Tag Archives: cape town

Cape Town: a culture of complacency?

Last week human rights activist Rhoda Kadalie raised a stink about the abysmal state of the toilets in Cape Town’s City Hall. A contractor was hired in April to renovate them. When she requested a progress report last month senior council officials ignored her so she visited the loos herself. She wrote in Business Day last week:

[I] found shockingly that the contractor had gone AWOL, that the toilet windows were wide open during raging winter weather, that tiles were missing, and pigeon droppings were everywhere. While some toilets and basins were installed, others were just lying about. The necessary tiles and equipment were missing. In brief, the place was in a state of disgusting chaos. After much ado, I managed to trace the person in charge, who reassured me the process would be re-advertised and put out to tender. No one can give us a time frame and there is no way of knowing when the toilets will be ready […] The fact is no supervision took place while the contractors were there, and I was the one to discover that they had disappeared.

It didn’t take very long for the council’s media machine to leap into action. In a statement released last Tuesday, it was quick to point out that a R2 million turnaround strategy had commenced two years ago and included:

Repairs to roof leaks; Repairs to the clock, which has also been automated; Electrical reticulation repairs; Repair of the pipe organ; Minor repairs to the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra back room area; Rewiring of and repairs to chandelier cables; Replacement of lettering on Main Hall chairs; Painting of the first and second floor walls and ceiling; Sanding and varnishing of Press Room; and, Sanding and varnishing of two rooms on the first floor. The foyer has also been painted and the first set of four toilets is currently being upgraded and modernised.

The council said that it hoped “the City Hall should serve as a fully functional amenity” within three years.

While the City Hall is certainly dilapidated, it is ridiculous that it should take a projected total of five years to restore the building to being “fully functional”. As Kadalie’s column points out, an entire stadium has been built from scratch in less than that time. And quite frankly, it is pathetic that all that has been achieved in two years has been little more than a bit of rewiring and and a spot of sanding and varnishing.

The lack of progress in restoring this civic beauty to its former glory is a disturbing indication that the City of Cape Town has allowed a culture of complacency to creep in. As Kadalie’s story shows, the council’s claims of increased oversight, accountability and efficiency ring hollow in this instance.

Since the coalition that has ruled the city since 2006 came into power, there have undoubtedly been achievements. Finances, which had been in disarray, have been brought under control. Service delivery has tripled. And private-public initiatives have made enormous strides in reducing crime in the CBD and Khayelitsha.

But that is not enough. Cape Town is a city of vast inequality, a cauldron of simmering social problems that include crime, unemployment, excessive migration and a shortage of housing and services. The council would do well to stop resting on its laurels: if these issues are to be effectively dealt with then urgency, innovation and excellence are essential.

One only has to look to the Cape Town Stadium for further evidence that these qualities are sorely lacking. With SAIL Stadefrance abandoning plans to run the stadium for the next thirty years, the facility increasingly resembles a ratepayer-funded white elephant. The consortium calculated that the running costs of the stadium just didn’t make operating it viable (why it took until after the World Cup to figure this out is beyond me).

The council has decided to operate it on its own. This is shortsighted — council officials are not stadium experts: they ought to be running cities, not stadiums. The breakdown in negotations earlier this month between the city and SAIL Stadefrance leads to several questions. Why couldn’t an agreement be reached? And if the issues were completely unresolvable, why has this not been put out to tender again? Why are there no public discussions on how to ensure the stadium is sustainable and relevant for decades to come?

Cape Town may be South Africa’s best run city, but considering the shambolic state of so many of our other municipalities this is hardly something to be content with. If the DA is serious about proving it can offer a more principled and more effective alternative to ANC rule, it needs to redouble its efforts to match rhetoric with action.


