Category Archives: Sutcliffe

Daily News: Protesters besiege city hall

Protesters besiege city hall
Sutcliffe refuses to take memos

July 16, 2009 Edition 1


A PEACEFUL march almost turned violent yesterday when more than 1 000 protesters waited three hours for city officials to receive a memorandum outside the Durban City Hall.

The protesters, including disgruntled bus drivers, took to the streets to demonstrate against the loss of jobs and the removal of traders from the market.

They have also called for a commission of inquiry to investigate the collapse of Remant Alton.

Two memorandums were handed to Desmond Myeza, an official from speaker James Nxumalo’s office, who received them on behalf of city manager Michael Sutcliffe, who refused to come out.

The first was handed over by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), which represents Remant Alton employees who were dismissed on June 29.

The second memorandum was from the South African Unemployed Peoples’ Movement, which demanded a basic income grant of R1 500 for the unemployed.

Satawu’s general secretary, Zack Mankge, who represented the drivers, said the decision by Remant Alton to dismiss its employees was political and threatened the smooth operation of buses.

“Here we have workers who have dependants and needs, and the idea of better job creation is not there,” he said.

“If you are a passenger who would be travelling on the new buses, you must know that you are boarding the transport at your own risk. If we have to, we will march every day to the city council, Transport MEC Bheki Cele’s office and the eThekwini Transport Authority’s offices.

“We will sleep there if we have to. If Sutcliffe does not come out and receive our memorandum, we will sleep here until he comes out to face us.”

Transnat Africa, the bus company tasked with taking over the city’s transport system, is expected to begin operations on Monday.

Ernest Nzuza, a spokesman for the drivers, said only some of the Remant Alton employees were being offered jobs.

As protesters marched down Pixley ka Seme (West) Street in groups, they sang apartheid era songs including My mother was a kitchen girl, my father was garden boy, that’s why I’m a socialist and converted president Jacob Zuma’s Awuleth’ umshini wam to Awuleth’imali yami mali yami (Bring my money).

On arrival at the city hall, they were informed that Mayor Obed Mlaba, who was expected to receive the memorandums, had left the previous day for Zimbabwe. Organisers then asked for deputy city manager Derrick Naidoo, who was declared unavailable, while Sutcliffe, who was on the premises, refused to come out to accept the memorandums.

Sutcliffe said he had a very busy diary and no arrangements had been made for him to collect the memorandums.

“It is unfortunate that threats are being made but I am sure that the law will take its course,” he said.

“There was also no coalition in the protest, it was just different groups complaining and taking advantage of the fact that I have authorised one march.”

The crowd at one stage threatened to enter the hall by force. Eventually, the protesters dispersed after signed documents were returned to them.

Transnat Africa CEO Mike Jesserman was not available for comment.

M&G: Trading markets for malls

Trading markets for malls

Among the shouts and smells of the early morning market in eThekwini’s bustling Warwick Triangle are the ghosts of struggles between marginalised communities and power.

These appear to be echoing again as market and informal traders attempt to oppose the municipality’s plans to replace the 99-year-old building with a shopping mall.

Vinesh Singh, spokesperson for the 700 market traders, said the municipality did not consult them before making an executive committee decision to develop a mall on the site. “The first we heard of this was at a meeting on January 16, which [eThekwini municipal manager Mike] Sutcliffe told us was an ‘awareness’ meeting about the development and that there would be workshops and things to follow. But we didn’t see any plans and found out about the mall being built on the market site from the newspapers.”

Sutcliffe denied that there had not been proper consultation: “We have presented the proposals and engaged with them, inviting them to make whatever submissions they like.” But the traders say they are being consulted on what the municipality is regarding as a fait accompli — their removal to another site, rather than on proposals for the future of the market itself.

Aside from the market traders who will be affected there are surrounding informal traders who believe they will soon not have a space from which to sell their wares and derive an income. It is conservatively estimated that about 4 000 jobs — including market traders, informal traders, barrow operators who transport produce around the area and traditional medicine gatherers — will be affected.

