Nwabisa Makunga | Council, who do you serve?
Dear Nelson Mandela Bay councillor, Please indulge me for a minute. Tomorrow all 120 of you will vote to either keep or remove Athol Trollip as mayor of this city.
Putting forward its motion recently, the EFF listed various reasons why Trollip – and by extension the current coalition government – should go.
For now, let us skip the reasons stated on paper.
You and I, as well as the entire nation, know that ultimately at the core of this is one thing – political power.
I have no doubt that tomorrow the nation will witness a spectacular show of hubris from all sections of that chamber as you all step up to present yourselves as the ultimate champions of the poor.
I am mindful that in just more than a year from now, our country will go to the polls.
Therefore, the political theatre about to unfold in front of media cameras tomorrow is by design par for the course.
One also understands that when it comes down to the wire, each of you will use the power of your vote as you see fit, driven of course by what matters most to you.
Therefore, I have no intention to suggest that you vote any which way.
I have no business doing so and besides, such would be futile.
My intention is simply to express the prevailing concern shared by many of us who live here.
You see, councillor, what has become abundantly clear in recent weeks is that whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s vote, this city again finds itself in the midst of political instability.
You may argue that such is the nature of coalition governments. That may be. However, at issue is not so much the volatile character of coalition pacts, rather it is the impact of such volatility on the administration, its ability to deliver services and drive much needed development.
Such an impact may not be readily apparent to you.
That is because unless you voluntarily resign or fall out with the party that deployed you, you are for the next three years guaranteed a monthly income of at least R34 000 – considerably more than the average household in this city – regardless of how you perform.
For many of us outside of that chamber, the reality is quite different.
Allow me to give you a quick snapshot of the city you lead.
There are just more than a million of us who live here.
Only 330 000 are employed. From the last census we know that only about 20% of us have matric and just less than 7% have a higher education.
Simply put, too many people who should be employed do not possess the skills required to find a job, let alone to create one.
Many of those who work do so in companies that have shed scores of jobs in recent years just to stay afloat, never mind being globally competitive.
Here’s the worst: the guys at Stats SA tell us that at least 300 000 people here run out of money to buy food every month.
That’s 300 000 people who go without the most basic necessity at some point in a month.
Many survive out of sheer resilience and through a system of shared humanity on whose shoulders this nation often stands whenever the most powerful let us down.
What does this have to do with you?
Well councillor, this situation is the most basic interpretation of what it means to have a struggling economy.
From it stems most of the social and economic problems that exist in our communities, be it housing, electricity, water or crime.
Granted, you may argue – as politicians love to – that there are global factors that influence the performance of our economy. Fair enough. However, there is equally much more that cities can do to build resilient systems that help us to counter such global pressures and to better position ourselves for growth.
What is needed, however, are leaders in cities whose pre-occupation is to drive development rather than to play selfish power games.
Recently a group from the World Bank presented some interesting findings to you in council about our metro.
The most obvious, of course, was that ours is a racially divided city.
Equally worrying, they found that our administration lacked a culture of urgency in doing its work.
They found that there was no collaboration between the different arms of government, a fact which made ours a less competitive city than our counterparts up north.
Interestingly, they also found that despite the popularity of buzzwords such as the “oceans economy” and “smart city” as development drivers, there was a concerning lack of understanding in the administration about what these concepts actually meant.
Here’s the thing councillor, those chaps from the World Bank were not the only ones to find this.
Should you have time to look through your economic development council documents, you may come across a report commissioned by the business chamber last year.
It contains some sobering sentiments from some of our city’s biggest employers.
They, too, say that we are one of the least competitive metros in the country.
This, they say, is because for the longest time we have had no established, agreeable strategy for economic growth.
Speak to any small entrepreneur, the story is the same.
Political volatility makes it harder to live and do business here.
When that happens, none of us win.
Whatever happens from tomorrow may we who love this city no longer be mere collateral damage in your relentless quest to attain or retain political power.