The Lille city that could

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - JS Smit

As I write this, Cape Town has run out of may­ors for a full nine days. It’s odd, yes, and also un­prece­dented — by all in­di­ca­tions the first mod­ern city in his­tory to do so.

Run­ning out of may­ors hasn’t been pan­de­mo­nium, as ev­ery­one ex­pected. To be hon­est with you, I didn’t even no­tice it at first. The changes I did no­tice re­cently turned out to be the first win­ter chill set­ting in and a sud­den ab­sence of talk about wa­ter.

Of course, life with­out may­ors af­fects ev­ery­one dif­fer­ently. For those deal­ing with may­ors ev­ery day, ac­cess is vi­tally im­por­tant. In the cor­ri­dors of power, the lack of a mayor dis­rupts the nat­u­ral flow — a phe­nom­e­non the av­er­age per­son doesn’t re­ally no­tice in the cor­ri­dors of no power where we re­side.

But we read the news­pa­pers and we see the peo­ple who are sup­posed to give us may­ors shout and scream and we won­der: How did it get to the point where we’ve run out of may­ors?

Not too long ago, we had may­ors aplenty qui­etly go­ing about their busi­ness do­ing what may­ors do, what­ever that is.

Yes, it may be true, in hind­sight, that we took our may­ors for granted when we had them.

If, per­haps, we used our may­ors bet­ter we would not have run out of them.

If we had made gi­ant bill­boards plead­ing with ev­ery­one to “Save the mayor”, that “This is a may­orscarce area”, that “Ev­ery lit­tle mayor counts” — maybe then we would still have a mayor.

But as I say that, I re­coil.

Is it up to us to dote on the mayor? Why should we suf­fer when the mayor gets into a scrap? Can’t the mayor and the peo­ple around the mayor just grow up?

But we’re not suf­fer­ing. No, we’re sol­dier­ing on. We’re the Lille city that could — and can.

For the past nine days we’ve wo­ken up ev­ery morn­ing may­or­less and sim­ply got on with it. In cer­tain re­gards, it has even been bet­ter now with­out a mayor.

Gone are the days when we were def­i­nitely, and most ab­so­lutely, go­ing to run out of wa­ter while the mayor was in of­fice. Time is ours again. As the mayor saga drags on, it be­comes less ap­peal­ing — to me at least — to read the news.

As the shares of the mayor ar­ti­cles dwin­dle, I find my­self go­ing out­side more to take in the sights and sounds of a city ap­par­ently oper­at­ing with­out a leader at the helm.

And, oh, is it a mag­nif­i­cent sight: peo­ple in buses and cars head­ing to work along high­ways (slow-mov­ing, yes, but mov­ing none­the­less) to earn a liv­ing.

Moth­ers tak­ing chil­dren to schools with roofs and books and all sorts of things.

Tourists vis­it­ing at­trac­tions in droves; up and down the cable car they go — gawk­ing, oohing and aahing at one of the most mag­nif­i­cent cities in the world, thriv­ing with no gover­nance to speak of.

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