Mzwandile Mavula, chairperson of the African Chambers of Hawkers and Informal Business (Achib), said: “There are over 1 000 informal traders working in that area who will be affected. The plans that were shown to us make space for only 150 traders to work around the mall. What will happen to the rest of us?”

The early-morning market is in the Warwick Triangle transport nexus, which, according to police figures, sees more than 400 000 commuters travelling through it every day. Informal traders have written to the municipality expressing concern that the planned mall will affect the pedestrian andconsumer patterns in the area and, consequently, their income.

They have also raised concerns about how a chain supermarket in the mall will affect their own sales. It is a worry for the market traders too: “If a chain store comes in, we can’t compete with those prices. The city wants to feed the sardines to the sharks,” said trader Million Phehlukwayo.

Caroline Skinner, of the international NGO Women in Informal Employment Globalising and Organising (Wiego), which has been researching the informal economy in Durban for the past 10 years, said that since 2004 there has been a policy shift within the city away from a people-centred approach to the informal sector and towards a more unilateral one.

“These traders are supporting large extended families and although individual incomes are very low, profits from these activities are going into poorer parts of the city, which is in stark contrast to formal retailers who will trade in the mall,” said Skinner.

She said that in light of projected job losses this year it is startling that more is not being done to encourage this informal trade. “Stats SA labour-force survey stats show that about 8% of our labour force is working informally in retail and a few years back it was estimated that there was R1-billion worth of turn-over in Warwick annually.”

Architect Richard Dobson, who, with Skinner, will soon publish a book on the Warwick Triangle area, says the mall appears to be part of the city’s efforts to “sterilise” the area in time for the 2010 World Cup. “Essentially, the mall is about prescribing what the city should look like. It’s less about allowing it to develop through the participation of its citizens, who impart their own flavour and history to it.”

Which, ironically, is what the city fathers and white citizenry were trying to do when the market was initially conceived as a street facility for post-indentured Indian labourers on August 1 1890 before moving to its current site in 1934.

According to Dr Goolam Vahed, in his paper A Public Health Nuisance: The Victoria Street Early Morning Market, 1910-1934, published in the SA Historical Journal, the market was considered by whites to be “a ‘health hazard’, as antithetical to a clean and ‘beautiful’ city, it was against white notions of order and it aroused their hostility towards overcrowding and congestion and desire for smooth traffic flows”.

Vahed goes on to extrapolate on the dismissive, often contemptuous treatment of the traders by the then Durban Town Council — the sort of behaviour that 67-year-old Sam Moodley believes hasn’t changed much since the end of apartheid.

“I’ve grown up here,” he said. “My father had a stall here and they used to call him the Orange Uncle, because his fruit was the sweetest. From what I remember from my childhood, up to now nothing has changed. The authorities still think we are dirty, uneducated and can’t make decisions for ourselves.”

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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M&G: Party tricks and power play (article on Sutcliffe)

Party tricks and power play

If enough wine has flowed during an evening, eThekwini municipal manager Michael Sutcliffe has been known to start balancing empty bottles on his bald pate.

This late night party trick serves as a metaphor for what Sutcliffe feels is the hardest job he’s done: managing South Africa’s third-largest metropolitan area with close to 3,5-million residents and an annual budget of R17,4-billion.

Responding to criticism of Durban’s budgetary penchant for big-scale glamour projects like the debt-ridden uShaka Marine World (built at a cost of R700-milion and bailed out by ratepayers to the tune of R147-million and counting) rather than greater focus on the seemingly more prosaic nuts-and-bolts of public infrastructure delivery and maintenance, Sutcliffe says: “In the end it’s always about that balance. There is no cookbook or manual to say that this is the balance … In the end you are always damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

Sitting in his Durban City Hall office at a kitsch wood and glass table shaped like a Zulu shield, Sutcliffe outlines the other “tensions” to be balanced: immediate expectations, mainly of the poor, with the municipality’s long-term vision of a “world-class city”; navigating ever-changing global capitalism and “how it interacts with, or doesn’t interact with, local capital”; and understanding and responding to new challenges that come with development and increased economic growth locally — such as the impact of housing roll-out on electricity demand.

