Streets and stadium

The Mercury of January 14, 2009, reported that a fire had broken out at the Royal hotel the day before, resulting in the evacuation of a hundred guests and staff. The fire apparently broke out on the third floor in a linen storage room. 7 eThekwini Metro fire tenders attended the scene and soon contained the fire. I am personally amazed that, given the shortages of staff that the fire department is currently experiencing, they could actually send out seven fire engines.

The paper also reports that on the previous day, the last section of the Moses Mabhida stadium. The arch, costing R448 million, was nearly complete when, at 3:45 p.m., the 60 tonne final piece was hoisted into place. The arch is made up of 96 separate pieces and at its apex towers over 100m above the playing surface. The arch is presumably mainly decorative but it will support the Teflon coated glass fibre stadium roof which will be apparently unique in the world.

It was announced during the week that city management were going to go out on the streets to help clean the new street name signs which had been defaced by vandals objecting to the street reanming in their areas. The Mercury of Friday, January 16, 2009, reported that many of these officials had taken some flak as they worked.

Mayor Obed Mlaba said he had been confronted by two ratepayers including one old lady who said that what they were doing was nonsense and another resident, known as Alistair, who said the street then shouldn’t have been changed in the first place and that spray-painting the street names was and vandalism, it was people protesting against the enforced changes.

The speaker of the council James Nxumalo said the city would continue the defaced signs and urged people to accept the changed names. He pointed out that they are about 45000 street names in the municipality and that only a hundred had been changed. DA caucus leader John Steenhuisen said that the street sign cleanup had been a cheap publicity stunt, and he had more to say on the subject in a letter published in the readers’ letters section of the same newspaper. He wrote:

An open later to eThekwini Mayor Obed Mlaba and city manager Mike Sutcliffe:

Dear Obed and Mike, I noticed you both very hard at work in my ward in Durban North cleaning the defaced street signs (the same ones you forcibly imposed on the Durban North community despite overwhelming community rejection).

You obviously so busy keeping the very relevant Swapo sign with your ANC baddies that you both failed to notice the graffiti on all the other municipal infrastructures in the area which has not been cleaned for years.

You also, no doubt, overlooked the overgrown municipal verges and the weeds in the road, drains and pavements which, despite repeated requests to your parks department, remain unattended to.

Your hard slog would have meant that you were also likely to miss the near-fatal accident which took place in Danville Avenue on the same morning. You will remember that this is the road where the residents and I have been pleading for some form of traffic calming to be implemented for the past two years with no success.

There is always the same excuse: no funds. It appears you guys have used all the funds on fancy projects, seven BMWs, overseas trips and expensive tracksuits for your councillors.

I was, however; glad to notice that you brought the luxury mayoral 4×4 along. You would have needed it if you’d wanted to visit any one of your municipal parks in the area, because the grass hardly gets cut and there is lots of litter which never gets collected.

I am sure that this was not just a cheap publicity stunt and will be ongoing, so the next time you decide to come and do some work in Durban North, I would be grateful if you could give me a call to meet you on the site.

This will enable me to provide you with the long list of basic municipal functions which, under your leadership, failed to get done.

With the exorbitant rates which you’ve passed on to the Durban North residents I think we all deserve to see you both getting your priorities right and doing something constructive for a change.

By the way Mr Mayor; your press statement urges the public to report illegal posters. Two months ago I reported whole bunch of illegal ANC rally posters which had been put up across the city; perhaps you could do some follow up because for some reason Michael won’t seem to come back to me on the progress.

John Steenhuisen
DA caucus leader.

Apart from the street naming issue, reporter Coleen Dardagan has a story on the Moses Mabhida stadium saying that, while the residents of Durban are looking forward to using the new stadium, it’s also time the municipality told them how much they are in for. She quotes DA leader John Steenhuisen, again, saying that the city’s failure to release the financials of the stadium since July last year should set alarm bells ringing. She also says that city manager Michael Sutcliffe had promised the Mercury an interview in August last year to discuss the costs of the stadium, but that nothing had yet materialised.

Dardagan says that it is concerning that no one really knows what we are in for once the 2010 World Cup has come and gone, what the maintenance costs will be, and how much the budget has been overrun. She said she believes it’s time the city drew its citizens into its confidence and let them know.

