Twelve Years a Servant: Cityzen Journal

Twelve years a servant, in what is fondly touted (mostly in political terms) as the economic heartbeat of the African Continent, the City of Johannesburg, are littered with character-building and developmental lessons. Having served at the highest offices in the departments of Housing, Economic Development and Development Planning, I was often the last point of contact for people who have been taken on the whirlwind of government loopholes and unnecessary obstacles. One particular meeting with several ladies from the community of Thula-Mntwana, one of the many unresolved informal communities in the deep South of Johannesburg, is etched out vividly in my memory.

In true community style, the ladies came in announced, demanded to be addressed by the MMC and I had to drop what I was doing to meet with them. They were visibly irate, having met with a number of officials and been given plenty of empty promises to go on before they approached the political office for answers. I listened to their grievances and in response gave them facts of what delays were affecting their development and also facilitated a meeting with the political head of Housing, the Member of Mayoral Committee (MMC). At the end of the meeting the ladies took out rocks they had concealed in their handbags, they placed them on the boardroom table, pointed out the obvious that "they had come prepared to deal with the typical council BS" (I immediately had flashbacks of Vusi Ximba and his encounter with ladies of KwaMashu). They then cordially thanked me for my professional services and left, leaving the stones behind, unused! This was back in 2009, the fourth year of my public service, so I'm convinced that they reinforced the public service standards I carried for the duration of the twelve years of my public service. From there on, I think I subconsciously treated every other encounter with members of the public as if I were dealing with the same group of rock ladies; with an added respect and suspicion for handbags!

Twelve years a servant have been invaluable. Along the journey, I have come across and engaged with a multitude of Johannesburg's people; at the best of times polarised and conflicting in their realities, but mostly driven by a common desire for progress and development. In this time, I have worked with incredibly tireless, dedicated public servants, a fair share of indifferent and defeated officials and of course some corrupt and self-serving ones. As a planner working in this critical early phase of developmental and democratic local government (recognised as the year 2000 with the first local government elections), there are important lessons and many other anecdotes to share on the experience of Johannesburg's efforts towards transformation of its urban landscape and the development of its people and economy.

Twelve years a servant includes an important transition in the country's political landscape, with the ANC losing out to the DA in the control of the economic centre of the country, the Johannesburg Municipality, amongst other key metros. I was part of this transition and managed an obviously trying set of circumstances as the Strategic Advisor in the political office (Department of Economic Development). In the eyes of many city officials, ANC Councillors and 'interested and affected' observers, I was as an obvious candidate awaiting the proverbial chop, but the political maturity of the incoming MMC and my professionalism ensured I lived and thrived within the new administration. The transition provided an important window into both the running of government and the party politics of city administration from the ANC and the DA led coalition perspectives.

Cityzen Journal is formed on the bedrock of these critical years as a public servant, taking lessons from the mistakes and successes of local government. Combined with a formal education as a Town and Regional Planner/development planner, a conscious black South African mind with enough lived experiences of both apartheid and democratic SA, Cityzen Journal offers both a reflection of local government leadership lessons as well as development foresight. The journal takes a keen interest in the role of local governments in the quest for economic development, entrepreneurship, spatial transformation, innovation, ICTs and the politics of development. Other topics to be covered in the blog will of course include cycle lanes, transformation economics, mayors and their egos, corruption, alleged corruption...and much more. Oh and I am keen to be nudged in any particular stay engaged!

2 thoughts on “Twelve Years a Servant: Cityzen Journal”

  1. I like I like! We never get to hear what happened behind the scenes in this colourful tapestry of public service. Thanks Collen

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