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“TIME” likes Cape Town

In TIME‘s February 8 edition, managing editor Richard Stengel announced that the magazine will be hosting the inaugural Global Forum in conjunction with FORTUNE and CNN. The summit, Stengel says, will bring together “CEOs, world leaders and members of the Time 100” to discuss the shift in power towards the developing world. It will be hosted in June this year during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Sounds great. But what I found even more interesting was the glowing way TIME described my home city — as “an exquisitely beautiful place that is in many ways a model for the new Africa: diverse, entrepreneurial, forward-looking”.

OK. Maybe they’re glossing over the deep social divides, the inequality, the crime, the poverty. But TIME‘s right — Cape Town is indeed a beautiful place, and has huge potential as a bastion of tolerance and home for innovation. The more people who realise this, the greater the chance the city has of becoming  an integrated, prosperous and globally relevant city.

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Acting Good – you can make a difference

A good friend of mine is launching a fantastic project called Acting Good and is appealing for funds. With your help she can make a difference to the way Capetonians interact with each other and with their city.  Below is her email appeal — feel free to pass this post around.

Dear Friends,

I am starting a social project called “Acting Good” which will focus on education and good social behaviour regarding litter and pedestrian safety. I would like to do this in a fun and novel manner through the use of student actors and funny skits in the streets of the Cape Town CBD.

In order for me to run this project successfully, I require funding – R16 500 to be precise. I have approached corporates such as Shoprite, McDonalds, PnP and Woolworths (their packaging making a major contribution to litter) for sponsorship, to no avail.

The City of Cape Town Solid Waste Department is very excited about this project and it has potential to be utilised in other cities and areas if it is successful. The City will be collaborating with litter statistics over the 3 month period the project will be run in order to determine its success.

I appeal to you to please make a small contribution to the cause, to the environment, clean cities and to a sustainable anti-litter campaign. If you do make a donation, please be sure to put your name as a reference so that I can send a thank you note and update you on the project’s progress.

I have opened a savings account for this purpose:

Standard Bank Savings Account

Account Holder: Mireille Wenger

Account Number: 074852132

Branch Code: 020909 (sometimes 02090900)

Branch Name: Thibault Square

If you have any questions or would like to know more, I would be more than happy to supply this information and send you the full project proposal.

Thank you ever SOOOO much!


Should you have any queries or would like to get involved, contact Mireille at mimikem [at] gmail [dot] com

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“Two-thirds gevaar” was reasoned, not racist

In a recent ANC Today, President Kgalema Motlanthe rehashes an article he wrote in the run up to the 1999 elections in which he criticised the then DP’s calls to prevent a two-thirds majority as “a fear of democracy”. In that decade-old piece he said:

Lacking a coherent or realisable vision for a better South Africa, these parties have fallen back on the promotion of fear to erode the ANC’s support and to generate a mood of resistance to meaningful change.

The ‘swart gevaar’ and ‘rooi gevaar’, now devoid of their previous menace, have mutated into the two-thirds gevaar.

If fear is the opposition’s most enduring weapon, then a two-thirds ANC majority is their latest ammunition.

He adds a postscript:

In the decade since this article was first published, the ANC has in fact held a two-thirds majority in Parliament. In all this time it has not used this majority to change the Constitution in the way that these opposition parties predicted. It is has no intention to do so now. This is the Constitution for which the ANC fought, and we will continue to do everything we can to defend it.

That is a blatant lie. With cabinet’s approval of the Seventeenth Constitutional Amendment Bill, we can see why the electorate depriving the ANC of its ability to change the Constitution is imminently sensible and vital for the sustainability of our democracy.

The bill seeks to grant wide-ranging powers to central government to intervene in the operations of local government, thereby wholly undermining local government’s constitutionally-mandated autonomy. Government is claiming it will use the bill to speed up service delivery and force municipalities to accept the role of Regional Electricity Distributors (REDs) – until now, these have been reluctant to do so, as they buy electricity straight from Eskom. But the problem with the bill is that it would give power to do much more than that. As a Sapa article mentions:

Asked why the proposed amendment did not limit itself to letting central government intervene on electricity, Maseko said the State might later need greater powers in other areas and did not want to change the Constitution constantly.

