Stick to bread and butter

Ian Neilson, deputy mayor, City of Cape Town

The attempt to characterise me as some kind of Marie-Antoinette figure fails on all levels as the facts show the opposite (“Calls for payment reprieve,” Tabletalk, April 8).

The City has strenuously focused its efforts on securing the welfare of those most seriously affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

The City’s indigent-support system is proving to be far-sighted and robust enough to deal with a large part of the need at this time. The fact that 40% of the population get free services at a cost of R3 billion per annum is hardly “cosmetic”.

And the “tweaking” that permits those who have lost their income to immediately apply to have their property rates reduced to zero is hardly “cosmetic”.

The national agencies that are constitutionally responsible for feeding people and looking after the homeless are failing. Although it is not a local government function, the City is stepping in to provide food to starving residents and to provide temporary shelter for homeless people under trying circumstances and in the face of opportunistic opponents. The City has also engaged many economic sectors to facilitate a return to business as soon as that becomes possible.

Owners of guesthouses and bed and breakfasts who have lost their business are being assisted to reclassify their properties to residential so that their rates may be halved.

Concurrently, we have to ensure we retain the resources required to continue basic services. We have not yet seen the peak of this crisis, and our resources will have to carry us through many more months.

The health response alone will require an enormous effort and cost, from us all. Water, sanitation, nursing, cleansing and refuse, transport, electricity, fire services and law enforcement must all keep working.

It is the uninformed critics, not the City, who are crying for cake to be served at this time, when we all have to stick to metaphorical bread and water.

We are determined to husband the City’s resources to get through this crisis without passing the cost on to our residents through future massive, unaffordable rates and tariff charges.

Continuing to deliver basic services without financial failure and the continued high accountability that we are known for is the kindest thing we can do for our residents.