John Scott Masthead
October 27 2005 at 07:05

You would have thought that the overloading and malfunctioning of Cape Town's sewerage works was a stinky subject, but it evoked a poetic outburst at a city council meeting yesterday, writes John Scott.

"All the sweet potions of Arabia won't diminish the smells of this stinking pit," cried Jacobus Botha, sole representative of the Federal Democrats, or somesuch.

But the odour that overrode all others at the meeting was the scent of the upcoming municipal hustings. When a proposal to raise the limit of indigent grants for housing from R800 a month to R1 200 came up for consideration, Neil Ross of the DA saw it as an election ploy, "an attempt to bolster flagging support for the ANC".

Ian Neilson proclaimed hopefully: "The DA is ready to rule. The people of the city are impatient for us to take control."

And Liz Berry, objecting to the re-allocation of millions from stormwater projects and footway construction to the upgrading of roads in Gugulethu, surmised: "Gugs is only getting more roads to cover up for the mayor's non-delivery."

"We don't have any opposition in Gugulethu, my dear councillor," retorted Danile Landingwe, in charge of transport and roads, doubtful whether Ms Berry would get a single vote there.

It was a council meeting with odd moments. The Speaker, Gavin Paulse, had to order a woman in the public gallery to switch off her cellphone, which she was desperately trying to do, but couldn't find it in the recesses of her handbag.

Then Herbert Syre rose while the council was taking note of leaves of absence and announced: "I need to leave the chamber for a surgical procedure," before promptly bustling out. A tooth extraction or a kidney transplant? We were all left to guess.

One very large councillor suffered from hunger pangs more than an hour before lunch, and proceeded to extract what looked like chunks of bun from a bulging A4 envelope, stuffing them into her mouth and spilling residue down her front.

When the envelope was empty, she consumed a couple of sweets, before rising with difficulty and disappearing, presumably in the direction of the canteen.

"Councillors, you are in a council meeting, you are not here to read newspapers," Paulse interrupted proceedings at one point. Some of them were buried in the council's own new monthly paper, Cityworks, a 16-page tabloid that will be distributed free to 750 000 households.

DA councillors feared it might become an ANC propaganda sheet, because all the first issue did was pat the council on the back with headings like "More free homes for tenants", "Wider net for housing grants", "Streamlined city poised to deliver", "We're one of the world's top cities - and working for you", "Parking problem solved", "Tariff increases beat inflation", and so on.

But then if the DA does win the municipal election, it will also have a chance to pretend that nothing's gone wrong, gone wrong, gone wrong...

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