Taking Cape Town back to the future
12 October 2021
Note to editor: This was a speech delivered by GOOD: City of Cape Town Mayoral Candidate, Brett Herron, at the Cape Town Press Club today.
I’d like to start by thanking the Cape Town Press Club for the invitation to speak to you this afternoon.
It is a rare opportunity to step back from the coalface of campaigning in communities to reflect on the bigger picture of our values and progress as a society and a city.
If I had a projector, there are three local images I’d put up on the screen to sketch context for my input. Two of them you know well, and the third I’ll introduce you to today.
The first image is from 1989. It is outside St George’s Cathedral. It is the first time in apartheid history that the Mayor and councillors of a major city has joined thousands of protestors in the streets calling for peace and justice. Activists, religious leaders, academics, students, professionals, representatives of business… It speaks to the promise of integration and common cause…
The second image is from 2014. It is on a political platform. Helen Zille is kissing a newly announced presidential candidate, Dr Mamphela Ramphele. Five days later they un-kissed… It speaks to our inability to grow beyond the binary polemic…
The third image is from Delft this year. It is a photograph of a beautiful little girl for whom life changed tragically in an instant, in June. Her big brother, 10-year-old brother Kayden Marco, was crushed to death by a giant metal wheel in the playpark near their home... It speaks to the distance we must still travel to create a fair and sustainable city…
These images collectively create an abbreviated timeline of our journey over the past 30 years that touches on our hopes, aspirations, gains and losses.
But before getting into the meat of my speech, let me briefly introduce myself and GOOD.
As you know, GOOD is a new party. We were registered in February 2019, just three months before the 2019 national elections. We were one of two new parties to win seats in that election.
We are a new party but we are not babes in the wood. We are led by one of South Africa’s most experienced public representatives, with a track record spanning the trade union and liberation movements, and serving as a leader in all three spheres of government.
Our ranks include a number of people with the experience of serving as councillors and Mayco members in the past – particularly in the City of Cape Town.
But we also, refreshingly, include people who are not career politicians. People with skills, a bewildering array of qualifications, and integrity. Who are plugged into their communities. Who must be answerable to their communities before their party.
To prepare ourselves for the upcoming elections we contested about a dozen by-elections. We won our first municipal seat, in George, and came a close second to either the DA or the ANC in most of the others.
The by-elections painted a clear picture of voters on the move. Encouraged by the swing and our growth we’ll be contesting 45 municipalities in five provinces, including six metros, next month.
Me? I am not a career politician. I am a real person. Before getting into local government, I was managing a reasonably decent professional legal career to which I will return one day if and when my public service is done.
Despite the posters I never considered a career in boxing, though I’m trying to put up a good fight. And I do believe Muhammad Ali was 100% correct when he said, “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”.
That is a lesson I was first taught in my childhood, by my father.
These are lessons in servant leadership that guide me. They are what brought me into political office. I decided that I could not stand by and watch what was happening in our country and do nothing.
I didn’t join the DA directly, but with Patricia de Lille as part of the process – we hoped – to create a credible, united and non-racial opposition.
I spent nine years in the City of Cape Town – as a councillor – eight of them as a Mayoral Committee Member.
I resigned, from the DA, the Council and Mayco, on 1 November 2018 after it became clear that my colleagues, and party, didn’t share my values and did not intend to honour their commitments to create a transformed and inclusive City.
Post Covid City
We are living in the most extraordinary times since apartheid. Our foundations feel shaky. The extent of poverty and unemployment, and the level of inequality, threaten our sustainability, and many have lost faith in our politicians or institutions to fix things.
Already nauseated by corruption, the anarchic events in July, after the imprisonment of former President Zuma, and the seeming inability of law-enforcement agencies to bring the situation under control, unsettled us even more.
The issues were different in 1989 when the big march took place in Cape Town. Apartheid police were running amok, there was a State of Emergency, the struggle for justice was at its peak.
The people who marched saw a different future in which the dignity of all was upheld. It was a march of hope. Few in the crowd could have imagined that, more than 30 years later, we’d still largely live apart in our separate group areas – many with scant access to the most basic services.