“We don’t want to amend the Constitution on an almost annual basis. If we did, it would stop providing certainty. So we thought it was better to give government the powers and trust… it will not use the powers willy-nilly.”

Past behaviour is no guarantee for the future. Just because the ANC hasn’t substantively changed the Constitution in the past does not mean that it won’t do so in the future. This much is illustrated with the current amendment bill, where the resulting unwarranted accumulation of power in the hands of central government could prevent opposition-run councils from governing unimpeded by central government interference.

With the ANC having tried their utmost to topple Cape Town’s opposition-run council (including a bid by former Local Government MEC Richard Dyantyi to strip Helen Zille of her executive mayoralty), the DA has every reason to be worried. Its Stop Zuma campaign aims to turn out enough people to prevent potential abuses of power that a two-thirds majority – and hence the ability to change the Constitution – would thus enable. Unfortunately some people claim this is irrational hysteria – “swart-gevaar” tactics by any other name. To the uninformed or the blindly bigoted, it may come across that way. But it’s not.

The DA’s track record and vision proves that its vociferous campaigning against a two-thirds ANC victory is for the right reasons. Unfortunately, though, in focusing so zealously on Zuma — which doubtless is of vital importance — an insufficient emphasis on the DA’s ideals, vision and manifesto has resulted.

For people to know that the DA isn’t the reactionary, racist minority party that Motlanthe and the ANC like to depict it as, the DA needs to work harder to put across its vision to the millions who (by dint of the SABC’s propaganda and insufficient access to information) remain unaware of what the party represents.

In advocating an “Open Opportunity Society”, the DA aims to achieve sustainable transformation by encouraging innovation not by rewarding party loyalty. Its policies, especially with regards to the challenges of dismantling the legacy of apartheid (which the ANC has entrenched), is informed by “a clear acknowledgment that there is a long history of racial discrimination and oppression in South Africa, that it was wrong and that positive action is now required to make it right. That positive action must be targeted at individuals who still suffer the effects of discrimination, not at groups. It must provide opportunity to the disadvantaged without shutting off opportunity to the advantaged.”

This is why the DA is a proponent of an Income Grant of R110 per month for people earning less than R46000 a year. This is why it proposes a voucher system “aimed at giving the most academically promising 250 000 children from low income families the opportunity to receive a better school education.” This is why it suggests giving “young South Africans who meet certain conditions an opportunity voucher, which will allow them to subsidise study costs or start a business.”

And if the proof indeed is in the pudding, then its record thus far as the largest party in the City of Cape Town’s ruling coalition is very promising. The City wrote off R1.5 billion worth of debt owed to it by the poorest of the poor. It has provided free water and electricity to impoverished areas ignored by the ANC when it was in power. It has also more than doubled the rate at which council housing is being delivered.

Both its manifesto and track record of governing Cape Town prove that the DA is a viable, prinicpled alternative to the ruling party — far from being an ethnically-based minority party seeking to deny apartheid’s painful legacy and only promoting the interests of one population segment.

Campaigning to stop Zuma from potential abuses of power is important and should doubtless be a key part of the DA’s campaign messaging. But for if the DA is to ever build critical mass, it needs to focus on getting the message through to the electorate that not only does it oppose Zuma, it is a better alternative to him and the party he leads — better for poor people, better for rich people: better for all South Africans.

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Cape Town counters lies damn lies of tripartite tricksters

The ANC and its alliance are desperately trying to stave off losing the Western Cape in the upcoming elections by resorting to lies, smear tactics and false accusations in an attempt to undermine the service delivery record of the DA-led coalition government that runs the City of Cape Town .

Clearly the fact that the current council does a monumentally better job at service delivery and running the city in general is too much to handle for the incompetents in the ANC and its allied movements.

