City manager cleaning house

Dr Imogen Mashazi addresses women in uniform at the City of Ekurhuleni ‘s community safety legacy project launch in Thokoza in the East Rand. (Photo: Daylin Paul)

Dr Imogen Mashazi addresses women in uniform at the City of Ekurhuleni ‘s community safety legacy project launch in Thokoza in the East Rand. (Photo: Daylin Paul)

The launch of the uniformed women officers in public safety programme is a legacy project intended to empower women working in the metro police and disaster management and emergency services.

At a breakfast hosted at Thokoza Auditorium, Dr Imogen Mashazi, Ekurhuleni city manager, spoke to a room filled with women who work in public safety, encouraging them to seize the opportunity to improve their careers through the assistance of the city’s newly-established bursary programmes. This particular programme is geared towards creating a safer city, whose residents are empowered and making a difference to their safety. “When you empower a woman, you empower a community,” was one slogan voiced by the women at the breakfast.

Mashazi is the first female city manager and yes, she is cleaning house! The department of community safety is male dominated and has been for a while, due to the archetype of the “super hero” firefighter or police officer. But these roles are increasingly being performed by both men and women — some Scandinavian countries now have many female public safety officers.

The new city manager has taken it upon herself to implement a strategy of transformation that is achievable and well articulated. A mandate has been communicated to the heads of department (HoDs) and the human resource department so they may begin with their necessary campaigns to attract interest from the public to partake in the government programmes.

Succession planning

At the breakfast, Mashazi emphasised the fact that uniformed women work in a world that favours the male body, and this has resulted in their exploitation. It is hard for them to get to senior management positions — as it stands there are 25 HoDs, of which only nine are female. This is a 36% representation for women, which is a skewed figure in a representative democracy where black women are a majority. This is what Mashazi seeks to rectify: her legacy project is to balance out the odds. Call it transformation. As budgetary issues come through her as manager, all appointments are hers to justify.

“In the long term, the plan is to reduce the number of HoDs in the City to 19, of which 10 should be female,” she says emphatically. “This will not only be achieved through a process of merely replacing male senior officers with females. The process will be vetted by human resources.”

The roll-out of the plan as explained is simple. Executive mayor Mzwandile Masina has released funds for bursaries and opportunities that prioritise women who are interested in community safety. These women will be sourced from all sectors of society, with educational material being distributed at strategic places in and around Thokoza.

In the advertising of bursaries and posts, the prioritisation of women will be emphasised. The final appointments are the prerogative of the accounting officer. Promises on such a scale mean nothing without accountability; the public hears of transformation across sectors, but in 23 years of South Africa’s democracy, it has been slow. In the Ekurhuleni metro police department for instance, women make up to 40% of the officers of the 2 000 officers.

There is a big problem regarding access to community safety services. In places like Thembisa in Ekurhuleni, there have been reports of too few ambulances to adequately service the township. Mashazi has noted the structural problems that plague some areas and is taking steps to redress them. She is adamant that the uniformed women programme is a step in the right direction towards creating the solution.

As accounting officer, she aims to ensure that recruitment and deployment of women increases by 10%, and that this increase is maintained in each of the coming five years of her tenure. South Africa has a poor record with regards to the oppression towards women. Mashazi notes that many cases of women abuse have been reported in Thokoza, which is one reason why it was chosen as a venue for this operation.

“As a city, we have witnessed enough, and we are saying ‘enough is enough’. In this regard, we have therefore agreed to look at crimes against women in a more detailed and specific fashion. This is why the campaign seeks to celebrate selfless women who contribute to ensuring that all members of communities are safe and no one dies as result of crime or emergency,” says Mashazi.

Since Ekurhuleni’s inception, the chief of police has been always been a male and remains a male to this day — a new male chief was appointed recently. This position of police chief involves safeguarding a populace that is predominantly black, young and female. A woman chief of police would probably possess some insight into how to deal with the ongoing violence against women and children, says Mashazi. The HoD position of the disaster management department is currently vacant and she hopes that a qualified and deserving woman will be appointed to the post.

As the appointment of Mashazi herself illustrates, progress is being made in the City of Ekurhuleni, and “a better life for all” is no longer rhetoric, but actual policy.