Alliance learning space: if I was the mayor…

If you were appointed as mayor of the City of Cape Town, how would you structure policies, financial management and technical capacity to ensure a participatory approach to upgrading informal settlements?

With this far-reaching question, the South African Alliance introduced the third learning space (read more about the first and the second learning spaces). Essentially we wanted to create a space where we could reflect on policy and practice.

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Nkokeli, an ISN coordinator, spoke first, and reflected on the disconnected nature of aligning line departments to informal settlement communities’ agendas. He said that if he were appointed as mayor, he would reconfigure line departments to first report upwards, towards a centrally coordinating body with executive powers (similar to the Urbanisation department, but with more power). Secondly, multi-departmental teams will be assigned to housing districts where monthly fora are facilitated to identify, implement and monitor services which are informed by community action plans. For this, he would allocate budgets to ensure central participation and capacity development. We will need to build strong local organisations. This will also mean greater decentralisation of core municipal functions, and break down the “silo” mentality.

Andy, manger of iKhayalami, echoed Nkokeli’s ideas, and reflected on the massive gains the East Asian countries have made in ensuring that a funding facility, such as the Community Organisation Development Institute (CODI) of the Thai government and the Urban Poor Development Fund (UPDF) in Cambodia. Such instruments have in common shared values of central participation of communities.

Focusing on the such a decentralised approach will have a greater scope to focus on area-based interventions, not the catch-all approach of the current spatial planning aspects, reflected Marlene, a FEDUP coordinator. As a mayor, Marlene said that she will spatial planning will happen at the neighbourhood/area scale, which will then be integrated with other areas to develop a city spatial development plan.

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The platform was set, and the group agreed with the current positions being put forward. Other group members reflected on how the political representivity of councillors is fraught with error, and that we need to bind councillors to deliverables. People who voted councillors into power also needs to have the power to revoke their power when they are not delivering on their mandate. Politicians need to be accountable to their mandates. This will enhance the community’s oversight and monitoring capacities.  But we need to ensure that protocols are in place, otherwise government will be destabilised all the time.

The themes that were picked up in this learning space were:

  • greater decentralisation with teams delegated to the regions;
  • investment in the creation and sustainability of poor people’s organisations, and the legitimacy and representivity in planning fora;
  • greater power to monitor and hold politicians to account;
  • enhancement of the roles of interim organisations, such as public benefit organisations and non-governmental organisations supporting the cause of poor people; and
  • budgetary reform to facilitate a bottom-up process of delivering services.

Till next time then!