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Ward councillor job not a road to riches says outgoing councillor

2016-06-30 11:23
Amanda Forsythe (Facebook)

Cape Town - Being a ward councillor is a thankless job and it does not line the pockets, well-known City of Johannesburg ward councillor Amanda Forsythe said on Wednesday.

''You certainly don't go into this for the perks and benefits. Being a councillor is a calling. If it's not a calling, then you should not be there,'' says Forsythe, who is not standing again as a candidate for the August 3 election.

Forsythe's ward covered around 20 000 people in some of Johannesburg's older wealthier suburbs of Greenside, Melville, Parkview, Westcliff, Forest Town and Parktown West.

- Elections Map: Previous City of Johannesburg results

She earns around R24 000 after pension and medical aid and said she took a pay cut from earning more as an interpreter and translator when she was elected in 2011.

''I don't mind discussing it,'' she says.

Some observers have suggested that the recent violent protests over candidate nomination lists are linked to desperation for the income and perceived influence that comes with being a ward councillor.

Electoral Commission chairperson for the Western Cape Courtney Sampson said that for people who are not doing well financially, the candidate lists could be seen as a shortlist for a much needed job.

''In order to get the job, you must be on the shortlist. That candidate list is your shortlist,'' said Sampson.

Forsythe said she could understand how people would think that.

But, her own cellphone bill is between R2 500 to R3 000 a month, much higher than the R900 a month allowance she receives. She pays for coffees and teas when there are meetings, and helps people in her constituency with food, for example, also out of her own pocket.


She also pays for an assistant to help her handle the volumes of phone calls, out of her own pocket.

She said in the Democratic Alliance they are expected to be available on social media at least between 07:00 in the morning and 20:00 at night, every day. Her party conducts regular assessments of her work to see whether she is pulling her weight and how effective she is so there is no time for slacking.

The job is classified as part time, but for Forsythe, it is more than a full time job. It is a never-ending round of making and receiving phone calls, sending and reading e-mails, monitoring social media for complaints in her constituency, and attending meetings - sometimes two a night.

It is about the pothole that was not filled, finding out what the mystery team of road workers is doing on the corner, helping with a billing problem, finding out why there is no water or electricity in an area. There are residents' associations who need to discuss things, community policing forum briefings over crime.

All this is done with one eye on Twitter, Facebook and a number of neighbourhood WhatsApp groups so that she is up to speed with what is going on in the community. Also, so that she will have a ready answer when the calls on an issue start coming in.

''You can see people asking each other if they have power, so if there is a power outage I know immediately. When they call, they expect me to do something immediately,'' she says.

Most of her meetings are at night to accommodate people who work, so round two begins after sundown.

And, says Forsythe, it is a thankless job.

''Nobody phones a councillor to say they are having a lovely day,'' she chuckles. ''They are generally very peeved by the time they call you.''

Worn down

The biggest misconception about a councillor is that they can fix things, she observes.

''A lot of people don't understand the difference between what a councillor does, and what a city official does.''

The councillor does not fix things. The councillor works her contacts and liaises with the right city officials to fix things, she explains.

She is sometimes asked to put in a good word on a tender, but her response is just to wish them luck and tell them she has no influence.

For her, being a councillor has been ''a great thing and an awful thing".

It is not unusual to feel occasionally depressed or worn down by all the complaints and negativity. And to say nothing of the private relationships in ruins because there is no personal time to nurture them.

Agreeing to stand was not for the money and nor was it for an ego boost.

It was to make a positive difference in her community.

''I think I can walk away and say I have done a good job. I can be proud of what I have done.''

But now it is time to step back, go back into her translation and interpreting work, and perhaps even have a baby.

''I want to have a little time to relax and just be in the moment,'' she says.

- Find everything you need to know about the 2016 Local Government Elections at our News24 Elections site, including the latest news and detailed, interactive maps for how South Africa has voted over the past 3 elections, or download the app for iOS and Android.

Read more on: da  |  johannesburg  |  politics  |  local government  |  local elections 2016

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