Tag Archives: service delivery

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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Criticising corruption isn’t racist

Steaurt Pennington wrote a letter about liberal thinkers, criticism and subliminal racism which was published in the Business Day last Friday. I responded with:

By implying that when “thinkers who position themselves as custodians of our liberal values rail about cronyism, corruption and the collapse of our civilised norms” they are merely “falling foul of their own aversive racism”, Steuart Pennington has got it wrong.

While aversive racism may indeed be the underlying cause of some persons’ criticism, it is scurrilous to suggest that this applies to everyone who dares criticise the steady erosion of accountability and governance that SA is experiencing.

By Pennington’s logic, these critics (who he incorrectly assumes are all whites) are simply not entitled to criticise the government because to do so is racist. He does not realise that most who espouse liberal values such as constitutionalism and ethical governance would criticise governance failures regardless of the government’s racial composition. Indeed that was amply evident during apartheid when Helen Suzman, Colin Eglin and other liberals vociferously condemned the Nats’ wicked policies.

Incidentally, middle-class whites such as Pennington remain largely unaffected by dodgy tenders, fat-cat black economic empowerment deals and public service plundering. It is the poor, mostly black, majority that suffers the most from rampant malfeasance. Thus to remain silent about cronyism and corruption is to show contempt for this impoverished majority.

It is time for Pennington and the others held hostage by their racial identity to liberate themselves, evaluating and, if need be, attacking arguments according to their merit — not according to the colour of the skin of the person who dared suggest them. If our democracy is to survive, ideas, debate and criticism cannot — and must not — be constrained by the paradigm of race.

As a 20-year-old who has grown up in the new SA, I “rail against corruption and cronyism” not because I’m racist — but because I am furious that African National Congress members’ relentless pursuit for power and self-profit continues to entrench apartheid’s lingering oppression among the very people the ruling party purports to represent.

Read Pennington’s reply to this letter in this morning’s Business Day here.


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Debunking the Daily Mail’s doomsayer

On Sunday 29 March, a devastating article by Peter Hitchens on Jacob Zuma and South Africa’s future was published in Britain’s Daily Mail. Couched in a sickening, sensationalist discourse swirling with racist and colonialist undertones, the story employed gross misrepresentation, selective truth-telling, distortion and stereotyping to depict South Africa as about to collapse into the abyss of anarchy and lawlessness.

Of course South Africa faces some very worrying challenges. There are indeed threats to the sustainability and strength of our democracy – not least the disbanding of the Scorpions and the dropping of Zuma’s charges. But with all the nuance of a sledgehammer, Hitchens’ article framed the largely untested Zuma as a savage despot, thereby reinforcing all the crude, racist assumptions about our country that doubtless many Daily Mail readers hold.

I have selected some of the more outrageous passages (italicised) and comment on them below.

On electricity cuts:

Electricity blackouts – the invariable sign of a country on the slide – are now frequent. The ill-run nuclear power station inherited from the apartheid regime’s atom bomb programme is beginning to judder and fail, raising fears of an African Chernobyl.

Loadshedding is so last year. Apparently not for Hitchens. I can’t remember the last time there was a powercut in Cape Town. And remember not so long ago when New York was plunged into darkness? No one was predicting the demise of the American empire then. Eskom may have screwed up big time with a lack of capacity but that doesn’t necessarily mean South Africa is on the verge of falling apart.

To my knowledge, Koeberg had nothing to do with the apartheid’s nuclear programme. And despite its shutdowns, it’s highly unlikely Koeberg is going to blow up any time soon.

On immigrants and informal settlements:

It is largely thanks to these new arrivals that wretched, instant slums sprout right up to the edge of Cape Town’s slick new airport.

Those “slums” have been there since the 1980s and haven’t just suddenly sprouted within the past few months. With the N2 Gateway housing project there are actually far fewer shacks near the airport than there has been in decades.

Even in the lovely Cape wine country, squatter camps have erupted on the outskirts of towns where chefs drizzle olive oil on to fancy salads….