The two issues covered in this post are ongoing but they show up the leadership style of our new masters perfectly; unaccountable. autocratic and obdurate. City councils and management from the past will be remembered for their support of of apartheid but at least nobody will be able to point a finger at them and say that the city fell apart while they sucked the cash tittie and scored cheap political points. We had high hopes that our society would improve when we voted “yes” in the referendum but all that’s really changed is that there is a new elite and one, moreover, that is so concerned with its enjoyment of the trappings of power things like maintenance are forgotten.

I’m depressed !!


Buses and renaming

According to the Mercury of November 26, 2008, it seems that Durban’s bus service is again in trouble.

Municipal manager Michael Sutcliffe was reported as telling a committee meeting that the Durban transport operator will not be receiving a subsidy from central government for the period January 2009 to March 2009. The amount of money that was due to be paid to the bus operator is by central government was R46 million and, according to a company spokesman, the company won’t be able to operate without it.

Both central and provincial governments have said that they don’t have the funds to cover that amount and it’s beginning to look awfully as if the city is going to have to cough up the money in addition to the 40 million that it will already have to pay the bus company Remant Alton.

According to the Mercury of December 1, 2008, it seems that things are hotting up in the court case which has been brought by the opposition parties in the Durban Council to the street renaming which took place recently. The leader of the Democratic Alliance John Steenhuisen, and city manager Mike Sutcliffe have apparently been trading insults in the court papers.

Steenhuisen called Sutcliffe “nothing more than an ANC lackey”.

The opposition are bringing the case in an effort to get the renaming reversed and, of course, the city and its ANC leadership, in the form of her Michael Sutcliffe, are vigorously opposing the move. One of the most controversial of the street renamings was when Kingsway in Amanzimtoti was renamed after Andrew Zondo, who had set a bomb at a shopping centre in the town, killing a number of innocent civilians.

On that particular issue Sutcliffe said “Naturally there are strong feelings each way about Andrew Zondo. Such is our history.”


An angry white man?

Some while ago, our city manager Dr. Michael Sutcliffe was accosted by an irate ratepayer while he and his wife were having Sunday breakfast (I seem to remember) in a restaurant. A letter from Dr Sutcliffe was subsequently published in the local papers in which he slammed the failure of ‘angry white men’ to accept transformation in society. There wasn’t so much as a hint that the ‘angry white man’ might have had a legimitate grievance and reasons, like the litter and deteriorating infrastructure, for taking the city manager (who is, after all, his employee) to task.

Now it seems, according to the Independent on Saturday of November 8, 2008, that Dr Sutcliffe has himself become an angry white man. He is apparently furious that people are defacing the new streetname signs which he and his cohorts have forced on an unwilling city. He is so angry, in fact, that he is reportedly trying to ensure that anyone caught defacing the signs gets an automatic jail sentence. This for an offense which is currently on a par with putting up posters illegally or spraying graffiti on walls and which would only attract a fine. Sounds to me like vindictiveness brought about by an inability to tolerate being crossed.

The opposition DA party in the council said it didn’t condone the destruction of property but pointed out that these sort of things happen when you force things on people who have no legitimate redress. The ANC, of which Dr Sutcliffe is a member, was brought into being to offer resistance to a system in which people were denied the right to decide things for themselves. I wonder if he and the rest of our city management see any parralells at all between their behaviour and that of the previous regime?

Here’s a suggestion: I’d be in favour of renaming any street provided it has the approval of the majority of people living or doing business there.


Mismanagement or corruption?

It was good news about the buses, as mentioned in the previous post, but the Sunday Tribune, of October 26, 2006, also carried a story to do with the episode that wasn’t such good news. It turns out that the amount of government subsidy received by the Remant Alton bus company, and what it was spent on, is not open to public scrutiny. The Tribune apparently asked to see financial statements and the request was refused by Remant Alton and the municipality. There is suspicion in some quarters that the money has been misused and that there are people in bed with each other who should not be.

The ANC-appointed city manager Mike Sutcliffe dismissed such ‘crazy claims’ and said that there had been an oversight process. This is in spite of the fact that John Steenhuisen, leader of the Democratic Alliance caucus on the council, said that no Remant Alton financial statements had been presented to the EXCO in the last five years.

It seems pretty clear to me that there has to have been incompetance or dirty work at the cross roads but the really worrying bit is why city management is feeling the need to cover up. Are they involved? And how?

This is not the first episode mentioned in these pages which involves the municipality refusing to give us details about how our money is spent. They are actually our representatives and our employees and are supposed to be accountable to us, but they are not behaving in the least like it. Some democracy this is turning into…..