Below is the statement handed to representatives of the tripartite alliance at their march to the Civic Centre by Dan Plato who sits on the mayoral committee (thanks Politicsweb) which outlines the efforts being made by city to deliver services and improve the life of its impoverished citizens. To read about the alliance’s supposed reasons for marching read the SACP’s statement on Politicsweb here.


20 March 2009

Presented to: Blade Nzimande, The South African Communist Party, The African National Congress, South African Communist Party, The Congress of South African Trade Unions, The South African National Civic Organisation, The ANC Women’s League, The ANC Youth League, The Young Communist League

Presented by: Councillor Dan Plato, Mayoral Committee Member in the Mayor’s Office, on behalf of The City of Cape Town

Received at: Civic Centre, Cape Town

Dear Mr Nzimande

The City of Cape Town hereby condemns the attempts by your organisation and its alliance partners to undermine municipal service delivery by deliberately distributing misinformation to the public.

We recognise your Constitutional right to hold protest action and electioneering events.

However, the statements made in today’s protest, the march on Wednesday 18 March led by the SACP’s partners, the ANC Youth League, and the media statement issued by the SACP on 17 March 2009 (see here) have included misinformation that risks negatively impacting on municipal service delivery. Spreading misinformation also undermines democratic participation in service delivery by citizens.

In particular, the City of Cape Town takes issue with the following:

1) The claim in your organisation’s statement that “thousands of people in the City of Cape Town … [are] threatened with the implementation of prepaid water system, which is the direct infringement to [sic] their socio-economic right entrenched in the Bill of Rights”

There is no plan to implement pre-paid water meters in the City of Cape Town (although the SACP’s alliance partners in the ANC have tried to do this in the City of Johannesburg ).

We are implementing Water Management Devices on a voluntary basis in homes across Cape Town. These do not require pre-payment to deliver a free basic 6000 litres of water per month to households, plus a further 4000 litres to households registered on our indigency database. These devices can also be set to deliver more if owners consent to paying a certain amount at the end of each month. We provide a minimum of 44 litres per person per day of free basic water, based on an estimated average household of eight people. National legislation requires a minimum of 25 litres per person per day. Where more people live in a household, we increase the amount of free water accordingly.

The City of Cape Town ‘s Water Management Devices are being introduced for three main reasons.

The first is to save water. Over the past 50 years the population of Cape Town has increased by 400%, from 800 000 to 3.4 million people, and is still growing by 2.5% or 80 000 people per year. And the city’s informal settlements, often on invaded land with no services, have grown from 28 000 shacks in 1994 to 105 000 shacks in 2006. During the decades of rapid growth, water infrastructure provision by the municipality did not keep up with demand. As existing infrastructure ages, underground pipes burst, thousands of litres of water are lost to leaks every day, and a shortage of wastewater treatment capacity holds up new housing developments. Increasing levels of effluent are also entering our rivers and coastlines from ailing wastewater treatment works. In a recent report by the council, it was found that about half of our rivers, vleis and beaches are not fully meeting national guidelines for recreational use. New research also shows that we risk facing serious shortages of water in the Cape within the next 25 years if we continue with past practices. The Water Management Devices are designed to help people to avoid losing water and money through leaks by allowing them to monitor how much they use, and giving them a fixed amount of water per day (which, as mentioned above, varies from a basic amount of 6000 free litres per month, and anything extra that they can afford over and above that). So far we have installed 30 000 of these devices free of charge, after consultation with owners, and fixed leaks free of charge in many of the homes where they have been installed. This has already resulted in a monthly saving of 156 000 000 litres of water worth R519 000.

The second is to save residents from running up debts that they can’t pay, especially through leaks. The Water Management Devices offer them the opportunity to avoid unplanned bills. And those residents on our indigency database who have the Device installed and for six months stick within their daily limit and pay a contribution toward their debts, can have their debts written off after this period, no matter how big they are.