Again, squatter camps and townships have been on the outskirts of Cape Winelands towns for decades and haven’t just suddenly materialised. The settlements are a result of apartheid’s vicious town planning in which blacks were forced to live away from towns in appalling conditions.

On Aids:

There is a little about AIDS, but nothing like as much as there should be, given the acres of graves that commemorate the government’s moronic policies, of denial and folk remedies (including beetroot).

Yes, government Aids policies have been moronic. But Hitchens makes no mention that Aids denialism has been abandoned or that Manto Tshabalala Msimang, one of its fiercest proponents, has been sidelined and replaced by a very capable health minister, Barbara Hogan, who – even though only being on the job for a few months now – is already improving the healthcare system and its response to the HIV/Aids pandemic.

On Zuma himself:

In the coming weeks, South Africa seems to me to be taking several definite steps towards its cold, shocking awakening – as a full member of the Third World.

The man who will lead it there is called Jacob Zuma. Remember the name. You are going to hear a lot more of it.

Zuma is wholly African.

Wholly African? Hitchens is implying that’s a bad thing.

He completely lacks the Westernised polish and smoothness of Mandela and Mbeki. His political party, the African National Congress, sometimes seems aghast that it has chosen him as leader. Too late.

Why is having “Westernised polish and smoothness” be a good thing? Hitchens is implying that such qualities are a virtue, far better and more civilised than being African which he clearly considers “savage” and “barbaric”. Mugabe and Idi Amin both were renowned for their “Westernised polish and smoothness” and look at where that got their respective countries. And it didn’t make Mbeki anymore democratic – far from it. His tenure as president would have made Machiavelli blush.

As for the ANC despairing of its president – well, that’s simply hilarious. The party loves him. They’ll do anything for him.  For heaven’s sake – that’s why he won at Polokwane.

[T]he future President has all the charisma of an ashtray. The scripted slogans fall from his lips like blobs of cold porridge.

Another joke. Zuma is known as a highly charismatic figure and electrifying, gifted speaker.

On South Africa’s impending elections:

Many fear it will rapidly become a lawless kleptocracy when he comes to power, which he will do after a hopelessly one-sided and rather crooked election.

South Africa’s 2004 elections are generally considered to have been the freest and fairest in its history. And while there will undoubtedly be the occasional incident of intimidation etc. it is unlikely that this will characterise the upcoming election. As for South Africa becoming a lawless kleptocracy? The rot set in when Mbeki was in charge. It’s up to civil society and the political opposition to ensure it doesn’t spread any further.

On the Zulus and Zululand:

South Africa’s largest tribe are a proud fighting people, and Zuma will not be a mild leader, as Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, his two forerunners, were.

Tribal stereotypes are not only shameless constructs but often ridiculously inaccurate. Hitchens implies that while all Zulus are war-like, the Xhosas are peace-loving and “mild”. Both are equally pathetic generalisations. As more and more of the Xhosa Mbeki’s machinations come to light, it’s hard to think of the man as having been a “mild leader”.

There are Zuma posters, but the ANC – mistrusted here as a mainly Xhosa party – has to come into these districts under heavy police escort. The posters are nailed on electricity poles about 15ft up, to stop Inkatha militants tearing them down.

It’s laughable to think of the ANC as mainly Xhosa or that the only reason why Zulus support Zuma is because he is also Zulu as Hitchens attests. ANC support in KwaZulu-Natal has grown massively since 1994, with the Inkatha Freedom Party shedding masses of votes at each successive election – long before Zuma was the ANC’s leader.

On a rally in Springbok:

What is he doing here, in this arid dorp halfway to Nigeria? The truth is that the ANC faces a rebellion, and is trying to quell it with a mixture of power and pay-outs.

Someone please show Hitchens an atlas! Springbok is nowhere near to being “halfway to Nigeria”. And if the ANC is really facing a rebellion why is it doing so well in the polls? Of course many amongst the poor are gatvol, but, viewing Zuma as a saviour, they tend to take their angst about service delivery failures out on immigrants and individual ANC municipal councillors instead.

