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"...the best Cape Town mayor in decades"... ?


Helen Zille greets the gallery after donning the mayoral chain.

Helen Zille is not what we expected.

She had the reputation as a go-getting, demanding and respected provincial minister of education.  When police didn't appear at a school when called out, she went to the police station to find out why... and found them watching The Bold & The Beautiful on TV.  Teachers who arrived at school late would find her waiting for them.

Since her election as mayor of Cape Town in March, headlines have been been filled with how Zille "puts stadium plans on ice", "purges staff" and the anger from Western Cape Provincial Government (WCPG) and national government.  Some media reports have not been accurate and at least one report was written on hearsay.

What has Zille inherited?
Throughout the 20th century, the old City of Cape Town was renowned worldwide for the achievements of its management, often in defiance of national government.
The malaise started when surrounding municipalities were combined to form the 'unicity' and party politics was introduced into local government in 2000.
Since then, the three administrations have been tainted (or worse) by accusations of incompetence or corruption.
What is Zille up against?
"The ANC still has a top-down, authoritarian structure where loyalty to the political cause is prized above almost everything else, including incompetence.  ...the greatest weakness of the ANC is (its inclination) to dismiss ideas from outside its own bureaucracy."   — The Economist
"It's not a matter of if we are going to develop Green Point stadium, it's a matter of implementation," said Provincial premier, Ebrahim Rasool.
Speaking to CapeTalk radio, 2010 boss Danny Jordaan "growled" that Green Point stadium's environmental impact approval will be "pushed through".
Do the people of Cape Town have any say?  Politicians need to sell their policies, not force them on an electorate.
Determination and humility are not mutually exclusive.
2010 Soccer World Cup
What are the facts and what's the storm all about? Click here to read the full story.

Yes, we did find a steely resolve to do the right thing, but we also found her much quieter and warmer than expected.  She's quite comfortable saying "I don't know, I need to learn more," then seeking out other opinions.

A Baptism of Fire

As soon as she arrived in the mayor's office, she had to deal with the collapsing Emergency Services branch.  At the first meeting of the new mayoral committee (which meets in public, unlike the secrecy of her predecessor), Zille says that after the agenda was completed, staff asked for a presentation on the Green Point stadium because contracts needed to be signed immediately.  "We were presented with three figures – the stadium cost is R1.5 billion; national government's contribution is R500 million; the City pays R1 billion."

"There was no business model or financial viability so I asked that we postpone decisions for a week until we see some figures.  I still haven't seen any figures."  WCPG, national government and the 2010 Local Organising Committee were very upset and a round table meeting was held.  The planning and environmental impact studies are now going ahead.

"Of course we want to host some 2010 Soccer World Cup games, but we must make sure we do it properly," she says.  "Cape Town hosted successful opening games for 1995 Rugby World Cup and 2003 World Cup Cricket.  We need to build on that."  A legal challenge by local residents could delay construction, as could the discovery of archeological sites (as happened in the vicinity).  "We need a second option, we can't have all our eggs in one basket.  Already, the time frame for a new stadium is very tight."

The DA-led multi-party coalition has a slim majority over the ANC and the ID (which has voted with the ANC so far in Cape Town).  A year from now, Zille faces the infamous floor-crossing period when elected representatives can abandon the voters who chose them to join another party.  So she has one year to show that her brand of government works and she's only too aware of how important her success is to the future of the DA.

City's slogan: "this City works for you"

Now that shouldn't be too difficult if she gets Council working.  In the last financial year, the City only spent a reported 63% of it's capital budget.  In the past year, Council's staff numbers dropped by 6.5% while the total salary bill rose 7.9%. One must wonder where that 14.4% or R231 million was spent.

Changes needed?
We believe that the introduction of party politics into local government has been the worst thing to happen in decades – our democracy is too young, our political leaders largely too immature and the civil service is under pressure.
In Cape Town we've seen city managers replaced each time the ruling party changes.
When the unicity was formed, Cape Town's town clerk (CEO) was told to stay at home and do nothing on full pay for a few years.  ANC-appointed Andrew Boraine was ousted when the DA took power and the ANC did the same to the DA-appointed Robert Maydon.  Both received golden handshakes of about R1 million to move on.  Zille is trying to oust Wallace Mgoqi at no cost to ratepayers.
Maybe it's time that certain posts are identified as political posts, and that contracts are tied to the incumbence of their political masters (or mistresses).  Now surely that's the best incentive to succeed!

With the Stadium story still raging on, the issue of political purges started.  City manager Wallace Mgoqi knew his future was insecure if Zille was elected mayor because the validity of his extended contract was under question even before the election started.  An interim city manager has been appointed and the outcome of Mgoqi's claims are likely to be resolved by the courts.

Zille started with the restructuring of the Mayor's office, where support staff have been reduced from 27 to 12, saving some R6 million a year.  Was this a political purge?  These advisors and aides were appointed to support the political realm, otherwise advice and aid should have been available from Council's staff of 22 000 people.  Together with Mgoki, these people have more capacity to frustrate the new management team's plans than anyone else.

"I don't mind having vocal ANC members in the top management team if they are competent and get the job done.  But I won't have people who campaign against me, who try to hasten my demise and cannot (or will not) deliver," she says. "The city manager can thwart everything we need to do!"

Answering a question about the stable civil service in the UK which sees political masters come and go, she counters that "in the USA, when a new administration moves in, they bring their top people with them."  It's a compelling argument that certainly suits any politician, but it doesn't address the specialised nature of city management.

