Patricia de Lille, Mayor of Cape Town, South Africa
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Mayor of the Month for May 2013
Patricia de Lille
Mayor of Cape Town, South Africa
Interviewed by Tann vom Hove
2 May 2013: Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said in an interview with City Mayors that she entered the working world during South Africa’s Apartheid era with a belief in justice and a keen sense of right and wrong. Working in a factory on the Cape Flats, she experienced first-hand what she describes as a fundamentally unjust situation. The list of worker-vulnerabilities was endless, she said.
In order to fight not just for workers’ basic rights but also against the Apartheid system, Patricia de Lille made the transition from unionist to politician. She was a member of South Africa’s first post-Apartheid parliament and later founded the Independent Democrats, a party, which won seats at national, regional and local level. After the merger of her party with the Democratic Alliance (DA), de Lille joined the Western Cape provincial government as Minister for Social Development. In 2011, she was elected Mayor of Cape Town by almost two-thirds of the electorate.
City Mayors interviews
Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille
City Mayors: What persuaded you to become a trade unionist and later enter politics?
Mayor Patricia de Lille: I am not sure that ‘persuasion’ is the right word. I would prefer to think of my decision to become a trade unionist and later enter politics as a duty, a duty that I had felt for many years.
I have always said that I learned my ideals and my sense of justice from my father. We did not have very much when I was growing up but that never prevented my father from instilling in me a deep sense of justice, of right and wrong. The lessons learned in childhood stay with one for life.
And so it was with that sense of justice that I entered the working world. In South Africa back then, it was a different time. There were no maternity leave rights, little workers compensation, and little process concerning disciplinary procedures. The list of worker-vulnerabilities was endless. It was a fundamentally unjust situation.
I worked in a factory where I was exposed to these injustices and I mobilized workers as the chief shop steward to join a trade union. I then became the first trade union leader in the chemical sector to lead a legal, six-week organized strike.
And so I chose to take a stand. I mobilized people with the trade union movement.
From there, it was an easy transition into politics at that time in South Africa. The union movement was fighting for basic rights. So too were the political resistance movements against apartheid. It seemed that my work with one flowed naturally into the other and that, as much as we achieved in the trade union movement, the fight for even more expansive rights beyond those of workers, rights for everyone, was more achievable in the political space.
City Mayors: Why, following the fall of South Africa’s Apartheid regime, did you choose to become an independent Member of Parliament and later form the Independent Democrats party rather than joining Nelson Mandela’s ANC?
Mayor Patricia de Lille: I was not an independent member. At that time I was a member of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). I joined the PAC because its particular philosophy and brand of activism struck a deep chord within in me. That is, that this continent, our country, needed to be reclaimed by those who defined themselves as African first before and beyond any racial identity. At the time, it was a radical proposition but I saw it as our duty to build a common African identity in this country, one based on pride and dignity and not the remnants of partial identities from other places trying to live uncomfortably side-by-side.
I have great respect for former president Nelson Mandela, Madiba. I got to know him in the first democratic parliament and committed myself to his vision of a Government of National Unity. Indeed, he asked me to chair Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Transport, which I did with pride and honour.
I shared and believed in Madiba’s vision for a democratic South Africa but, as Madiba himself respected, I came to that vision from a different political perspective and awakening.
City Mayors: Contrary to international perception of South Africa’s society being male-dominated, there are numerous female politicians serving at national, regional and local level. Would you say that women are adequately represented and listened to in South Africa? If not yet, please suggest ways to strengthen the role of women in business, politics and South African society at large.
Mayor Patricia de Lille: If you want to be listened to you must make your voice heard, man or woman. That is what I did when I became the first woman in South African history to start a political party that contested elections, winning seats at a national, provincial and local level.
I think more and more women are embracing that perspective and changing the nature of the public debate in South Africa.
You know, there is a debate among historians arguing whether the struggle against apartheid put the politics of gender on the back-burner to focus on winning racial equality first. I think there is merit in both sides of the argument.
What is inarguable, however, is that women’s rights and their voices have become much more dominant in the past 15 years.
Still more needs to be done but systems of gender representation can only go so far. Despite the advances of women in high-profile positions, there remains a heavily patriarchal culture in South Africa, especially at the community level. There, you find very outdated ideas about a woman’s place in society.
