An evening of debate with local politicians

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bod9Sept16

The Cape Town Jewish Board of Deputies’ Electoral Panel Debate gave constituents an opportunity to separate practical policy from political posturing.

“I’ve got a red file, Andre’s got a red jersey and the Red Jackets haven’t arrived,” Steve Swart of the ACDP quipped to the DA’s Executive Deputy Mayor, Ian Nielson, at the start of the Jewish Board of Deputies 2016 electoral panel debate held on 20 July.

The ‘Red Jackets’ never did arrive having bowed out at the 11th hour with a brief note addressed to the Board and signed ‘Yours in struggle for Radical Change and a Free Palestine’. Also conspicuous by his absence was ANC mayoral candidate, Xolani Sotashe, who it seems wasn’t ‘Ours’ in anything. He ditched the debate without warning to wrestle Patricia de Lille on Zibonele FM. Despite EFF and ANC no-shows the ensuing discussion didn’t fail to deliver.

Steve Swart, a consummate professional when it comes to politics and a highly respected Member of Parliament, espoused the benefits of co-governance between the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and the DA and emphasised his party’s unwavering support of the Jewish community. The ACDP, he said, was “a party prepared to stand outside Parliament, standing with Israel and against antisemitism.” Swart did however come undone when called out on the ACDP’s stance on homosexuality. (To the question: “Are any gays or lesbians members of your party?” Swart evasively stammered, “You know our party’s policy” before making a too-little too-late comeback with, “We work to improve the lives of all citizens.”)

Cape Town councillor for the Freedom Front Plus, Andre Fourie, described the FF+ as “a small issue-driven party fighting for the rights of minorities.” He was keen to highlight that “nearly half of the FF Plus candidates for the Cape Town metro in the upcoming local elections are Coloured.” His suggestions for tighter border control to limit the influx of migrants and to create better sanitation services on low cost housing sites — “so that when they arrive we can direct them to the right places” — smacked of Old South Africa. He did however, despite heckling from the back row, put paid to power, challenging Ian Nielson on untenable and all-too frequent rate increases, congestion, poor road maintenance and high-cost public transportation.

Ian Neilson might not have been wearing a red shirt or tie, nor was he carrying a red file, but he sure was sitting in the proverbial red chair. From the white elephant that is Cape Town Stadium, to the elephant in the room – the suspended sale of Tafelberg to the Phyllis Jowell school – and everything in between: the rumoured land development on the southwest portion of the Philippi horticultural portion of the Philippi horticultural area, poor sanitation and unequal service provision — it was his night in the hot seat.

It was reassuring to hear Neilson speak of ways in which the city is progressively moving into the future. In terms of infrastructure, repairs and maintenance spending has grown by 90%. As a result, streetlights work, traffic lights work, potholes are repaired within 72 hours, the water systems continue to supply demand and new sanitation system requirements are being planned for. What’s more, Cape Town has the highest local government credit rating in the country.

The event was expertly moderated by Judith February whose own intelligent questions steered the debate, fearlessly poking at hypocrisy and allowing for no diplomatic side- stepping. February holds a BA LLB with a Masters in Commercial Law from UCT and is a senior research associate at the Institute for Security Studies. A class act indeed.

While Board Chairman Eric Marx opened the evening’s discussions, former Chairman Li Boiskin closed the evening by handing out certificates of generous donations given by the Board on behalf of the panel speakers and February to NGO, Ikamva Labantu before reminding us all of Mandela’s legacy, ‘A free and democratic South Africa’.

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