Bus strike over !!!

The good news in the Sunday Tribune, of October 26, 2006, apart from KZN winning the rugby Currie Cup yesterday, is that the strike by bus drivers is finally over. The news was very unexpected and it isn’t all together clear how the breakthrough came to be. The article is a bit confused, to my eyes at least, but it seems that a deal was brokered with the help of eThekwini ANC chairperson John Mchunu. It seems that a consultative forum to decide on the future of public transport in city is to established and that it is to include driver representation. More details when I get them.

I’m very glad that things are sorted and I hope that they stay that way. I am sympathetic to the drivers but feel that they could have played the game a bit better and kept essential services running. One of the papers last week reported that disabled people were among the ones to suffer most from the strike because their bus service was also suspended and minibus taxis don’t have facilities for wheelchairs. Some disabled school pupils at sleep over at their schools for a time because the strike started after they were dropped off at school and the drivers didn’t even pick them up again before knocking off work. I also know that senior citizens, dependent on the buses to get out from their retirement complexes to pay bills or whatever, have had a very hard time as well.



Snippets from the week

I had intended to use this blog on a very occasional basis to record noteworthy things happening around the city but I’m starting to feel withdrawal symptoms if I should miss a couple of days, as happened this week when I had to go away on business. So here goes…

The Mercury of October 14, 2008, reported that Helen Zille, the mayor of Cape Town, was recently voted best mayor in the world. See mention of a reader’s letter, below, for an explanation of why this is unlikely to happen in Durban. Also, according to the paper, Independent bus operators have refused Remant Alton’s offer for them to take over its routes for fear of being targeted by striking workers.

The Mercury of October 15, 2008, reported that police had arrested two men for alledgedly plotting to kill a Durban Solid Waste Manager. They were arrested in Sydney Road and their car was to to contain two revolvers, ammunition, and some petrol bombs. In other news, Alfred Zondi, the chairman of the KZN Bus Council, called on the KZN Transport MEC Bheki Cele to intervene in the dispute between Remant Alton and its striking workers.

The requirements of Fifa for the World Cup in 2010 sound draconian to say the least. The Mercury reported 2010 Project Head Julie-May Ellingson as saying that, by 2010, the city will be empowered to immediately remove offending signage from buildings, especially anything which conflicts with Fifa’s requirements. At the moment, the city needs a court order before it can remove signage and that’s fine by me.

It’s a puzzle why we should tolerate such interference in our affairs. It would have been better in the longrun to have told Fifa to keep their World Cup. It seems that the city is running out of money (not surprising when you consider the extravagance onvolved in the new stadium) because Ellingson also appealed to business for R15-million to upgrade facilities around the stadium.

In another story, the eThekwini Municipality was awarded the best credit rating of any municpality in Africa. This is bad news as far as I’m concerned, because our masters are surely going to be tempted to borrow more money on the strength of that.

Residents around Inanda Dam have been warned not to eat fish caught in the dam or vegetables grown nearby. Apparently the water has been found to contain elevayed levels of Mercury. A further study is to done.

The Mercury of October 16, 2008, reported that riot police, snipers and helicopters had prevented a march by Remant Alton and Durban Solid Waste workers through Durban the previous day. City Manager Michael Sutcliffe said the decision had been taken for security reason because the march had the potential to turn violent.

Sounds to me like something that a National Party functionary might have said in the bad old days, not a senior member of an organistion that, itself, has a long history of fighting against injustice. You’d expect the authorities to be more sympathetic to workers who feel they are victims of injustice but I guess its only injustice if it’s done to you, not if its done by you…

The paper also reports that environmental affairs and tourism depty minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi has spoken negatively about the city’s loss of its Blue Flag beaches. The comments were made the previous day at a meeting at the Point Yacht club to launch a national action plan to protect our coastline. A brochure describing the plan apparently says that the loss of Blue Flag status could have a severe impact on tourism and business.

A reader’s letter, signed ‘Saddened’, in the Independent on Saturday, of October 18, 2008, has some comments about the recent award of Best Mayor in the World to Helen Zille, mayor of Cape Town. The reader says that he or she recently spent a week in Cape Town and found the streets to clean and well-maintained, that the traffic signals all worked and that he or she felt safe walking around in the evening. This contrasts strongly with the situation in Durban and the writer wonders whether this has anything to do with the fact that the DA is running Cape Town and the ANC, with its pre-occupation with minor issues such as street-renaming, is running this city.


