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
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
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
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
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.
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