An international competition celebrating the most sustainable cities in the world has prompted eThekwini Municipality to call on its residents to vote for Durban. The We Love Cities Challenge is an initiative by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and is open to all cities that are finalists in the WWF Earth Hour Cities Challenge. Durban is one of the 32 cities in 14 countries which has made it into the list of finalists. To qualify for the finals, the international panel of experts paid close attention to the Climate Change Mitigation activities within the city.
According to a city media release, Durban has a number of award winning projects, one of which is the Landfill Gas to Electricity Project. Durban’s reputation for development and sustainability of the environment was further enhanced after it hosted the COP17 conference. So it appears that the city departments that deal with the environment, climate change adaptation and mitigation projects are doing a sterling job and deserve their place in the finals.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the departments that have to deal with town planning issues, land use management, building by-laws … or lack of laws … and the general preservation of Durban suburbs. I’m talking the history, the architecture, the upkeep, service delivery, maintenance and general cleanliness. You know, the day to day issues that keep the city’s citizens content that their urban environments are being suitably administered and proper enforcement by our esteemed officials is being executed.
I have followed with interest the valiant efforts by community groups to engage the municipality on various issues. Save Our Berea’s working committee has had its work cut out for it in bringing what appears to be a general failure of officials to enforce the stipulations of the town planning scheme. There seems to be a wave of developments, either proposed or well underway, where Ts have not be crossed and Is remain dot-less. What has been even more perturbing has been the attitude of some officials when dealing with the ratepayer group.
Recent newspaper reports described how SOB’s Kevin Dunkley and Cheryl Johnson had been treated with nothing less than contempt when Ms Lekha Allopi, a senior manager in the city’s Land Use Management branch, failed to pitch to a meeting with them to discuss concerns around the new building at 340 Essenwood Road. This was after Ms Allopi had suggested the meeting with the SOB working committee. Dutifully, an appointment was made and they were given a time for the meeting. However, on the day and time in question Ms Allopi was nowhere to be seen and her PA informed them she was at a meeting in Assagay and wouldn’t be back until after 2pm. This, despite the fact that their appointment had been written in Ms Allopi’s appointment diary. Dunkley summed it up perfectly when he said: “It sends a message that, yes, we will take your rates, and we will spend your money, but don’t dare complain because we don’t actually care.”
In all fairness to Ms Allopi, she did make a belated apology and subsequently a meeting was held.
But this type of treatment of ratepayers has become more the norm than the exception. It has become increasingly difficult, whether you are an ordinary citizen, part of a ratepayer body or civic organisation or even a member of the media, to locate the correct official to deal with a specific problem. Instead one is shunted from one department to another, each official claiming the problem is not theirs to deal with, or in some cases, they may deal with part of the problem, but some other official or department deals with another aspect of the problem. It’s no wonder things take forever to get done. It’s no wonder structures are built before consent is given, before plans are officially passed, before building inspectors get to inspect at ground level.
By-laws are put in place to be enforced. They are there to be adhered to by every citizen of the city, whether he is the Mayor, the City Manager, a councillor, official or ratepayer. Rich or poor, privileged or destitute, by-laws serve every single one of us. They are not items on a Snakes and Ladders boardgame. You don’t get to bypass them and move up ladders, or sent down snakes with contempt. They are the law, and our officials are the enforcers of the law. And we, the citizens, have the right to demand that our officials do just that.
Treating citizens with contempt does not endear them to the city’s administration. Asking them to participate in an international competition where the level of participation and interaction with the city of Durban is what will earn them the win in the We Love Cities campaign, is a tall order if all the city’s departments are not prepared to reciprocate on issues of major concern to its communities.