The third is to ensure that the municipality does not accrue huge debts from unpaid service charges. We cannot afford to provide free basic services and improved delivery if we fail to secure the municipality’s finances.

The misinformation being distributed by your organisation and its partners is undermining all three of these critically important objectives.

2) Your claim that residents of Cape Town face daily water cuts”.

Again, this is untrue. In terms of our indigency policy, no services are cut when people register as indigent and make arrangements to pay their debt. And water is never deliberately cut off, even if residents are very deeply in debt to the municipality. Their water is only restricted to 6000 litres per month in terms of the trickle system. If water is cut off in a household, it therefore means there is a problem, and it must be immediately reported to the City so that our 24 hour response team can go out and fix it. We have had complaints about the trickle system, which is why we are replacing it with Water Management Devices, which give households their 6000 litres free (and 10 000 litres free if they are on our indigency database) at the normal pressure they are used to. Restriction of services is actually a requirement of the law. I refer you to Section 97 (g) of the Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000, which obliges all municipalities to restrict services in order to recover debts. This is a law passed by the ANC in the National Assembly. If you disagree with this law, then I advise you to take the matter up with your partners at national level. By pressuring the City to abandon debt management measures, and by encouraging residents to resist debt management, your organisation is actively undermining the functioning of the municipality.

3) Your claim that“the DA-led City of Cape Town … is rallying a range of minority parties and constituencies (similar to an apartheid tricameral system) against the working class and the poor”

The facts clearly contradict this.

For the three years that the DA-led Multi-Party Government has been in office (from March 2006) it has dramatically increased support for poor communities in the form of free basic services, low cost housing provision, and public infrastructure. During its three years in office, the ANC delivered a total of 10 000 housing opportunities. So far, in the same period of time, the DA-led City of Cape Town has doubled this to 20 000. The DA-led City has also increased annual funding for free basic services (water, sanitation and waste removal) by an average of 15%, and introduced, for the first time, a 100% rates rebate for the poorest households. And it has doubled the income at which households qualify for benefits. Under the ANC, those who earned up to R2300 per month or less could apply for assistance. The DA-led City has increased this threshold to R7000 per month.

As a result of this policy, significantly more people now qualify for subsidies. In addition to these measures, the City of Cape Town has also been in the process of systematically upgrading all 222 informal settlements across the metro region, starting with basic services. We are doing this in terms of our detailed Informal Settlement Upgrade Master Plan. Unfortunately, for every R3 we spend of our R125 million annual budget for informal settlement water and sanitation, R2 is spent on repairs and replacements of stolen or vandalised infrastructure.

In the last financial year we installed 422 water stand pipes, but had to make 5482 repairs to sabotaged or stolen pipes and taps. In that year we also installed 2458 toilets, but had to make 4302 repairs to cisterns, pans, pipes and ablution structures damaged by criminals. In the current financial year this situation has continued. Although we have greatly increased the provision of toilets, having installed 2840 halfway through the year (nearly 400 more than the whole of the previous year), we have also had to make 1028 repairs due to theft and vandalism. And so far this year we have installed 186 water standpipes, but we have had to make 1942 repairs.

Finally, we have also increased spending on public infrastructure like sewerage plants, roads, water and electricity reticulation. The poor in particular benefit from this, since the wealthy are able to afford their own generators, boreholes and other basic services. During the ANC’s three year tenure in Cape Town it invested a total of R3 billion in basic infrastructure. During our three years in office, we tripled this to nearly R9 billion, and by the end of this financial year, in June, we expect to have invested over R10 billion.

Existing infrastructure also needs to be maintained – especially considering that many parts of Cape Town ‘s water, sewerage, electricity and road systems are over 30 years old. During the ANC’s three year tenure, the municipality spent around R1.7 billion on maintenance. Since we came to office, we have nearly doubled this, to R3.3 billion, and this is projected to reach nearly R4 billion by July.

