I have to be Godzille

Cape Town mayor Helen Zille believes she can’t afford to be a shrinking violet. She has sought to stamp her authority on a precariously balanced council in which a Democratic Alliance forum with six small parties holds sway. “If I have to say ja [yes] and amen to everything based on cooperative governance, then there’s no point in having the DA in power.
We are here to offer a different vision and ask different questions.”

In her first two weeks, she has tackled plans to turn Green Point stadium into a 2010 World Cup venue and fought the extension of city manager Wallace Mgoqi’s contract just before the municipal poll.

The African National Congress has slammed Zille’s one-week moratorium on signing contracts for the Green Point stadium development as disingenuous. It is understood that Premier Ebrahim Rasool had briefed the mayor on progress just days earlier.

“She should not be a hindrance to a process that is in an advanced stage,” the ANC said, charging that Zille had chosen “to soothe the fears and uncertainty of a few well-off residents” living near the stadium over “soccer-loving people who did not vote for her”.

The Cape Town politicking had national repercussions, forcing a sit down with the World Cup local organising committee last Thursday. “We will not allow politics to come into this. This is football,” said committee chairperson Irvin Khoza.

Zille appears unwilling to budge on Mgoqi and feels that paying out his recently extended contract was “like authorising a pre-ordained golden handshake”.

Her stance has been criticised by the ANC as “racist” and “reactionary”, and a precursor to replacing all black council managers with whites.

Speculation is rife that the DA fancies the city’s current chief operations officer, Rushj Lehutso, to succeed Mgoqi. Lehutso — whose private sector background is much like that of the last DA-appointed city boss, former Edgars executive Robert Maydon — is one of four top managers who have filed complaints against Mgoqi. In many respects, Zille is doing what the ANC did three years ago when it was in power. Only two of the 10 “Maydon United” management team survived an ANC performance review; Maydon himself was paid out.

The ANC has struggled to counter Zille’s march, but the party has already set its sights on unseating her during the floor-crossing window in September next year.

“The ANC will oppose me whatever I do, and if they don’t have grounds, they will call me a racist. I can live with that. I refuse to be offended,” said Zille.

John Williams, associate professor at the school of governance at the University of the Western Cape, said Zille’s direct approach is not surprising as the DA fought elections under the motto “Take back your city”.

“The fragmented nature of the city, historically, constitutes a management problem ... [It] is not necessarily dealt with best by abrasiveness and confrontation,” he said. “Why not allow the city manager to exit quietly? Why not allow these things to resolve themselves amicably?”

President Thabo Mbeki told Parliament that all spheres of government “however they are constituted politically” had to cooperate, as this was a constitutional requirement. Relations with the DA-led city will be testing.

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