Hopefully we are exiting the most devastating periods of the Covid-19 pandemic and we can begin to rebuild our City and our lives.
As we exit the pandemic we have an existential question to ask ourselves.
That question is, what kind of city do we want to rebuild? Are we hoping to go back to the way things were? Or, are we reaching for something better? Perhaps something more inclusive, kinder, and resilient to the future shocks we anticipate - but have failed to do enough to adapt to.
Are we reaching for a city truly prepared for the future and ready to break with the past decisively?
We owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to be the best version of Cape Town that we can be.
Reimagining the city is not a game of fantasy. It’s an act of generational justice.
It is our most profound duty – a duty of common purpose between us all - to prepare and secure human sustainability for all of the generations that follow.
These elections, as inconvenient as they are for some political parties, present a rare opportunity for synchronicity.
As voters we get to make choices about the future trajectory of our beautiful city at exactly the point in time when very difficult and profound decisions about that future need to be made.
It is an alignment of opportunity.
We are running out of time to bridge divides.
We are running out of time to grasp the prosperity that’s within reach.
We are running out of time to future-proof our city in ways that are just and sustainable.
A better direction
We can choose a different trajectory when we vote on 1 November 2021.
Which brings us to the symbolism of the second image I ask that you conjure in your mind: The kiss.
The reason that it was so meaningful was because it represented the hope that we’d finally be able to emerge from the binary politics and political parties that divide us. Black versus white, rich versus poor, Muslim versus Christian, The Western Cape against the rest…
And the binary social, economic, spatial and environmental injustices in which we are trapped.
I’ve been told not to fight with the media, but I think you are generally deserving of some gentle chiding for your role in perpetuating the narrative that Cape Town is the most fabulous, best-run city to live in.
It depends where you sit. Sure, we have suburbs that rival any in the world, but we also have dire slums. People who live with raw sewerage trickling down the street battle to equate their circumstances with this so-called world-class city. People who spend half their income on a broken public transport system to get to work will likewise struggle to see the glory.
The DA likes to distinguish itself from the ANC on its record of achieving clean audits. The truth is that both the ANC and DA have obtained clean audits while leading Cape Town.
As Mayor, Patricia de Lille achieved a string of clean audits unrivalled by any city. All government departments should obtain clean audits, or accounting officers should be fired. But clean audits don’t equate to clean streets in all areas, or clean water.
We have failed to seal the kiss by bringing the circumstances in which our people live closer together, to create pride and dignity and common purpose. Not to take anything away from the middle-class, but to raise the bar for those who have suffered generations of injustice.
The preamble to the Constitution defines our collective task to heal the divisions of the past, and to establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.
It enjoins us to improve the quality of life of all citizens, free the potential of each person, and lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people.
The Cape Town that I know is home to millions of caring people who wholeheartedly support these noble objectives.
Millions of people who feel personally connected to the daily suffering, indignity and injustice of life on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks.
People who would genuinely like to contribute to fixing the city.
It is home to the embodiment of Ubuntu, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and a proud history of selflessness and courage during the anti-apartheid struggle.
These ingredients define a generosity of spirit and the courage to do the right thing at the right time.
They are the essence of the Mother City’s soul.
Yesterday at the 3rd Annual Social Justice Summit, the former Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, warned of the growing levels of inequality in the country.
She said, “If you want peace, invest in justice.”
The election trail
Over the past few months, I have got up close and personal with communities across Cape Town.
It has been a sobering privilege to meet business executives and professionals living in some of the most beautiful suburbs in the world, with lifestyles to match.
To meet workers, and unemployed people, living in council flats who dream that their children will one day be able to move to the suburbs
Grandmothers in backyard Wendy Houses battling to access electricity and water.
Families whose furniture has been attached, by way of warrant of execution, because they are unable to pay for electricity or water.
And, families in shacks in the mud with no services at all.
These people have more in common than most of them think, or most political parties allow.
