/ 11 August 2023

Democratic Alliance ignores law of the unintended

African Mining Indaba
Geordin Hill-Lewis’s administration deserves to be shamed too for the bloodshed the extended taxi strike has wrecked.

The City of Cape Town has a predilection for bylaws that strain the limits of lawfully devolved authority and sound sense.

It seems part of the exceptionalism of the Democratic Alliance’s oldest fief, meant to signify that, like fewer potholes and lower stages of load-shedding, orderliness is a feature of opposition rule. 

It is also a bloody-minded response to intractable problems that demand realism, searching reflection and relentless work. The city was deservedly shamed for a 2021 by-law that allowed it to fine the homeless living on its sidewalks up to R500.

Geordin Hill-Lewis’s administration deserves to be shamed too for the bloodshed the extended taxi strike has wrecked. Not because enforcing traffic rules is wrong but because the way in which it has done so is idiocy. 

Reckless taxi drivers are a deadly hazard, but it is equally trite that their leadership has always used violence as leverage. Ignoring that reality, and its risks, is callow politics.

The city has agreed to rethink impoundment for lesser road violations.

This is largely thanks to Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, a measured politician who knows the effective blockade of townships has denied residents food and medicine. The mayor has refused to negotiate at gunpoint, but is said to be ready to resume talks after two days of relative calm. When those finally happen, he will make concessions, then reiterate his call for the urgent devolution of passenger rail services to the metro. 

The question is whether the city has the wherewithal to manage the railways and the ports or will plead force majeure — shortage of funding, sabotage, court setbacks — when the task proves difficult. The failure of the MyCiti bus service and the macho inefficiency of JP Smith’s metro officers provide clues but we will not know the answer because the national government is not about to cede anything.

Still, it’s election year and the clamour for devolution plays well with voters who buy into the exceptionalism of the peninsula that distances itself from the rest of a troubled country. This where, as many on the Cape Flats have said, Vladimir Putin would not be safe but gang lords remain so. The local government has, selectively, not found the courage for that fight.

The majority of the electorate will vote for it next year, some by default because the alternative of returning the ANC to power is too terrible to contemplate. But the city deserves better than the cynical shortcuts the mayor pursues on homelessness, spatial planning and transport. 

For that, Hill-Lewis will have to learn that the law of unintended consequences applies to him and to listen to the people affected by his decisions instead of tweeting at them. But ward councillors say it is hard to secure a meeting with the mayor and long-serving officials speak of a man bored by finer details and due process. His impatience points to ambition above application and, to borrow a phrase from him, a wasted opportunity.