The Lille city that could


As I write this, Cape Town has run out of mayors for a full nine days. It’s odd, yes, and also unprecedented — by all indications the first modern city in history to do so.

Running out of mayors hasn’t been pandemonium, as everyone expected. To be honest with you, I didn’t even notice it at first. The changes I did notice recently turned out to be the first winter chill setting in and a sudden absence of talk about water.

Of course, life without mayors affects everyone differently. For those dealing with mayors every day, access is vitally important. In the corridors of power, the lack of a mayor disrupts the natural flow — a phenomenon the average person doesn’t really notice in the corridors of no power where we reside.

But we read the newspapers and we see the people who are supposed to give us mayors shout and scream and we wonder: How did it get to the point where we’ve run out of mayors?

Not too long ago, we had mayors aplenty quietly going about their business doing what mayors do, whatever that is.

Yes, it may be true, in hindsight, that we took our mayors for granted when we had them.

If, perhaps, we used our mayors better we would not have run out of them.

If we had made giant billboards pleading with everyone to “Save the mayor”, that “This is a mayor-scarce area”, that “Every little mayor counts” — maybe then we would still have a mayor.

But as I say that, I recoil.

Is it up to us to dote on the mayor? Why should we suffer when the mayor gets into a scrap? Can’t the mayor and the people around the mayor just grow up?

But we’re not suffering. No, we’re soldiering on. We’re the Lille city that could — and can.

For the past nine days we’ve woken up every morning mayorless and simply got on with it. In certain regards, it has even been better now without a mayor.

Gone are the days when we were definitely, and most absolutely, going to run out of water while the mayor was in office. Time is ours again. As the mayor saga drags on, it becomes less appealing — to me at least — to read the news.

As the shares of the mayor articles dwindle, I find myself going outside more to take in the sights and sounds of a city apparently operating without a leader at the helm.

And, oh, is it a magnificent sight: people in buses and cars heading to work along highways (slow-moving, yes, but moving nonetheless) to earn a living.

Mothers taking children to schools with roofs and books and all sorts of things.

Tourists visiting attractions in droves; up and down the cable car they go — gawking, oohing and aahing at one of the most magnificent cities in the world, thriving with no governance to speak of.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

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