But to change it you need our leaders to embrace a culture of gender rights. It is not good enough when senior figures, including the president, make or ignore statements that prejudice or belittle women in society. If you want to change the way ordinary people think about these matters, you have to make it unacceptable, from the top down, to look on women as second-class citizens. And that narrative then needs to be carried into our homes so that parents stop thinking that their boys are more precious than their girls. It is a cycle of influencing perceptions but it needs to be committed to beyond mere rhetoric by our country’s leaders first.
I believe in my own party there is little doubt that women are respected. The parties three most senior leaders, including myself, are women and we are at the forefront of a narrative of strong leadership for our respective constituencies.
City Mayors: Helen Zille, your predecessor-but-one as Mayor of Cape Town, is one of South Africa’s internationally most respected politician. You were once one of her political rivals but also served in her Western Cape cabinet. Later you merged the Independent Democrats with her Democratic Alliance. Can you describe how your professional relationship with Ms Zille has evolved and how you, as mayor, now work with her as premier of the Western Cape?
Mayor Patricia de Lille: I’ve known Helen for many years. We first met many years ago when we were both heavily involved in a very different type of Cape Town politics during the fight against apartheid in the 1980s. I was working in the trade union movement and Helen was an activist so we were fighting on the same side.
We knew each other through the 1990s without as much interaction. It was really in the 2000s that we started seeing more of each other. Of course, by that time we were political rivals but we were still playing by the same rules as a commitment to constitutionalism and democracy.
It was this commitment that eventually drew us together when we explored greater political cooperation. We finally decided to join forces in 2010 and will run under one banner in next year’s national elections.
Obviously with a strong leader like Helen, people don’t really get to see the more personal side of her. She comes across as a very strong leader in public, someone who is fearless and won’t back down. But there is also a much softer side to Helen. She is deeply compassionate and sympathetic and very easy to relate to on a personal level. It’s a softer side that I am very fortunate to know and that not everyone gets to see because of her very public profile.
I think it’s because of that deep relationship that we work very well together in our respective roles. We know where each person is coming from, what the assumptions are and furthermore, what we want to achieve. It is that common purpose that is the secret of our working relationship because we are both people of great drive and an impatience to see our society change for the better.
City Mayors: Politically South Africa is dominated by the ANC and your party has at times been very critical of the current presidency. Does this political rivalry still allow your city administration to co-operate with various national government departments?
Mayor Patricia de Lille: Our party is in opposition at the national level so it is our duty to carefully scrutinize the actions of the national government, including the president. That is the duty we perform on behalf of our electorate and the people of South Africa. And we can never compromise our ethical and constitutional responsibility to speak truth to power to try and smooth relations for our party’s various governments. And frankly, I respect the same scrutiny from the opposition parties in the city I govern. That is how democracy works.
Having said that, we have different relationships with different national departments - it is very much on a case-by-case basis. For instance, we have an excellent relationship with the national treasury who appreciate our commitment to using national resources transparently for the benefit of our residents. We have more distant relationship with departments such as defence, not based on the nature of their mandate but because they own land in the city that we have been trying to purchase for years to develop for poor people but have been met by bureaucratic red-tape again and again.
City Mayors: How closely do you as mayor and your administration co-operate with other large South Africa cites?
Mayor Patricia de Lille: Again, this varies. We draw on each other when we need to collaborate or when we are exploring comparative best practice. That is often dominated by bilateral relationships between departments.
At a macro level, we come together as part of the South African Cities Network to discuss issues of common importance, like national budget allocations or relevant national legislation affecting cities.
But we are also moving towards greater collaboration to meet the common challenge of accessing increased national allocations for infrastructure. Here, we have similar positions and views and it helps us to coordinate our position.
As much as we collaborate, we do also compete. i believe that we have made Cape Town the gold standard in terms of service delivery and financial management in South Africa and because of that, I am actually positioning the city to consider international standards more so that we can take Cape Town to the next level of government.
City Mayors: Please describe the most urgent challenges that South African cities in general and Cape Town in particular face during the current decade and how they should be met.
Mayor Patricia de Lille: Our biggest challenge is urbanization. It is also our biggest opportunity.