In light of these facts, we therefore call upon your organisations to:

1) immediately stop telling residents that the City intends to introduce pre-paid water meters when this is not the case

2) immediately stop making false claims that the City cuts water to private households

3) immediately stop making false claims that the City is discriminating against the poor

4) constructively engage communities by assisting residents who experience water cuts or problems with Water Management Devices by:

a. informing them of our new SMS hotline for water and sanitation problems: 31373. If residents send an SMS of no more than 160 characters with their name, account number or erf number, street address and a brief description of the fault (eg “burst pipe” or “blocked pipe” or leaking meter”) the City can help (SMSes cost 80c each); OR

b. informing them of our Water Services Technical Operations Centre hotline (0860 103 054); OR

c. inform the Ward Councillor

5) Encourage residents who cannot afford to pay for their services to sign up on our indigency database so we can assist them

6) Report vandals or thieves who damage council infrastructure in informal settlements by contacting our Copperheads unit on 0800 222 771

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Zille is World Mayor

On Tuesday it was announced that Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance and mayor of Cape Town, has been awarded this year’s World Mayor prize by an urban affairs think tank, City Mayors.

This is a fantastic acknowledgement of the wonderful work Zille is doing as mayor of Cape Town.

City Mayors have the following to say on its website:

During the World Mayor 2008, Helen Zille has had the most passionate and eloquent support of any candidate. Her humanity, charm, integrity, vision and political know-how have all be praised in equal measures. 

Read the IOL’s article on the prize here.

Well done, Helen!

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Metrorail misery

Recently, Cape Town Metrorail commuters have been subjected to more than just the customary overcrowded carriages, which during rush hour make sardine cans seem spacious.

A few weeks ago there were delays of an hour or more thanks to cable thieves having vandalised a signal box at Woodstock station. Thankfully the bastards were caught.

Then two weeks ago storm damage along the line down to Simonstown resulted in more delays. With resignation that stems from a complete inability to do anything about the circumstances, I plugged into my iPod and delved into the unfinished paperback in my rucksack.

However, on facing the return journey, I must confess my serenity evaporated. Commuters waiting to go home were subjected to a string of garbled announcements at Cape Town station declaring that a train on the Simonstown line was delayed. While the announcer deigned to apologise for the inconvenience (they always do), she failed to reveal when the next train would be departing, nor which platform it would be leaving from. So, confusion inevitably reigned, with commuters frantically running from one train to another, praying they would end up on the right one before it slipped away.

I made it onto the right train in the end, but was overwhelmed by yet another show of the implicit contempt that Metrorail has for its customers. Ineffectual communication is exacerbated by an apparent dearth of contingency planning. Metrorail never seems to have a plan B so that when the proverbial hits the fan there’s someone able to clean it up – and fast! Of course cable theft and storm damage isn’t the service’s fault. But that does not excuse making a complete mess in responding to those crises.

Sadly Metrorail commuters can’t vote with their feet, because for most of them (including me) that would literally mean walking to work (or, in my case, college). Unless of course we took the bus – but considering that most of those seem to be manhandled by kamikaze learner drivers with a penchant for driving off bridges, that is hardly an option.

A commuter’s wish list:

1. More trains, more often: a timetable with gaps no longer than 15 minutes between trains to avoid long waits and overcrowding.

2. Security and CCTV monitoring along railway tracks and at stations to ensure vandalism and crime (like crippling cable theft) is kept to an absolute minimum.

3. Adequate maintenance: the railways’ ageing infrastructure means the network is fragile and delays due to signal faults etc. happen far too regularly – especially, weirdly, at the beginning of winter with the onset of the Cape’s heavy rain.

There is little incentive for Metrorail to make even the most basic improvements, but perhaps the looming Soccer World Cup – with the prospect of snobby German fans and drunken English hooligans having to make their way safely back to their hotels – might induce them to up their game.

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