Another truck torched

The natal Mercury of October 9, 2008, reported that a fifth vehicle belonging to Durban Solid Waste had been set alight the previous day, Wednesday.

As I’ve said before, I have some sympathy with the strikers but I cannot condone arson or attacks of any sort in furtherance of their aims. I’m sure the majority of the strikers are honest decent people but attacks of this nature are likely to set people against them.

The same paper reports that talks are to begin between the ANC and the IFP about the proposal to rename of Mangosuthu Highway fter Griffiths Mxenge, an ANC activist.


Short updates

The bits and pieces of news have been piling up so I thought I’d have a clear-out.

Sunday Tribune – October 5, 2008.

The paper reports that there are plans to declare the beachfront area a glass-free zone and outlaw public drinking. This is in response to the events described I described here. In addition, on the Friday night, there was a strong police presence and mini-bus taxis and buses were barred from entering the beachfront area. There are apparently also plans to keep a track of where buses and taxis come from in future.

In act assumed to be somehow connected with the bus drivers’ strike, 19 buses were set alight at the depot at Ntuzuma early on Friday morning. A picture in the Tribune shows the buses absolutely gutted and one doubts if they could ever be repaired. This is not the first time that Remant Alton buses have been set alight, with 59 having been burnt in an attack on the Umlazi depot on April 23, 2006. You would have thought that with that experience, and given the present tense situation, they would have stepped up security at ther depots.

The Mercury, October 6, 2008

The paper reports that commuters are likely to be without buses for another week.

The Mercury, October 7, 2008

A heist at the Riverside Hotel (ex Athlone) netted millions in jewells which were going to be auctioned at the hotel. The robbery took place at 7am on October 6, as the jewells were being moved into the auction area.

I’ve already noted that two Durban Solid Waste trucks were set alight last Wednesday. Two more were burnt in an attack at 11pm on the DSW depot at Clairwood onOctober, 4. The paper reported that 80% of DSW workers were back on the job and that some collections were being done over the weekend. As noted in an earlier post, our rubbish was collected today in Waterfall.

The Mercury, October 8, 2008

The paper reports Remant Alton as having closed down indefinitely as result of the the three week drivers’ strike. Executive officer Paul Rush said that the company was planning to recruit sub-contractors to operate its routes. Now, that should be fine recipe for chaos. And there could be more on the way if strikers go ahead with plans to march through town on Friday, in spite of being refused permission by the city to do so. I find it ironic that a city run by the ANC, an organisation founded to fight for democracy, has no problem denying others the right to protest.


ANC backtracks, slightly

According to the Mercury of September 3, 2008, it seems as if the local ANC, who run the city, have been told by their KZN branch to back off from attempts to rename Mangosuthu Highway after Griffiths Mxenge. Two violent protests, and the certainty of much more where that came from, have prompted the change of tack. The city is adamant that all the other name changes will still stand and I’m not that hopeful that a court case in progress, in which opposition parties are challenging the name changes, is going to help much.

It was the Nationalist Party and Apartheid thing to force things on people without regard to their feelings on the matter. I seem to remember that someone once commented along the lines that the more things change, the more they remain the same. How true!

The thing that could end up finishing off this country, as far as I’m concerned, is the bery hard-arsed approach that our new rulers display. The people with the skills to run the place may have received them as a benefit from Apartheid but, even if it wasn’t fair, they are still the ones with the skills.

The bad thing about skills is that they take a long time to get and cannot quickly be replaced if they are lost. Again, it may not be fair, but it seems logical to me that the way to proceed with the owners of such skills is to use kid gloves. It should also be remembered that a majority of these people voted for democracy in the referendum.

They won’t understand when someone then comes to them and says in a very democratic way: “Your street is going to be renamed and I don’t care what you think or feel about it”. That alone, probably wouldn’t be enough to send them hurrying off to emigration seminars but it could very well be the final staw for people already worried about the high crime rate, affirmative action, and whether their kids can get a good education and jobs.


Deadline will be met

The Mercury of September 2, 2208, reports that about half the new street name signs have been put up around the city and that the rest are expected to be up by the deadline at the end of November. The same paper has a full-page (page 7) listing of the people who have been honoured by the city by having streets renamed after them. The great majority were members of the ANC, the SA Communist Party or the UDF, with a sprinkling from the Natal Indian Congress.