Regardless of their bank balances, they depend on each other to develop an environment conducive to human development, dignity, security and prosperity.
They may not interact much, but it is just as much in the interests of the people of Bishopscourt that Bishop Lavis is properly serviced and developed as it is in the interests of the people of Bishop Lavis, themselves.
And the same goes for everywhere else.
How do we find each other and act with common purpose to build this new city?
The state’s role (and in this context, of course, by ‘state’ we mean local government) is to provide the physical infrastructure on which the economy can thrive, ensure that the playing field is as fair as it can possibly be, so that nobody gets left behind and, if they do, we can protect them. That is our fundamental offering.
While the business community and more affluent often ‘fear’ a social justice-oriented political offering, I believe that our policies are in the best interests of the rich and the poor alike.
If you are a member of the working or unemployed class, your immediate needs are a job, a safe space to call home, reliable & affordable public transport, access to social services, running water, dignified living conditions and an environment in which your children can develop, reach their potential and escape the cycle of poverty forever.
If you are wealthy or middle-class, you want peace, safety and stability. You want the homeless to be housed and rehabilitated rather than living on the streets; you want workers to live decent lives and arrive at work on time, via reliable public transport. You want your tenants and/or clients to be able to pay their debts.
You invest in better security systems at home, but you know that no fence is high enough to protect you from the insecurity of injustice.
Providing for peoples’ basic needs is not just a matter of conscience but also of necessity if we are to avoid large-scale social unrest and revolt in future. A City that juxtaposes wealth and poverty along racial lines, arguably more starkly than anywhere else on earth, is neither desirable nor sustainable.
If little Kayden Marco lived in Mowbray or Claremont he wouldn’t be dead today, because the parks in such areas are well maintained. But he lived in Delft…
Our Vision for the City of Cape Town
At its core, GOOD’s policy is based on four pillars: spatial justice, economic justice, social justice and environmental justice. From this framework we have developed an action-oriented vision for Cape Town that captures specific policy interventions to create a more moral, just, prosperous and sustainable city.
I’m not going to take you through the full vision today, it can be found on our website.
Instead, I just want to touch on a few aspects of our thinking.
Cape Town is presently, practically, on its knees.
Covid hasn’t done us any favours, but there’s no excuse for the neglect of the precious infrastructure we have.
There’s no reason for sewerage to be flowing in the streets, and into protected wetlands, in a City with more than R19 Billion in the bank.
This election has come at a good time because it can’t be business as usual.
We must take urgent steps to address the radical poverty and socio-economic exclusion of hundreds of thousands of residents, and we must embark on an immediate job-rich programme to maintain and build new infrastructure.
We must have one standard of infrastructure. In those communities which have the infrastructure that meets the standard we must invest in maintaining that infrastructure.
In those communities where infrastructure is below-standard, we must invest in installations and upgrades to meet the standard.
Investing in infrastructure is how our city can stimulate job creation.
Construction is labour intensive and a large scale infrastructure programme will not only improve the built environment and the living conditions in under-developed communities it will also create jobs.
Funding our City: Revenue and Budgeting
The funding model for cities has to change.
We have to restructure our water and electricity tariffs.
The tariffs, plus fixed levies and surcharges, are making basic services unaffordable. These tariffs have to be reduced.
This means scrapping the fixed water levy, which was meant to be a temporary drought levy, and it means reducing or scrapping the mark-up on the approved NERSA electricity tariff.
But we want to go further when it comes to our budgeting.
About 1500 towns and cities around the world have embraced Participatory Budgeting.
Participatory budgeting is a lot what it sounds like: it means unlocking progressively increasing portions of a municipal budget for residents to choose the spending priorities of a government through a collaborative process, as well as issues like how a local government raises funds through rates and taxes.
If done properly, participatory budgeting will bring a range of important benefits to our community:
Public expenditure will result in fairer outcomes;
Those who need more, will get more. There will be equality of infrastructure and services;
Democratic participation will be enhanced;
Citizen and resident learning will be improved;
Different communities will be brought together;
Government officials will communicate more directly with, and be accountable to, the residents that they serve;
Budget transparency will be maximised;
Wasteful expenditure and corruption will be reduced or eradicated, and
The social and moral function of the municipality will be upheld.
