Is your councillor worth R1.3m?

2015-06-29 13:50
DA councillor Dave Bryant consults with various stakeholders about plans for open space in the city. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

DA councillor Dave Bryant consults with various stakeholders about plans for open space in the city. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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The SA Local Government Association, which represents thousands of councillors across the country, recently called for greater equality between the payment of municipal councillors, MPs and MPLs. This could mean that your local councillor could earn around R1.3m a year.

So News24 decided to find out what a typical day looks like in the life of a ward councillor. We randomly picked five councillors to follow around in five different cities - Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein and Pietermaritzburg.

Over the next week News24 will give you a glimpse into the lives of these councillors, representing various political parties.

This is what we found in Cape Town:

City bowl DA councillor Dave Bryant meets me on Wale Street before the weak winter sun has even decided to make an appearance. It’s 07:45 and the streets are slowly coming to life.

He grabs a takeaway coffee and heads to the Good Hope Sub-council parking garage for his first meeting in the Bo-Kaap.

The 31-year-old points at neatly stacked bicycles that city employees sometimes use to get to appointments. The thought of cycling Bo-Kaap’s steep hills makes my head reel a bit, but Bryant says it’s too cold and rainy, smiles and walks to his modest car.

My assignment was to shadow a councillor and see what their average day looks like. I chose Bryant because his ward includes a mix of suburbs and a bustling city centre.

I have caught him just before council goes on recess so it’s apparently a bit quieter than usual. Recess usually brings a small respite from a number of council meetings. He’s already tackled around 30 e-mails before leaving home.

‘The city never sleeps’

Early mornings also mean a half-hour with his toddler son, who he rarely sees at night.

His evenings are often taken up by meetings for ratepayers associations, neighbourhood watches and the like. With a sheepish smile he admits he and his wife have yet to go on honeymoon "because the city never sleeps".

Bryant has a BA Media Studies degree and also completed five short university courses on economics and planning.

“One of our things [we focus on] is upgrades to public open spaces, because we obviously can’t intervene on private property,” he says, slowing down in front of a fenced park with wooden playground equipment in Bo Kaap’s Upper Leeuwen Street.

“This used to be a tiered dustbowl when I took it on as a project in 2011. It’s taken 3-and-a-half years and now it’s a workable community facility.”

He’s in the process of doing the same for a park nestled between Yusuf Drive and Tanabaru Street, which is next to the ICRA Comprehensive School. Around 100 Guinea Fowl pecking at the grass scatter as he walks to meet with the school’s principal and city park officials.

Grateful citizen

Dr Mogamat Arnold says he is so happy to see the councillor and is grateful for consulting with residents on what to do with the open space.

Bryant wanted to install play equipment on the one side but finds out that kids play sport there and could run into something, hurting themselves.

He leans in and nods his head as Arnold lists what the community would like.

Parents used to drive over the grass and drop their kids off. The site was also used as a dumping spot before a gate was put up.

The councillor gets a warm farewell and jumps back into his car.

Informal settlement in the CBD

He inches the vehicle down a sharp and narrow concrete road with expansive views of the city bowl. “The community here is paranoid about gentrification,” he explains, providing an extremely detailed history of the area before stopping at a nearby informal settlement called ‘The Kraal’.

It is situated in one of the Bo-Kaap’s three quarries and he says 21 families are legally entitled to live there. A clump of corrugated shelters sit in the centre and one sports a satellite dish.

Two dogs run up to sniff Bryant. His leather shoes leave imprints in the mud. A man with a weathered face, piercing blue eyes and rolled-up sleeves pours water into a bucket next to two ablution structures. A sharp smell emanates.

Kenny wipes his hands on his clothes before greeting the councillor with a handshake. They know each other’s names. Bryant doesn’t seem at all bothered by the smell.

“I have been trying to find them proper housing. I reserved 20 units for them in a new development in Strandfontein and took them in minibuses two weeks ago to have a look. They are quite keen.”

Once the families have moved, the plan is to secure the site because illegal shacks had popped up on the perimeter.

“Quite a high percentage of crime in the CBD emanates from there.”

Informal settlement

An informal settlement in Cape Town CBD. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

‘I’m a facilitator’

Bryant says one of his key roles is to be a facilitator between the council and communities.

Cell numbers for a hundred-plus councillors are freely available on the city’s website. He fields calls from residents at all hours. Being woken up at 02:00 to deal with a noise complaint or emergency is not uncommon.

“I often think our titles should be counsellors and not councillors,” he chuckles.

Most people think he has a lot of power and can solve all their problems.

He says a part of the job is dealing with people’s frustrations and anger. People often revert to verbal abuse when they can’t get their way.

It’s back to the sub-council building, where he spends an hour with two neighbourhood watch representatives listening to their concerns about homeless people who have settled in a park.

After that, he pulls a hood over his head and walks through the rain to pop into a site visit meeting up the street.

Knows everyone by name

Various officials welcome him into the building with a smile and he joins the standing group around a table, where a woman flips through plans of a proposed development.

He knows everyone by name. They walk outside to look at the building from different angles and then Bryant excuses himself. I look at my watch and it feels far later than 11:00.

The councillor rushes off to a dentist appointment and meets up again a short while later.

Time for another walk, this time to Bree Street, where he points out a ‘parklet’, a rectangular wooden deck with vegetation that has been erected on a parking space in front of a trendy eatery.

The idea is to “reclaim” public space and allow anyone in the city to use the seating spot at their pleasure.

He meets with the city’s head roads engineer in Hout Street and two representatives from the Central City Improvement District (CCID) to show them plans for a similar proposed parklet.

A meeting after this has fallen through so he decides to check in at the CCID office. Again, he gets a warm welcome and catches up on security and other developments with people in the office.

He sips on his third coffee for the day and catches a lift with two employees to Long Street.

DA councillor Dave Bryant

DA councillor Dave Bryant hard at work. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

Beerhouse shooting

A chat has been arranged with the owner of Beerhouse on Long. A week before, the pub’s doorman Joe Louis Kazadi Kanyona was fatally stabbed in the neck by suspects standing outside.

Despite a warming afternoon crowd, and an array of beers on display, the visit is strictly business and Bryant orders a coke.

During the course of the day, I lose track of all the other commitments he mentions and eventually insists he write them down for me.

He chairs the city’s energy, environmental and spatial planning portfolio committee, the Company’s Gardens Steering Committee and the Ward 77 committee. A portfolio committee chair like himself earns R832 197 per year (2015) before deductions.

Bryant also serves on the boards of the Cape Town Heritage Trust and the Oranjekloof, Green Point and Cape Town city improvement districts. He is a director on the Cape Town Partnership.

We have to part ways at 15:00 and he waves goodbye. The councillor whips out his phone and crosses over a busy intersection to get to the sub-council building. The city never sleeps, after all.

Read more on:    cape town  |  service delivery  |  local government
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