JHB City Council

Johannesburg Junior City Council – No room for those who think small

johannesburg-city-council-michael-eilertsen-badge-feature-imageFor those of you who don’t know, Johannesburg has its own junior city council, an exact replica of the official one, with various committees reporting to the chamber executives, with the goal of tackling key issues.

In 1999, St David’s High School was selected to join and I was fortunate enough to be one of the two pupils selected to get involved. Every Friday, 160 seventeen-year-old students left their respective schools at 12:00 and headed off to the city centre.

With everything being rather official, meetings were held in the official council chambers, and like we see on the news every week, the protocol is tedious even if you even have the smallest thing to say.

The first month involved a rigorous election process, where all the students campaigned for the various committees or the coveted executive seats, five positions that would run the independent committees.

After that month, I had the greatest respect for the American political candidates, as promoting yourself without coming across as being arrogant or self-absorbed is definitely a skill.

With a month lost to the initial elections, we had 11 months to conceptualise our projects, create time lines, propose budgets and ultimately execute it to a standard that would hopefully leave South Africa a little different, and better.

I landed up on the executive committee in the role of managing PR for all the committees projects.

For all those who have gripes against our councils, committees or government, I have to tell you firsthand that it is a lot more complex than it looks. When you as an individual want to do something, the only permission you require is that of your own, but as more people, procedures and laws are applied, even simple tasks take weeks.

Three months in and you have barely had more than an idea of where you will be making your difference. Protocols follow your every thought, as everything has to be documented and recorded should future committees need to carry on where you left off.

The next thing you learn is that what some see as making a difference, you may see as small or insignificant. The previous year, one committee had created a nursery school in Diepsloot,  and it had been done in a way that it remained sustainable.

In comparison we were having litter drives on Northcliff Hill or small charity drives in East Rand Mall. Yes, both made a difference; but if you are in a major leadership role you are not afforded the right to think small, you are expected to think big and out the box.

Understanding the council mechanism now, I believe the voting process should include your full plan for the year, with set objectives, timelines and budgets. It would mean we could filter the boys from the men before the wrong thinkers get in office, and that projects could commence from day one, while being held to a strict timeline. The above makes sense to any businessperson, but when it comes to the government space, logical business practice goes out the window.

Maybe that is why the private sector grows leaps and bounds every year, but government projects feel like they going backwards.

Our council year was marked by no events of significance, I look back now and rack my brain for what we achieved and nothing stands out. Maybe our contribution was the lessons and frustrations we experienced,  of those who don’t dare to be different and are happy to fade in the halls of the forgotten.

Maybe our year’s ‘day in the sun’ is still to come, as the spirits of those who are restless to make a difference are fuelled for bigger things.