Resuscitating Cape Town’s brutalized soul and re-opening for business building common purpose
22 August 2021
With great humility and honour I accept this nomination as the GOOD Party’s Mayoral Candidate for the City of Cape Town.
Serving in public office is not a job; it is a privilege that comes with enormous responsibility.
It is a mayor’s responsibility to work day and night to create an environment that enables every person who calls the City home to lead progressively more comfortable lives, in better living environments, with functional logistics and infrastructure, adequate safety – and hope.
This responsibility is particularly acute in South African cities that were deliberately constructed to keep residents separate and unequal.
We must build common purpose and address fundamental inequalities or we risk the instability of unresolved reverberations from the past.
REVIVING SERVANT LEADERSHIP
I am not a career politician. Before cutting my teeth in 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.
I never considered a career in boxing, though I am 100% inspired by Muhammad Ali’s wise advice that, “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, who said that those of us who are able to speak out have a duty to do so on behalf of the voiceless, and a duty to take action where others’ cannot.
Lessons in servant leadership...
About 15 years ago, after reading a book about the arms deal while on a family holiday in the Eastern Cape, I felt obliged to do something to help. I’d lived in New York for a while, returning to Cape Town to open a Law School.
I was drawn to Patricia de Lille. I liked her straight talk, the fact that she was a black woman leading a post-apartheid party, and her brand of social democracy. I volunteered to serve, and she quickly dispatched me to the Cape Town City Council as a councillor.
When she was later elected mayor, she included me as a member of her executive committee.
We spent eight years there. Although frustrated by colleagues who didn’t share our values, or honour their commitments, for a transformed and inclusive Cape Town, we gathered valuable knowledge and experience of local government and the inner workings of the City.
3. REDISCOVERING THE “MOTHER” IN THE MOTHER CITY
When GOOD is elected to govern Cape Town, we will govern with guts and determination for a city that honours its nickname – “the mother city”.
We will be firm in our values, true to our word and transparent in our deeds.
We will care equally for all residents regardless of their race, bank balance or where they live.
We will fight, with all our might, to narrow inequalities in our residents’ living environment.
We will change our pronouns from the divisive “us and them”, to the inclusive “we” and “our”.
Our Mother City.
A generation ago, South Africans dreamed of building a new kind of society on a foundation of shared dignity and respectful diversity.
There are no better options; we have drifted off track - but it is a vision to which we must return.
THE WARM HEART OF CAPE TOWN’S PEOPLE
The preamble to the Constitution defines our collective task to heal the divisions of the past, establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights, 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 many thousands of individuals across dozens and dozens of communities who demonstrated their warm-heartedness by spontaneously rallying to feed hungry families, forming Community Action Networks when the Covid-19 lockdown struck.
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. They are the essence of the Mother City’s soul.
But, this is not the soul of the present city administration.
THE COLD HEARTEDNESS OF CAPE TOWN’S GOVERNMENT What we have is a government that doesn’t buy into new pronouns.
We have a government stuck in the past, devoid of any vision for the future, who don’t buy into the necessity to build affordable homes;
We have a government intent on criminalising homelessness instead of helping deal with the gangsters terrorising communities;
A government that sneaks hidden charges into new electricity tariffs, and lies about drought tariffs and pipe levies;
A city of failing infrastructure, with sewerage flooding homes and contaminating precious wetlands;
A city with a collapsed public transport system;
Where playground equipment in poorer communities is so neglected that it kills children; Where people are so hungry that they slaughter cats and dogs to eat;
Where food relief money is stolen from the hungry and public funds are used to cover legal costs when they get caught;
And a city which refuses to answer our questions or be held to account... It is a government that has divorced itself from Cape Town’s soul.
6. THE PRIORITIES OF THE MODERN, INCLUSIVE, DEVELOPING CITY
Cities with vision and dexterity contribute enormously to reducing carbon emissions and decelerating climate change.
They make Wifi, fast connections and affordable data widely available so residents can benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
They develop facilities and amenities in communities to constructively occupy young people.
To reduce traffic congestion, they invest in clean, safe and efficient public transport.
To enhance safety, they focus anti-crime initiatives on crime-ridden areas and they address the conditions that incubate crime.
To build cohesion, they narrow gaps in living standards by investing in poorer neighbourhoods.
Few residents of the Mother City would disagree that these are standards worth achieving. They are the common purpose gold standard.
But in order to achieve them and begin to create a sustainable Mother City, we must address structural and systemic inequalities that are hurdles in our way.
The provision of decent housing is at crisis point. We can fix it, to a large degree, by better implementing the national housing programme.
In January 2017 I became responsible for housing. We made a commitment to turn housing delivery around. And we did.
After the first six months we were able to increase the delivery of housing opportunities from 4293 in 2016 to 6028 in 2017.
The following year the number grew to 8095. It was the first time Cape Town met, let alone exceeded, its housing delivery target.
We doubled housing delivery in just two years.
Last year, almost 10,000 housing opportunities should have been completed, but just 3523 were delivered – one third of the original plan for the 2019/20 year.
Delivery has collapsed and more than 6000 families who should have been in homes today remain homeless.
This year we had planned to deliver 14 000 housing opportunities but this city government has cut that target by two thirds – down to just 5100
A caring city doesn’t leave people to languish for 20 and 30 years on a waiting list, while shamelessly reporting declining delivery numbers.
We know it can be turned around, but first it must be prioritised by the city government.
Besides the national housing programme, there are eager partners in the private sector wanting to invest in affordable and social housing.
They need a government that is open for business and ready to partner with them.
We need to leverage public land and use it for a public good – to deliver a range of housing opportunities that collectively meets the range of diverse needs.