The Harvard economist, Edward Glaeser, said in his wonderful book, ‘The Triumph Of The City,’ that informal settlements, poor people, is not always a sign of a city’s failure but often of its success. People have come there in search of a better life and stay there because, even though they live in difficult conditions, their life in the city is better than their life in their rural home.
This is a reality we are experiencing in Cape Town. The national 2011 Census showed that the Western Cape and Gauteng experienced the heaviest inward migration over the course of a decade. And in the Western Cape, most of that migration has been to Cape Town, which accounts for the vast majority of the province’s population.
Those people have come in search of a better life and it is our job to help them find it. This commitment, however, is a considerable challenge for our service delivery plans and our resources because it means that we have ever-shifting targets.
We need to learn how to utilize this opportunity more, given that cities largely defined by their people and what they can contribute in the economies of scale that cities naturally have the potential for.
We are working on this approach, which is essentially a strategy for sustainability. We have come to realize that the old approaches towards service delivery will not suffice in this ever-growing city. And so we are looking at braking down the silos of our delivery patterns and coming up with a synergistic, transversal approach to managing our resources to govern smarter.
This involves bringing departments together in service clusters, forcing them to share resources and ideas to cut down on the roll-out times for services and the human capital needed to perform them.
It is an integrated approach to service delivery that requires a massive change in mind-set. Indeed, it means braking down decades-old habits of behavior in the bureaucracy. We have fully committed to this and drive this new approach every day to change our organization to meet the needs of a changed city.
City Mayors: No doubt security, or rather the lack of it, is one of the most urgent issues urban South Africa has to address. Indeed, according to the World Bank, Cape Town was among the top 50 of the ‘most murderous cities’ in the world in 2011 and ranked above Durban and Johannesburg. Please describe how you and your administration propose to make Cape Town a safer city.
Mayor Patricia de Lille: A large proportion of Cape Town’s violence is due to a history of gangsterism, the drug trade and alcohol abuse. These social forces have been present in many of our communities for decades and are deeply entrenched.
We face limitations in dealing with these matters from a criminal enforcement perspective. Both the police force and the justice system are national competencies. And, furthermore, the social development approaches that complement justice policies are core concurrent functions of the national and provincial governments.
However, we are playing our role as the constitutional driver of social development in our border. We are working on ensuring that the right kind of community resources, such as amenities and common facilities, are being targeted in areas where violence is greatest.
This is because we believe that part of the answer lies beyond the police officer and strengthening our communities. That happens by providing them with safe spaces and places to go when people feel threatened.
It means ensuring we have open facilities for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, which we have in our clinic system. And it means public awareness and education of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, which we are rolling-out though our ‘Don’t start, be smart’ campaign.
It also entails a focus on urban regeneration given that many of the breakdowns in society happen in areas where people feel a sense of neglect because of their dilapidated surroundings, which has elements of the ‘broken windows’ theory of James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling but goes well beyond it in understanding that part of the strategy needs to include coordinating community actors and social functions in an area, as well as using innovative urban design to change public spaces.
To this end, we have rolled-out the Mayoral Urban Regeneration Campaign in nine key nodes to reshape centre urban economic nodal points and using the community and our social services to get involved in transforming neglected places. This is a ‘whole of society’ approach that seeks to physically change the places people live but to also make them a part of that change so as to encourage common ownership and avoid any sense of unfair or exclusionary enforcement.
This approach has had great success, especially in Khayelitsha where it was rolled out as part of our more focused Violence Prevention Through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) initiative, which has been expanded and rolled-out to other parts of the city, including Nyanga which has the highest murder rate.
We believe that this approach of reshaping urban space and coordinating the response and support of our social services will go a long way to helping strengthen communities against those factors that influence crime, including gangs and the abuse of alcohol.
City Mayors: A recent report by the Bertelsmann Foundation praised South Africa for its economic policies but said social inequality was growing. Does your administration together with the provincial government have policies in place to close the gap between ‘rich and poor’?
Mayor Patricia de Lille: I believe that our city has the most innovative approach to economic policy and that is by viewing economic and social development as one process - two sides of the same coin.
As such, we are focused on expanding the economy by creating the economic enabling environment in which investment grows and jobs are created. We do this by investing heavily in infrastructure and by making business easier to do by cutting down red-tape and soon adding to our basket of services a range of incentive options for business.
