There are moments when you curse yourself for not having a camera in hand.
It was a drizzly day in winter last year as I stepped out of the bank. There she was: Helen Zille on foot, crossing the grey and empty Bureau Street running off Adderley, on the way to the Provincial Legislature. The fact that the Premier was on foot like any other citizen was impressive enough. Completing the picture was her PA walking alongside with a light pink umbrella covering both of them while Zille read and replied to messages on her phone as she walked.
That scene did more to impress me of her – and by extension her party’s – commitment to hard work, transparency and accountability than any number of press releases extolling the party’s virtues.
Clean governance, cutting expenditure on frivolities and adept application of the budget has put the DA on the moral high ground in the battle for Cape voters.
Four studies in the last two years have named Cape Town as the best metro in terms of service delivery. These include the Support Programme for Accelerated Infrastructure Development (SPAID), which is funded by and reports to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and BEE Ratings Agency Empowerdex, which found that “Cape Town is clearly the best city in the country for service delivery”.
As veteran journalist Allister Sparks noted in the Cape Times this week, this election campaign is notable for a turnaround from the Tony Leon days. Instead of the DA taking pot shots at a puffed up ANC, it’s the ANC trying to punch holes in the DA’s claims of outstanding delivery and good governance.
Despite enduring two property re-evaluations which independent evaluator Peter Meakin calculates have increased rates by 68% over four years for the 75% of homeowners whose properties are valued over R300 000, the Cape Town middle classes appear to approve of the way the city is being run.
Leon Katsen, who lives in a middle class area of Grassy Park, says he is “very happy” with the city’s services.
“In general, I am very happy with the way things are run here. The city is very well run.”
The DA is unlikely to lose the vote of the middle classes who shake their heads at the news of Johannesburg’s billing crisis and gaping potholes.
And in township wards where the ANC have always held sway, the candidate list fiasco has done the DA a huge favour. There were minor riots in some wards after Luthuli House imposed candidates that residents had not voted for.
Scores of people interviewed in these wards indicated they will either not vote or opt for an independent candidate. There are also growing pockets of DA support in these areas.
But middle class homeowner Linda Cilliers, who lives in lower Constantia, although impressed with the DA’s administration, tells a tale illustrating a ‘nanny state’ attitude emerging in the DA.
She had two policemen at her door to serve a notice of possible prosecution as her house, the notice stated, was “derelict in appearance and a threat or danger to the safety of the general public”.
The apologetic policemen told her a neighbour had complained that her grass was too long and her boundary wall needed attention.
This “top-down nanny state approach” as Cilliers describes it, is the flip side of DA governance, and the implementation of by-laws that niggle at freedoms South Africans take – rightly or wrongly – for granted has led to flare ups of anti-city sentiment over the past few years.
Ten municipal by-laws were passed in 2010 alone, including by-laws on graffiti, liquor trading days and hours, and problem buildings – the one that led to police knocking on Cilliers’ door.
Another example of the dark side of the DA’s efficiency was a story in September 2009 in which Metro Police chased soccer-playing youths off a grassed area of the Sea Point promenade and threatened them with a fine for contravening a by-law.
In fairness, Sea Point DA councillor JP Smith who was at the forefront of keeping people off the grass, has led a petition to prevent the Sea Point pavilion, a treasured public space, from being turned into a hotel and shopping mall.
Kalk Bay resident Byron Loker recently made use of the animal by-law prohibiting dog owners from allowing their pets to bark for more than six minutes in an hour. The city’s response was prompt and efficient. But what if you live in a poor area and report a burst sewerage pipe spilling sewage down your street?
Geoffrey Davidson, who lives in a wendy house in the backyard of his mother’s house in Grassy Park and has been on a housing waiting list for more than 30 years, says the sewerage system in the area is overloaded and drains are often blocked.
“The sewerage (in my mother’s house) comes up every second week. The council can take days to come and fix it,” he said.
Additionally, the number to call to report such incidents is a shared call line which means the caller pays half the cost, a problem if you have no money on your pay-as-you-go cellphone.
At the same time the DA March 2011 report ‘The Cape Town Story’, claims the 2009/10 budget allocation for free water, subsidized housing and electricity “nearly doubled to R776m”.
The DA-led administration has implemented an Indigent Policy for those unable to afford service fees and pushed the qualifying property value threshold up to R199 000, up from a prior R88 000. Properties in this category qualify for a 100% rates rebate, 6 000 litres of free and 50kWh free electricity per month.
Zille states that in 2006, Cape Town’s backlog in water provision was 30 000 households. By 2010, water provision to RDP standards was 100%.
Last year, the DA run city launched an estimated R1.2 billion Community Residential Unit project for the revamping of council flats in 11 poor Cape flats neighbourhoods. A walk through some of the recently upgraded flats shows a relative improvement, including new doors, windows, and burglar bars.
In 2006, the city in collaboration with the German government, launched the R120m Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrade (VPUU) initiative to improve the living and social conditions of residents. The resulting developments such as a sports complex, well-lit pathways, 24-hour safe houses with community rooms, a library, community centres and the revamping of a business area and the train station has transformed parts of Khayelitsha.
The city also plans to roll out VPUU initiatives in Hanover Park, Manenberg and Gugulethu.
It is not service delivery that will trip the DA up but an apparent lack of sympathy to the realities facing poor communities might.
The city’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit boasts a 100% success rate in preventing any further invasion of city-owned land, but at what cost? There appears to be no appraisal of individual circumstances as middle class rules are applied to communities who have not the means to adhere to them.
In March Nomonde Yiba in Khayelitsha SS informal settlement tried to accommodate a growing family by building upwards. She spent over R3 000 buying new material to build a second storey for her shack.
On a Friday she received a letter saying her renovations were illegal. Attempts to get help from the Khayelitsha Resource Centre didn’t help. On the Wednesday the unit tore down her renovations.
“We had the right as land owners to act and take down the illegal extension that was built,” said head of the city’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit, Stephen Hayward by way of explanation.
Three weeks earlier Nokwandisa Shukuma in Khayelitsha QQ informal settlement had her entire shack demolished by the unit after she simply tried to replace its sagging walls with new material.
This iron-fisted approach was also apparent in the terrible judgement the city displayed in the way it dealt with land invasions in Hangberg, an action that left to four people losing an eye.
Legally, the city is in the right but rigid application to the letter of the law sends a message to many residents that they are a problem and need to be controlled rather than citizens who need to be accommodated.
This overly zealous application of legislation also doesn’t help in countering accusations that the DA does not cater to the poor.
This, combined with an increasing burden of petty legislation on law-abiding citizens could lead the DA into troubled water in the long run. – Steve Kretzmann and Fadela Slamdien