Cape Town - Disciplinary action for having a different opinion, the muzzling of councillors and the squashing of public engagement – these are the hallmarks of a mayor with a “do as I say” approach, say disgruntled councillors and concerned civic organisations.
Mayor Patricia de Lille’s leadership style has again come under scrutiny following several controversial decisions and proposals by the City of Cape Town – mostly pertaining to development proposals.
In May, the Cape Argus reported growing tensions within her mayoral committee, the top political structure in the council. It was also alleged that top officials with special expertise were no longer able to speak freely about critical issues.
The mayor has alluded to her zero-tolerance management style, saying it was this that helped the city achieve capital expenditure of 92.9 percent of its budget for the previous year.
“I know I was tough and hard at times. We had to fight and I had to shout and swear, but it was worth it,” she told a news conference recently.
But punitive action against dissenting councillors has raised eyebrows.
It is understood that a DA sub-council chairperson was hauled before a disciplinary committee for speaking to the media. The Cape Argus has also seen correspondence from DA councillors who say they have been forced to support certain issues, contrary to their own views.
ANC councillor Tony Ehrenreich said councillors were afraid to voice opinions that differed from the city’s top leadership. Two ANC councillors may have to explain to a disciplinary committee why they said they did not believe the city had achieved the capital expenditure it announced.
Mayoral spokesman Solly Malatsi said all councillors were bound by the code of conduct that required them not to do anything that brought the city into disrepute. “(These councillors) undertook to provide evidence of their claims within a week. They have not done so, because it simply does not exist.”
However, several council recommendations and proposals have sounded alarm bells about De Lille’s way of getting things done. There is a sense that officials are being sidelined or ignored and decisions are being pushed through regardless of their advice.
These include the change to the urban edge, despite a decision taken less than a year ago to protect the city’s agricultural land.
A recommendation to repeal a decision last year to freeze further development in the Philippi Horticultural Area pending the outcomes of a food study was approved by the council last week despite a public outcry.
“Public participation has always been a huge part of getting it right and making decisions which would positively impact on communities,” said Demetrius Dudley of the ACDP.
“However, recently it seems the ‘do as I say’ policy of our mayor… seems to be the management style of the day.”
Rashiq Fataar, director of think-tank Future Cape Town, said: “We remain puzzled by the constant contradiction between decisions taken and the city’s own policies. Not the least of these is the Cape Town spatial development framework – drawn up after five years of extensive engagement – as well as the development edges policy.
“Food security and water security remain two of the major threats facing cities around the world, and while the demands of urbanisation place an increasing strain on Cape Town, sufficient land exists elsewhere to develop housing if the relevant parties are willing to make an effort.”
Insiders in the planning department have told the Cape Argus there was huge unhappiness about the recommendation, which was discussed in the mayoral committee before going to the council.
De Lille said in her council speech that there was public input, as the matter had been discussed at an open mayoral committee meeting. However, the parties affected by the recommendation were not at this meeting, and only found out about the city’s intentions via the media.
Another contentious issue is proposed amendments to the city’s system of delegations for planning matters. If approved, sub-councils will no longer be able to decide on land-use rights, departures, rezoning and sub- divisions. These will be handed to the executive mayor and a dedicated executive director for final determination.
Chris Willemse, of the Camps Bay Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association, said the consequences of a council proposal to centralise planning decisions meant “long-term sustainability, the environment and constitutional rights will be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency”.
The Green Point Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association said the shift of delegated authority from the political realm to the executive realm cut the public “out of the loop”.
Furthermore, in an environment in which “the city repeatedly and substantially disregards its own policy and planning guidelines – we cite Wescape and Philippi developments that run contrary to the principle of densification and the carefully planned urban edge – there is absolutely no reason to believe that decisions will be more predictable and uniform when taken by the executive director”.
Willemse said the city’s environmental planning committee had already been stripped of its powers to decide on policy issues. By changing the delegations for planning matters, decision-making at local level would be compromised.
“The mayor is quietly attempting to push this amendment through a full sitting of council… while the DA caucus has effectively gagged dissenting councillors.”
Malatsi said this was “simply not true and was based on a fundamental lack of understanding of the legislation and various legal mandates of the structures of council”. He said the mayor would always engage with all interested parties on planning issues.
The delegations matter was only under consideration and no final decision had been taken.