspaper headlines and articles.
But much of this criticism stemmed from a misunderstanding of how the government worked, she said. The city followed a mayoral executive system, which gave the executive mayor certain delegated powers.
“If anyone can complain about my leadership style, let them show me where I am acting outside of the law, the Integrated Development Plan or my political mandate. Then we can talk. But the criticism is not about that. That at least would be constructive.”
She said she had opted for a “transversal management” approach to shake the city’s administration out of their silos.
“We structured the city in such a way that we don’t work past each other. We were in a comfort zone.”
De Lille has not let her detractors deter her from her goal to change the outlook of Cape Town and “take the city to the next level”.
One of her most exciting achievements as mayor has been the changing of street names.
The consolidation of the city’s expanded public works programme, which had resulted in the creation of 37 000 jobs, was another success, she said.
The city’s rapid growth and urbanisation, however, posed many problems, especially when it came to providing basic services such as toilets and electricity. The only way to deal with the needs of the 20 000-odd people streaming into the city each month was by growing the economy, she said. “I will be the first to admit that there is always room for improvement. When we are failing it is because the demand is growing too fast for us to cope.” However, the “elephant in the room” for her as the new mayor when she was elected in 2011 was the city’s housing list and its backlog of 400 000 units.
“I tackled the housing database to see who’s who. It’s our responsibility to make sure we provide houses to people with an income of R3 500 or less.” She said 85 percent of people on the city’s housing list fell into this category.
She said she also had to “put the truth, as harmful as it was” to the backyarders that their wait for houses would be long. “But I said, while you are waiting, we can at least provide backyard services.”
De Lille has never been one to lead from her office. To understand more about how solid waste works in the city, for example, she spent time at the various depots. When the community complained of inadequate toilet services, she went out with the city’s cleaning staff to see for herself and tried to speak to residents at a series of public meetings.
“I try to be a mayor who is seen and heard.”
Although De Lille has served at all three levels of government, first with the PAC and the Independent Democrats and now with the DA, she has enjoyed her stint as mayor the most. “I have always been a grass-roots person and you are closer to the people in local government.” She likes what she’s doing because no two days are the same. “When I was a member of the opposition in Parliament I would wake up and say: what am I going to say today. Here I wake up in the morning and say: what am I going to do today?”