At the same time, there is a large portion of the population unable to enter the economy. Not only do we provide free services to poor households to ease their financial burden but we have invested more than any South African city in the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). This programme provides job opportunities to unskilled people in labour intensive activities, providing immediate economic relief and matching our economic growth potential with a social relief strategy.
City Mayors: Please describe your ‘powers’ as mayor of Cape Town and how you share power with the council.
Mayor Patricia de Lille: In South African local government, the council is the executive and the legislature. As executive mayor, it is my duty to advise the council on policy and strategy, monitor and evaluate the performance of the administration and supervise budgets to be recommended to council. It is therefore a delegated role of carrying out certain leadership activities for the council that allows the council to conduct its business effectively and ensures that council’s decisions are implemented by the administration.
City Mayors: The influence of large cities is growing in many developed and developing countries. Do you think the voices of South Africa’s large cities and their leaders are sufficiently heard in your country’s society and politics?
Mayor Patricia de Lille: I think that is happening more. Cities never used to be that important in South Africa. They were ill-defined and had few powers.
However, there has been a major shift in public policy and legislation to giving well-defined metros major powers within their borders and major constitutional functions, not only to ensure that there is a high standard of service delivery but also to ensure that there is economic and social development.
This is accompanied by a major population shift to our cities, which makes the scope of their influence that much greater.
Simultaneously, cities are now rightly recognized as the engines of global economic growth. It is cities and their economic actors that trade amongst each other as key activity centres, with a heavy exchange of people and goods.
Given these national and international trends, cities and their leaders have become far more influential in South Africa, especially considering that the country’s success is now properly understood to be linked to the success of its major metros.
City Mayors: Cape Town is already one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Please describe other economic sectors that have growth potential in your city.
Mayor Patricia de Lille: The financial services sector; the gas and energy sector; the shipping sector; the business process outsourcing sector; the agricultural processing sector; the green industry sector; and the research and development sector.
City Mayors: Cape Town has established partnerships with ‘likeminded’ cities across the world and with those that face similar challenges. Please describe the benefits your city derives from international cooperation and what other cities can learn from today’s Cape Town.
Mayor Patricia de Lille: We have drawn on the experiences of cities in the developing and the developed world. An example of the former is the sharing of ideas and practices on sustainability and adapting to urbanisation with other major African cities. An example of the latter is drawing on the public transport experiences of cities like London and Vienna in creating our own expansive public transportation system.
I think that other mid-size developing cities could learn from our experience in managing limited water supplies effectively, especially when dealing with a large portion of the population that cannot afford to pay. Furthermore, I believe our approach towards addressing the burden of disease, especially with uncertain mandates and few resources, is exemplary in a developing world context. And finally, I think that our focus on infrastructure provision, and where it is provided, is of greatest relevance given that this approach at capital spending has really allowed Cape Town to surpass its peers, nationally and in some cases internationally.
City Mayors: We believe you plan to stand for a second term as Mayor of Cape Town. Please describe what you hope to be able to achieve in a second term and lay out your vision for the future of Cape Town.
Mayor Patricia de Lille: I will only serve if my party calls on me to put my name forward and if the people of Cape Town wish to me continue in my role. If I were mayor for another term, I would continue to build the city on our five pillars: building an opportunity city; a safe city; a caring city; an inclusive city; and a well-run city.
Cape Town's old City Hall from where Nelson Mandela addressed the nation after his release from prison
A short biography
Cape Town Mayor
Patricia de Lille
Patricia de Lille began her political career as a community organizer on the Cape Flats, where she joined the ranks of those fighting against Apartheid. She later became a trade unionist, becoming the first woman to be elected as a national vice-president of the National Council of Trade Unions.
She was elected as an MP for the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in the first democratic parliament and served as an opposition MP for many years, while also serving as the chairperson of parliament’s portfolio committee on transport. She was the first woman to start her own national political party, the Independent Democrats, which won seats at the national, provincial and local level.
After joining the Democratic Alliance (DA), she was asked to serve in Premier Helen Zille’s Western Cape Cabinet as the Provincial Minister for Social Development in recognition of her work for the poor. She currently serves as the Executive Mayor of Cape Town after being elected to that position by almost two thirds of the electorate in 2011.