Cape Town mayor Dan Plato. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - Changes in top leadership after a spate of resignations, water restrictions and a demand for social housing were some of the challenges the City of Cape Town faced this year.

When mayor Dan Plato took over the mayoral chain he mapped out the tough task ahead of him and council.

“Potholes, blocked drains, uncut grass, leaking water management devices, and grime on our streets and sidewalks - these are just some of the basics that we need to get right.

“Housing needs, street lighting in certain areas, congestion on our roads, a faltering rail service and crime - there is no point in sugar-coating this. I want to see these issues addressed, and with urgency.”

But as Plato knows, these are not new and the challenges are more complex than he seems to suggest.

The housing crisis is a ticking time-bomb. Protests over lack of affordable housing rocked the city, with many occupying vacant land, often with no provision for sanitation and water.

These issues have come back to haunt Plato. In 2009, it was during his leadership that Blikkiesdorp - a poverty enclave - was established.

At the time, it was referred to as a temporary relocation area (TRA) for people who were evicted for a number of reasons, including gentrification of properties in prime locations. Several years later, the area continues to grow and the housing backlog is increasing. Depending on who you speak to, some families on the housing list claim to have waited for more than 35 years.

Cape Town is battling with the legacy of apartheid - socio-economic and spatial segregation. It remains one of the most unequal cities in the world.

Former mayor Patricia de Lille claimed that her efforts to integrate the city were the source of her battles with the DA, which ultimately led to her resignation. Brett Herron, a fellow councillor entrusted with the task of developing a comprehensive programme of affordable social housing, also resigned, citing frustration over attempts by certain councillors to protect the status quo.

One such project, the Salt River market, hit snags before it could take off, testing the DA’s commitment to creating an integrated city. Salt River and Woodstock escaped forced removals under apartheid, but have seen vigorous development over the years, pushing property prices up and forcing many coloured and black tenants out of the area.

The city’s relationship with developers also came under scrutiny, with the damning revelation of the sale of a prime piece of land to one of the country’s top property developers for far less than it could have fetched.

The outcome on Site B will remain in the spotlight, as well as other developments on prime city-owned land.

On its list of achievements, the council has ticked off the avoidance of Day Zero. A study at Stellenbosch University showed that it was actually the fear of waterless taps and not the severe water restrictions that led to the change in behaviour of residents.

The City, on the other hand, made money from the restrictions, drawing the ire of activists such as Stop CoCT.

However, the management of water remains a critical issue for the City.

In response to the cries for safety from communities on the Cape Flats, the City promised to recruit more metro police. But analysts warn that violence is more complex and systemic, requiring more than the deployment of metro police officials.

Public transport or the lack thereof came under scrutiny as the rail network collapsed. This put a strain on the bus services offered by MyCiTi, which was also hit by challenges.

Residents of informal settlements are still waiting to see a detailed plan on how the City will address sanitation problems, including raw sewage in some areas.

“Under the new leadership, this City will do far more to address apartheid spatial design. There will be less talk and more action,” Plato promised.

We’re watching, Mr Mayor.

Weekend Argus