||Last month, commenting on the beach pollution fiasco, Mercury
editorialists advised city manager Mike Sutcliffe to advance a more
cogent argument than his presently unsubstantiated claims about
I've been reading the sayings of chairman Mike for some years, and don't
think this is a fair challenge, given how his words are systematically
distorted. For example, I was e-mailed the City Manager's Newsletter:
March 6 2008: Report to Committee: Update on Fish Kill, dated April 1.
(This particular newsletter was only sent out on April 5. That's why
state acquisition of the latest information technology is so useful - it
assures not the end of, but rather the exposure of, old-style
For months, we have waited for a convincing explanation. Because
Sutcliffe has not been forthcoming, I'm certain that some prankster
wrote this opening sentence under his name: Since the fish kill
incident in the Durban harbour during December 2007, the imperative for
an integrated response for harbour water quality management plan (sic)
to sustainably manage this sensitive marine ecosystem has gained
No, I didn't quite get that either, and re-reading doesn't help.
Unfortunately, though, there is nothing conclusive to report: Our
understanding of what contributed to the organic loading, which caused
the sag (sic) in the dissolved oxygen in the harbour estuarine water,
leading to the fish kill, was due (sic) to a multiplicity of factors, as
we have reported previously.
At one point, Sutcliffe comes close to confessing: The monitoring work
undertaken by Marine and Estuarine Research showed low dissolved oxygen
levels in the affected area, point (sic) to the proximal cause being the
discharge of sewage from a burst sewer pipe in the Umhlatuzana River in
the vicinity of Queensburgh.
This conclusion relied on hearsay (sic) and we then commissioned our
own scientists to analyse all data from those systems.
Thank goodness, we learn, mini-tasks (sic) teams have been constituted
to investigate specific issues.
For example, Data, trends and expert knowledge generated from this
management system will provide a robust basis to serve (sic) as a (sic)
early warning system, and to start making (sic) scientific associations
between inputs and effects.
Another of the mini-tasks: The ongoing challenges of solid and
industrial waste management also needs (sic) to be addressed to avoid
the system being unduly stressed. The number (sic) of wastewater
treatment works in our municipality serves as a facility to treat
organic-based industrial and domestic effluent.
Syntax-challenged sentences like these pepper Sutcliffe's official
communications, and simply cannot be his own work. After all, Sutcliffe
received his post-graduate education - a doctorate - in the United
States, and I am reliably informed it was not from the George W Bush
School of Texan Elocution, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
So the problem, I reckon, must be the messengers: all those
ghostwriters, editors and half-sober reporters who systematically
misquote him. If I'm wrong, and if Sutcliffe means what he says, then
all right-thinking people (an unoriginal Sutcliffism, March 8
newsletter) should reassess what comes out of the city manager's mouth,
in interview quotes or even his own words. These sayings of chairman
Mike often only make an iota of sense if you stand them on their head.
For example, on March 30, The Mercury quoted him on the rates fiasco:
The process has gone very well and has been accepted by all political
What Sutcliffe must have attempted to tell the journalist was that
eThekwini's public comment period was only a third as long as that of
other cities, that many communities were up in arms, and that the
council opposition leader was considering suing him to force a rethink.
Likewise, when in February 2007 Sutcliffe promised in his newsletter
headline, Ratepayers spared cost of the 2010 stadium and wrote: The
latest agreement with the provincial government should allay public
fears that there could be a looming rates increase to fund shortfalls,
he clearly had in mind a 10% rates hike within weeks, and much higher
hikes this year.
When the failure of Durban Transport's contract with Remant Alton was
covered in The Mercury, Sutcliffe was quoted as saying: There are no
current proposals on the table for a complete 'takeover' of the Durban
Transport bus operation.
But every other commentator, including Remant Alton, proposed
Once you learn to understand Sutcliffe upside down, it's not hard to
So when he told the press that he had e-mailed Blue Flag authorities in
Denmark to request that local representative Alison Kelly be removed
for suggesting improvements on Durban's beaches, Sutcliffe really meant
that they should praise Kelly for outstanding performance, which they
Failure to reverse Sutcliffe missives can have tragic consequences.
When in February 2006, he denied Abahlali baseMjondolo shackdwellers the
right to march, the courts learned the trick a bit late. A judge
overturned Sutcliffe's ban, but not before loyal police carried out
pellet-shooting and billy-stick bruising of low-income black skins.
Earlier this year, in Wentworth, community activists had shut nightclub
crime hot spots owing to gang violence.
As recounted by Desmond D'Sa, whose NGO receives foreign donations, as
Sutcliffe reminded us in January (hinting darkly at subversion): We
talked to the gang leaders and, over a long time, we got them to agree
So when an application to sell liquor there was made to Sutcliffe,
according to The Mercury, not just D'Sa, but also the SA Police Service
opposed the creation of clubs in a residential area on the basis that
these venues attracted undesirable elements.
All the role players were confident that, in the light of the unanimous
rejection of the reintroduction of nightclubs, it would never happen.
But Sutcliffe overruled the objections, even from his own staff, and
granted licences to the nightclubs.
For the sake of all of us in eThekwini, not just Wentworth, municipal
underlings and all right-reading people should demand a new council
post: city manager spindoctor-before-the-fact.
Alternatively, we must hold all Sutcliffe sayings to the mirror and
re-read them backwards. Or use them for loo paper. Just please do not do
what he says, for it must be a misquote.