Public transport is the backbone and the lifeblood of any modern, well-functioning city.
In the narrow sense, the need is clear: the trains, buses and taxis that we travel in must operate and be affordable, safe and reliable.
But it also about more than that. Or to put it differently, achieving a safe, affordable and reliable public transport service requires a broader approach.
It is also about the linkages between land use, infrastructure and transport networks and the way in which they operate so that people can use them to reduce their cost of living and generally improve their quality of life.
We have to develop an efficient public transport system. It is inextricably linked to our sustainability and economic growth prospects.
A City-Led Transition To A Green Economy:
Climate change is no longer a ‘long-term risk’. It is happening now, and the way in which we respond will shape our socio-economic future.
It is also a matter of economic necessity – an opportunity as much as a threat.
There is a major shift in investment to ‘green’ destinations. We must not be left behind. We must align the policy response to climate change so that our cities attract new investment.
Cape Town is ideally placed to lead South Africa’s transition to an exciting, prosperous and sustainable new economy.
We must make Cape Town South Africa’s leading destination for what is a growing wealth of green capital.
It must begin with energy – the sector that contributes the most to global emissions.
National Government has finally adopted the proposal initially tabled by Patricia de Lille for municipalities to be able to procure its own power.
GOOD will use this opportunity to radically reshape Cape Town’s energy mix – rejecting coal and moving to a position where all of our electricity is generated with sustainable materials.
Private-sector investment will be welcomed, and regulatory priority with be granted to these projects.
In the context of large-scale urbanisation and population growth, we need to ensure that we can sustain our species. One of the fundamental considerations is water security and sanitation.
We will stop the desalination projects – they are too expensive and the cost per kilolitre to the user will be unaffordable;
To create a water resilient City, we need to clear alien vegetation from the catchment areas and around our storage dams. Alien vegetation uses as much water to grow and survive as a desalination plant can produce.
Cape Town’s sewage and wastewater treatment systems are in a frightening state of disrepair. Already, housing and other developments are being delayed, as the City cannot guarantee that the sewage system can handle the additional demand.
If the Wastewater Treatment Works are not able to do the job, wastewater (including sewage) ends up in our dams and rivers.
Three of Cape Town’s large vleis (Zandvlei, Zeekoevlei and Rietvlei) have recently been closed to recreation because of sewage spills caused by failing sewage infrastructure.
Cape Town urgently needs to repair, upgrade and expand its wastewater treatment facilities in order to prevent a catastrophic disaster which is looming if we do not act.
We must change the trajectory of our city, and the meaning of the Mother City from a mother to some to a mother for all.
Politics in Cape Town and the Western Cape are maturing.
For the past 15 years the incumbents have relied on the narrative that it is preferable to the ANC – a low bar.
But in this election, for the first time, they are being held to account for their own delivery record.
I have visited dozens and dozens of communities.
I didn’t plan things this way but have been overwhelmed by invitations from people who are desperate to be seen and heard.
People whose living conditions have effectively stripped them of their inherent human dignity.
I have visited council flats that are so poorly maintained they are a health and safety risk.
I have visited old Coloured townships such as Bonteheuwel and Hanover Park, which have become so densely populated that the bulk infrastructure has collapsed.
People in Delft who lost their little boy after he was crushed by poorly maintained piece of play equipment in a playpark.
People in Langa who cross the street on stepping-stones to dodge the sewerage.
People in Nyanga living with overflowing portable toilets.
People living in backyards at the mercy of landlords for water and electricity.
People living in unspeakably poor conditions, in the mud, in shack.
Those conditions directly threaten Cape Town’s long-term viability as a secure place to do business, to create jobs and to live for everyone of us.
We can change this. We have a duty to do so. And we all have a common interest in achieving it.
Issued by Fiona Furey, Communications Director, City of Cape Town Mayoral Candidate, 12 October 2021