Remember where we came from

2012-02-18 09:52

Good politicians and leaders should have a strong view on society, of course. Otherwise, what precisely are they offering to voters?

This we know. But we also know that they are not neutral observers weighing the evidence without prejudice or without political perspective.

I believed this to be well known, which is why I was surprised by last week’s City Press article “We still behave as if we’re not free”.

City Press seemed to rely on two anchor opinions – Tony Ehrenreich and Marius Fransman – regarding race in Cape Town. Both are ANC members.
This is not a problem when one has a balance of views across society. It is a problem when the views of particular politicians are presented as objective analysis. As always in politics, we have to consider the individuals themselves.

It is especially ironic that the ANC leaders in Cape Town are chosen for an objective analysis on what separates us racially. During the local government elections last year in Cape Town, it was those very leaders who used race to divide people.

Day after day, Ehrenreich used racially divisive language and politics to advance his cause.
At times, these amounted to bitter attacks on people and segments of society. It made it seem like we had never agreed to build a unified country in 1994.

Thankfully, the voters rejected the politics of division.

Instead, almost two-thirds of the people of Cape Town endorsed a vision of a more caring and inclusive city. And it is that vision the government of Cape Town is working to achieve every day.
We know that governments need partners to achieve social change, specifically the individuals in our societies. And we know that the legacy of apartheid, which is a common heritage nationally, will take many years to overcome.

But I’m pleased our programme of action to do our part to foster inclusion is well under way.
To overcome apartheid’s spatial divisions, we are connecting the city more through public transport. Our world-class MyCiti bus service will link the City Bowl with the city’s southeast, specifically Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain, by the end of 2013.

That part of the city has long been in a transport crisis, thanks to the ineptitude of the nationally run Metrorail. Because of this, people have been unable to access opportunities or move around the city as freely as they might, and so the physical barriers between us have been kept in place. Finally, we shall have the linkages that bring our people together.

One of the other legacies of the past that still looms large is the housing waiting list. While we do what we can with limited resources and work within national government’s policy limitations, many people wait for permanent houses while living as backyarders.

We don’t think that they should wait without services, which is why we have undertaken a first for South Africa by providing backyarders with services in a phased programme over the next five years.
And while we drive economic development through investment in infrastructure and partnerships, we know that many people need immediate relief from poverty.

That is why I launched the Mayoral Special Job Creation Project last year.

This programme provides public services in historically neglected parts of the city by employing otherwise unemployed community members within community projects. We estimate that this programme, in total, will result in 32 000 beneficiaries yearly.

And we also know that to change the legacy of the past we must also change the way we view the spaces within which we live. That is why, as part of our efforts towards reconciliation, our street renaming and naming process is well under way. We have already honoured the icons we choose to emulate: Nelson Mandela, Chief Albert Luthuli and Helen Suzman.

We do all these things and more. There is still a long way to go and many challenges to face. Building a city that has moved past the divisions of apartheid will require everyone to get involved.

We should always remember where we came from. And we should never forget those who sought to divide us according to race – whether in the distant or near past.

» De Lille is the mayor of Cape Town

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