We must break down apartheid spatial divisions and begin to develop a sustainable post-apartheid city for all its residents by delivering affordable housing close to all our economic hubs – including the city centre.
Creating conditions that are conducive to job-creating investment is the foundation of any successful city.
Cape Town is a port city with a world class airport. It is a gateway to Africa. Our connectivity to the world is in place.
Successful cities need functional road and rail infrastructure, good public transport, internet connectivity and stable governments that make reliable partners.
We will restore our roadways, rebuild our collapsed public transport and complete our long promised, but never fully delivered, internet connectivity.
We will demonstrate not only that we are open for business but that we mean business.
Fixing collapsing infrastructure is a good strategy to build our way back from the brink.
We will use the City’s massive cash surpluses to roll out large scale programmes to build, repair and maintain critical infrastructure – and create jobs.
The devastation wrought by Covid is the perfect time to toss out old ways of budgeting that hamper the delivery of services.
There is nothing that reveals the priorities of a government as starkly as a budget.
The South African Constitution describes ‘participatory democracy’ as a democracy in which citizens contribute to decision-making.
Active citizenship can best be realised by giving residents a real say in how public resources should be raised and spent.
We need a budget that is co-designed by the people of this city – or “participatory budgeting”.
A budget that we can all read and understand, that protects the poor while at the same time being fair to the rest of us.
It is time to cut the excess, trim the fat and dump the extravagance. To start from scratch, we will implement zero-based budgeting.
We must cut our coat according to our cloth.
We cannot expect residents to pay for extra cloth that they do not want and cannot afford to fund.
In three short years Cape Town has gone from being Africa’s leading city for public transport to a city where public transport has collapsed.
We will prioritise rebuilding relationships with the taxi industry, and get the MyCiTi service to Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain back into service.
Fifteen years after BRT was introduced in South Africa, and adopted by Cape Town, the roll out of a fully integrated network of trains, buses and taxis is going nowhere fast.
When the average cost of public transport is 40% of household income, and some communities like Atlantis are paying 60% of household income on public transport, we must and we will act with great urgency to restore our city’s plan for an affordable, accessible and integrated public transport service.
Homelessness impinges on the most fundamental rights to human dignity.
The paths that lead to homelessness vary, and so too do the paths that lead out.
The present City administration’s policies and actions aimed mainly at the forced removal of homeless people from the streets of affluent areas, and dumping them in the same deplorable conditions in other areas, are medieval.
Best practise developed internationally over the past 50+ years takes a holistic approach, seeking to treat causes such as addiction, alienation or the provision of housing.
We will work with independent organisations, trusted by homeless people, to provide various pathways to a life off the streets.
To achieve environmental justice requires addressing so-called green and brown issues.
We must reduce our consumptiveness and waste, and contribute to the global deceleration of carbon emissions and climate change, and we must also reduce the dirty and unhealthy living environments in which many of our people are forced to live.
The city’s sewerage system must be professionally managed and maintained so that sewerage is stopped from flowing into precious wetlands in the metro, and also stopped from flowing into the homes of residents.
The conditions of poverty and informality in our City should shame us all. The fact that children die of treatable diseases in the Mother City each year, such as diarrhoea, should shame us all.
A few weeks ago I went to KTC informal settlement in Nyanga because the City had failed to renew the portaloo service and the community was living with 10 days of accumulating sewerage in reeking, overflowing portaloo containers.
Community leaders took me from shack to shack, introducing me to residents in particular need of help. Perhaps I could do something, even if it was just to speak up on their behalf.
What particularly struck me was the community leader’s generosity of spirit. They lived in similarly deplorable conditions but had the humanity to acknowledge those among them who were even worse off.
This is the soul of our Mother City.
The situation in KTC epitomises the environmental, economic, social and spatial injustices we inherited from our divided past and have failed to fix.
We have a duty to take action.
Informality is a product of urbanisation. It takes great courage and a giant leap of faith to uproot your family from a rural community and move to Cape Town – hoping for a better life. We can’t talk about urbanisation as a theoretical concept and not plan for it.
We can build partnerships with those who live in backyards and informal settlements. Working with them to plan their futures, including their land tenure, the services they need and their access to housing.
We can stop regarding people from the Eastern Cape as refugees or unwanted immigrants.
The fact that many people have lived their entire lives in an informal settlement is a disgrace.
We are all equally entitled to live with dignity, in a safe and healthy environment.
A MOTHER CITY THAT CARES FOR ALL MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY
The benefits of a transformed Mother City that views all its residents as precious won’t solely accrue to those presently living in squalor.
Arguably the greatest beneficiaries will be those presently living in the suburbs, and business owners, who are invested in properties and the economy.
Their investments will do better in a stable, peaceful, fairer society in which all feel part.
But it’s also a matter of justice, and contributing to justice. Justice that begins to dismantle divisions we acknowledged and should have begun discarding a generation ago. Justice that speaks to good values.
My gloves are on.
I may not have Muhammad Ali’s hook, or Aunty Pat’s honed left jab, but I’m more than committed to take on this GOOD fight. I’m ready to continue the job we started.
This time, we will do so without being constrained by colleagues who don’t share our vision or ideals. And, we will do so without the constraints of jobs being reserved for comrades and pals. The GOOD-led City will stop hiring cadres and return to hiring professionals.
I am ready to work with the all of our residents, with the private and public sector, and with constructive politicians, regardless of party affiliation, to challenge those who fear change to, instead, understand and help deliver it.
Issued by Brett Herron, GOOD City of Cape Town Mayoral Candidate, 22 August 2021