A breakaway, called the Congress of the People (COPE), has just scored surprisingly well in council by-elections near Springbok. Zuma’s allies, furious that for the first time they face serious opponents, have let their rage show in ways which have rightly scared many peaceful South Africans.

So, Cope is doing well in Springbok. Ergo they are now “serious opponents” to the ANC. That’s hilarious, considering a Markinor poll estimates their support to be between 8 and 12%. They’re little more than a splinter.

On the DA:

[Helen Zille] knows the [Democratic] Alliance must break out of being nothing more than a white liberal party.

A white liberal party? Hitchens is sounding like Trevor Manuel on this one. According to research done by Lawrence Schlemmer, the political analyst and academic, the DA is South Africa’s most multiracial party. And there’s that massive landslide at a by-election in the coloured township of Mitchells Plain we could talk about…

Hitchens’ conclusion:

[T]he prognosis – a rigged and menacing election, a government founded on lawlessness and an uneducated, cunning new leader, an African ‘Big Man’ with his roots in tribe and tradition – is not so good.

An election is generally considered to be the will of the people. Because Hitchens considers Zuma a barbaric savage, he describes such a concept as “menacing”. (Quite frankly the elections that propelled the warmongering civil-liberty assaulting Tony Blair to power were far more menacing.) There is no evidence that supports the notion that the election will be rigged but maybe Hitchens assumes that as its happening on the African continent, it must be rigged.

As for Zuma’s lack of education, why should that be a concern when so many of Africa’s “big men” were some of the best educated on the continent (such as Mugabe)? Hitchens implies that African cultures are inherently dangerous and uncivilised. Provided that Zuma respects and adheres to the constitution, bill of rights and our democracy, there is nothing wrong for him to be rooted in “tribe and tradition”.

It is unfortunate that worst kind of neo-colonialist Afropessimism has been employed to sell a few more papers. If they are incapable of a rational, truly insightful and nuanced portrayal of South Africa and its challenges, perhaps the Daily Mail should rather just do another story on Jade Goody instead. Or talk about how terrible Tony wriggled out of the cash-for-peerages scandal and canned an investigation into British Aerospace’s bribing of Saudi Arabian decisionmakers to guarantee they bought Eurofighter jets.

It cuts both ways.

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Immigrants the scapegoats for ANC delivery failure

The barbaric attacks on immigrants are in essence a protest against a lack of delivery and opportunity. Immigrants are an obvious target; a conductor rod to the storm of discontent that has gathered as inequality, poverty and unemployment in our townships has continued to remain rampant.

The seething anger that has been vented on the streets of our cities illustrates the resentment that, almost fifteen years into our democracy, jobs are scarce and social infrastructure — health, housing, education — is woefully inadequate.

Immigrants, in the eyes of protesters, are simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. They are perceived — all too often unfairly — as job-stealers, criminals and competitors placing unreasonable demands on scarce resources and shaky infrastructure.

In keeping with its hallmark denialism, the government has deludedly suggested that the appalling attacks on immigrants are the works of criminal elements — or even a shadowy third force. This only goes to show how out of touch the ruling party is with the majority of its constituents.

Until the government stops passing the buck through misattributing the cause of xenophobia, inequality will remain entrenched — and service delivery and social upliftment will never be the urgent priorities that they should be.

The ANC has become the default oppressor of the people because, while enriching its own elite, it has done little to change a status quo that remains rooted in South Africa’s unjust history of colonialism and apartheid. Self-enrichment amongst a politically connected few has flourished while life for many in this country remains much the same.

While the government acknowledges our nation’s widening wealth gap, it still advocates BEE to continue unreformed. This is despite the initiative’s obvious inability to redress economic imbalances and despite the fact that BEE pays only lip service to true social transformation.

BEE has been quite correctly described by President Mbeki’s brother as “a formula for co-opting — and perhaps even corrupting — ANC leaders by enriching them as private individuals”.

For xenophobia to be effectively contained, the people’s needs must be met. Efficient service delivery and a radically overhauled economic empowerment programme would be a good place to start.

This post was first published on Monday 26 May on Alex’s Thought Leader page.

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