Add the unsaid to all this: keeping a pro-Jacob Zuma ANC eThekwini region on side during a volatile time for the ruling party, while delivering to his employers, the ratepayers. Possibly one of the harder party tricks to accomplish.

John Steenhuisen, the Democratic Alliance caucus leader, believes Sutcliffe is unable to “separate his political role from his role as town clerk or city manager” and cites it as a major weakness. “It’s obvious that he is a hard-working, capable man possessed of a great intellect … He just can’t seem to get that he is not there to do the work of the ANC but rather to work for the people of Durban.”

The 53-year-old Sutcliffe, a former academic at the then universities of Natal and Durban-Westville, was handpicked by President Thabo Mbeki to take over the reins of the city in 2002. His appointment came after three years as chairperson of the Municipal Demarcation Board and time spent as a member of the provincial parliament.

A graduate at the then University of Natal with a doctorate in town planning from Ohio State University, Sutcliffe is a self-styled “Marxist geographer” who believes his task is to be a “developmental municipal manager”.

On housing, he says the city is rolling out 15 000 to 16 000 houses a year and that “if we get the subsidies and put the mechanisms in place — and the capacity is building up – we can address the housing backlog in the city within seven or eight years”.

While the “developmental municipal manager” cites Govan Mbeki’s The Peasants’ Revolt and Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks as influential to his political and professional life, his interpretation of “developmental” is questioned by those in the city’s wretched slums.

Sbu Zikode, president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack dwellers’ movement, which represents more than 20 000 people in Durban, describes Sutcliffe as “anti-poor”.

“I know him only as boss of the city and he doesn’t appear to be people orientated. He is an anti-poor figure who has turned the police on us when we’ve tried to hold protest marches. When [our lawyers from] the Open Democracy Advice Centre used the Public Access to Information Act to find out what the city plans for shack dwellers were, we have him quoted on tape saying ‘information is dangerous’– obviously for dirty, poor shack dwellers,” says Zikode.

Zikode lives at Kennedy Road informal settlement which houses 8 000 people next to a municipal dump. A baby was bitten by a rat there last week after a similar, fatal incident last year. There are six toilets and 130 pit latrines “which need to be emptied” in the settlement and five water standpipes.

For Sutcliffe housing is about “depth” (quality) rather than “width” (quantity) and he believes these things take time.

He says South Africans have a “tendency to look at the challenge side of what we do, not at the fact that many of the challenges are being addressed”.

The 5th fire in Kennedy Road this year

The DA’s Steenhuisen likens Sutcliffe to the typically flawed tragic Shakespearean character where his “undoubted ability” is allied to “an arrogance coupled to a low tolerance for criticism, which is legendary”.

On how he believes he deals with criticism, Sutcliffe says:”I think the key problem at the moment is that there are a lot of lies being told.”

Whether addressing the emotionally charged street-renaming process in Durban or deflecting concern from a recent report which showed that the city’s fire department was woefully understaffed — to the extent that some fire-stations had only two firemen on duty — Sutcliffe has consistently attracted criticism from political parties and civil society for assuming an almost Mbekite-Stalinist grasp of the truth: where denialism, racialisation and obfuscation are hand maidens to that sacred version.

General consensus is that Sutcliffe is charismatic and hard working but doesn’t really give a shit what other people think about him. Or think in general.

If caught on the defensive his natural inclination is to attack — leading to sometimes bewildering broadsides. When Blue Flags were lowered on several Durban beaches earlier this year because of poor water quality he claimed “Eurocentrism” on the part of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, the programme’s local governing body, and launched a prolonged character assassination on its national coordinator Alison Kelly.

Des D’Sa of the South Durban Committee Environmental Alliance, which is fighting for cleaner air for communities living in Durban’s heavily industrialised South Basin, says Sutcliffe’s arrogance has made him less consultative than previous city managers.

D’Sa feels a preoccupation with the grand plan has left Sutcliffe more dislocated from civil society and the ordinary ratepayer’s concerns and needs. “His style is to play the man rather than the ball. He would rather attack us and go with his own theories than come in and speak to the communities and pay attention to the tests and reports we compile about the atrocities here,” says D’ Sa.