"the City is in
a melt down"

And there is so much to be done.  An ANC-appointed former manager told CapeInfo at the end of last year that the City Council is in a melt-down, unable to deliver the services it's tasked to do.  Zille disagrees, "It's not as bad as people say.  There are still many excellent people here who were frustrated by the previous administration.  We have to get the appointment at the top right, we have to reward competence and get a close alignment for our policies."

CapeInfo cannot agree with her.  We believe that the past three administrations have run the City into the ground.  (The last administration was an unfolding catastrophe, conducted in secrecy.)  We believe that Zille is going to need to find people equal to the calibre of the globally-respected department heads that the old City of Cape Town had, to dig the City out of the mess it's in.  Many, many really competent people left the Council in the past six years, not because of new policies (many were aligned to the current administration's party) but because of an unproductive environment and incompetent interference from the top.

In former times, the city engineer and the other department heads held the real power as professionals, although the town clerk (usually from a legal background) was the nominal CEO.  Considerable power was vested in the executive committee (councillors) and Cape Town's exco always had a very strong chairman, usually a businessman, but the department heads really ran the city.  The system worked well for 150 years.

What does the future hold?
We believe Zille was 100% right to ask for a one week postponement of decisions regarding Green Point in the absence of adequate information.  We believe that the Provincial premier and the President's office were 100% wrong for their public criticisms of her (and others who raise concerns).  Cape Town needs a mayor who puts its citizens first.

Council's Budgets

Capital Budget
2006/07 2007/08 2008/09
R2.7 bn R2.6 bn R2.5 bn
Capital Budget to be reviewed by portfolio committees
Costs of Soccer 2010 still to be assessed
Major Projects:
N2 Gateway – infrastructure
Soccer 2010
Athlone Stadium upgrade
Upgrade of landfill sites
Replacement of Fire Engines
Sewerage system

Operating Budget
Approximately R18 billion
Strict control on the filling of posts
Finalisation of the staff placement & parity processes
Continuation of the President's Urban Renewal Project (Khayalitsha & Mitchells Plain)
Continuation of the transformation process & the restructuring grant agreement with national treasury

"There are urgent items that need attention – mainly the invisible items that we take for granted.  Our infrastructure has been surfing on the legacy of the past but we are now growing into the spare capacity.  The water shortage and the electricity outages are fresh in our minds, but our sewerage system needs expenditure of R2 billion!  We have experience of being told to use water or electricity sparingly, imagine being told to flush our toilets less often!"

Zille acknowledges that tourism is Cape Town's most important industry, but says she's not sufficiently up to speed to comment adequately.

Will she be getting the best advice?  Her mayoral committee member responsible for economic affairs and tourism is Wasfie Hassiem (African Muslim Party).  Two emails from CapeInfo to Hassiem remain unanswered.  During his tenure on Cape Town Tourism's board, he is remembered for his opposition to the promotion of "gay tourism".  The City Council has played a subordinate role to WCPG in tourism, a fact many tourism stakeholders are not happy about.

There's little doubt that she will pursue a policy of "Cape Town first" when it comes to assessing how Cape Town Routes Unlimited and Cape Town Tourism spends the significant budget they receive from the Council.

"...Zille would certainly be the best mayor Cape Town has had in decades"

Writing in the Sunday Times, Brendan Boyle says "Without the millstone of the DA's political agenda, Zille would certainly be the best mayor Cape Town has had in decades.  She is focused, committed, fiercely bright and incredibly hard-working."

The DA's political agenda is probably less of a millstone than the mutual antagonism that exists between the DA and ANC, and Zille will have to work with other tiers of ANC government.  The ANC won't want to see a DA-led Cape Town succeed but they will have to be supportive if she gets the Council working (spending full budgets), delivers to the poorest as a priority, and the perrenial taints of corruption attached to previous administrations are a thing of the past.

Political parties now in opposition need to understand how democracy works.  The election is over and the people have spoken.  Rather than still trying to oust Zille, as some politicians are, the focus must move to the real issues of administration.

Her powers are considerable as an executive mayor – the post that was introduced by her predecessor, Nomaindia Mfeketo.  Zille concedes that "jobs like this are lonely.  You have to take the flak because the buck stops here... there is just so much power..."

Now she needs to use that power to come up with the bold vision for Cape Town that policies alone can never achieve.  She needs to demonstrate that she is a mayor that unifies and represents the needs and aspirations of all Capetonians, whatever they voted.

April 2006


Curriculum Vitae: Helen Zille
1974 – 1982: South African Associated Newspapers – Political Correspondent (Rand Daily Mail)
1989 – 1993: Zille Shandler Associates (Public Policy Consultancy) – Senior Partner
1993 – 1999: University of Cape Town – Director of Communications
1999 – 2004: Member of Provincial Parliament
1999 – 2001 MEC for Education in Western Cape
2004 – 2006 Member of Parliament, DA National Spokesperson and Spokesperson on Education
Other positions held
Technical Adviser to the DP at CODESA (early 1990s)
Caucus Chair (Western Cape Legislature) 2002
Caucus Leader (Western Cape Legislature) 2002 – 2003
One of the 3 Federal Vice-Chairs of the DA
Chair of the Western Cape Metro Region
Constituency responsibility for the N2 Development LMC (28 wards)
Fundraising at national, provincial & regional level for the DA
1980/1990s – (Various Board and NGO memberships) Open Society Foundation, the Independent Media Diversity Trust, the Black Sash (amongst others).

Party Seats in the Council
ACDP 7 3.3%
AMP 3 1.4%
ANC 81 38.6%
DA 91 43.3%
ID 22 10.5%
PAC 1 0.5%
UDM 2 1.0%
UIF 1 0.5%
UP 1 0.5%
VFplus 1 0.5%


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