Of Irish extraction and the third of seven children, Sutcliffe grew up in the dozy, white working-class suburb of Amanzimtoti on Durban’s South Coast.

He says his politicisation took off only while studying at Ohio with his wife, Felicity. There, he picked up Gramsci and other writers banned in South Africa and “realised that the country was doing what [Hendrik] Verwoed said must be done.”

Prior to that, he remained largely apolitical at the University of Natal and he remains cynical about student politics: “The Irish Catholics would give one child in their family to the church each year and it was almost like that with the rich white folks of Durban giving one child to Nusas [the National Union of South African Students] while the parents continued to exploit the very workers these kids were supposed to liberate.”

Sutcliffe returned from the United States a year before the United Democratic Front was formed in South Africa. According to a former comrade who spoke on condition of anonymity, Sutcliffe was a “runner” in the hierarchy, which composed of organisers at the top, and activists in the middle.

“He had a kombi for transporting people, his house was used for meetings and his role at a white university ensured we had resources, banned books could be brought in and young activists could be sorted with bursaries,” said the comrade.

Sutcliffe says he worked closely with people like South African Revenue Services boss Pravin Gordhan and set up fronts for the ANC like the Built Environment Support Group. Later in the Eighties he worked on policy formulation geared towards a post-apartheid South Africa.

Sitting at Sutcliffe’s over-the-top Zulu shield desk and remembering the litany of sartorial atrocities he’s committed over the years in Madiba-type shirts, the words of a struggle comrade resonate: “Mike has always tried to overcompensate. Maybe because some part of him will always be that white, leftie runner in the struggle.”

And perhaps another hint about this year’s Sutcliffe version comes from an earlier time in academia: “I think there is more politics in academia than people would admit. So it allows you to see it and understand it a bit more because academics are quite brutal actually. They will kill one another over whether a definite article should be included in a sentence let alone around the ideology,” he says.

An academic grounding appears to have come with lessons gleaned, as have years as an activist. Yet, perhaps one lesson that continues to elude eThekwini’s municipal manager is that party tricks and balancing acts are perhaps best performed sober, or at least not when drunk on power.

Government Ignores Central Questions in Abahlali’s Legal Request

Since the eThekwini Municipality decided to commit itself to a ‘slum clearance programme the City has responded to requests from shack dwellers for information about its plans to the shack settlements with startling authoritarianism and paranoia. For months last year, rumours circulated that the shackdwellers in the Kennedy Road settlement, and other nearby areas in Clare Estate, would be relocated to a R10 billion housing development. Indeed, such rumours were corroborated by the government in < href="">English and < href="">isiZulu. In that announcement made by Mayor Mlaba at a big media event in November 2005 it was claimed that by the end of 2006, shackdwellers would be moving into their new homes with first priority going to Kennedy Road. No further information came despite promises for extensive consultation. It is now the end of 2006. The shackdwellers have heard not a word.

In September 2006, Abahlali submitted to the council a request under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), demanding to know what plans the government had in store for shackdwellers, clearly indicating a desire to find out more about the R10bn housing development.

On 6 November 2006, the government replied, with the documents attached below. They have ignored, utterly, the request for information about the proposed housing development, choosing instead to comply with the legal order by sending generic and uninformative records instead. It is a travesty both that the movement had to resort to legal action to get these scraps of information, and that the government continues its arrogant and dismissive attitude to those on whose behalf it purports to govern. Moreover it is clear that Mlaba was, to put it bluntly, simply lying when he made is big announcement about homes for the poor on Moreland land.

Free speech or toilets? We have rights to both and the city gives us neither.



Tuesday, 28 February 2006

(Durban) After winning a high court interdict against the eThekwini Municipality and the South African Police Service, the Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shackdwellers’ Movement feels the need to set the facts straight about yesterday’s march. The judgement proves that march was, and
always had been, legal. The police and municipality were in violation of the law in preventing the march, and from obstructing its participants. The injunction vindicated Durban’s shackdwellers, and indicted the local authorities. The authorities, in particular the municipal manager Dr Mike Sutcliffe, rather than learning their lesson, have lashed out in the media
against Durban’s poorest people.  Continue reading