Cape Town at night. Picture: THE TIMES
Cape Town at night. Picture: THE TIMES

ON TUESDAY Cape Town’s media manager, Priya Reddy, tweeted an extract from a MyBroadband story in which the online website had tried to obtain information about load shedding from all the major metros and only Cape Town was able to provide a detailed response; some of the other metros were unable to respond at all.

You see such snippets of information all the time — from clean audit reports to capital spend. Cape Town is, without doubt, the most efficiently run metro in the country. The pattern is the same with regard to the Western Cape provincial government. There is simply a different ethos in the two Democratic Alliance-run strongholds and it shows.

But there are more substantial differences between Cape Town and the other metros.

Take water supply for example. Cape Town manages its bulk water supply as well as its distribution. This is different from, say, what happens in Gauteng, where the Rand Water Board is charged with distribution –— a service outsourced to the various metros in the province.

The result is a substantial difference in the amount of water lost during distribution. As Cape Town’s 2013-14 annual report points out: "The City measures its overall water losses in terms of pipelines and connection losses, meter inaccuracies and unauthorised water consumption. In the year under review, the City successfully reduced its overall water loss to 14.5%. This is less than all other metros in the country, which maintain a combined average water loss of 29.7%."

That is a significant gap, and the Cape Town figure is on par with water loss ratios for some of the best-run cities in the world.

In the inner central business district, the City has rolled out a massive IT infrastructure programme to provide free internet to key businesses and public institutions, such as hospitals. It is part of a R1.3bn seven-year broadband network strategy.

In March this year Business Day reported that the city intends to pursue new, independent (from Eskom) power supplies to make it less reliant on the national grid in the face of a power-shortage crisis.

Cape Town deputy mayor Ian Neilson put it like this: "We reiterate our previously stated interest in entering into a power purchase agreement with a private company that will construct a gas-fired power station within the city to provide Cape Town with a power supply which is not dependent on Eskom’s monopoly and which will provide an anchor for the investment required to bring a gas supply into our city. This would directly support the growth of larger-scale renewable energy resources in Cape Town and the Western Cape. A national grid powered by large power stations cannot be our sole source of energy, or even of electricity."

These are big, forward-looking structural changes and they are starting to come about because the metro, under the watchful eye of the DA, has now turned around and mastered the small systems and structures that are normally taken for granted, and is thus able to plan ahead as a result. Not just plan ahead, but to actually realise those plans. Other metros, indeed the national government, have these sorts of lofty ideals too, only they have generally yet to get the basics right and so these ideals remain imagined more than realised.

It takes a long time for a new administration to repair the damage caused by a previous one and the African National Congress (ANC) did much to the City. Now, after about eight years in charge, Cape Town is showing signs of being the first metro in the country to actually start to behave like a normal city. That is not to suggest the obstacles in its way — those grand discrepancies that are apartheid’s legacy — are by any means repaired. The point is that the systems and programmes necessary to address them effectively are functioning properly.

The result is something of a different universe in the Western Cape. It is a world were the basics themselves can be taken for granted: a phone call will be answered, budgets will be spent, systems are outcomes orientated, deliverables are produced on time, standards are monitored and maintained, human resources are based on excellence, and there is a level of accountability not seen across the rest of the country.

And, of course, there is just as much evidence in what is not said about Cape Town: generally corruption free, no litany of massive golden handshakes to rid itself of poor or politically problematic appointments, no sustained abuse of tender procedures, no blatant refusal to account before council and no merry-go-round of executive changes.

There are other big infrastructure concerns the city is not entirely responsible for. It is responsible for some roads; others fall under provincial or national jurisdiction. Metro Rail is still a national competence and ports and harbours are still run out of Pretoria. But if ever there was a case for federalising those, you would struggle to find a better reason to outsource than Cape Town’s management and plans for its water and electricity supply.

The ANC in the Western Cape, a disorganised, divided and entirely reactionary mess, loses ground to the DA almost weekly. One of the great ironies of South African politics is how the ANC, so quick to accuse the DA of "shouting from the sidelines", is so utterly and totally devoid of any alternative of its own when it comes to being the opposition in the City and province. At policy level it simply cannot compete with the DA administration. Not so much playing catch-up as entirely being unaware there is a race on at all.

As the City moves from correcting to streamlining its systems to actually using them to establish a grand design, it will set in place plans and ideas that will define the City’s future for the next ten to twenty years.

It is happening already. When those are set in motion, it will be the DA’s agenda that will define the City for decades, regardless of whether or not the ANC ever regains control. That seems possible only if the DA suffers some kind of internal meltdown.

What is the ANC’s plan for Cape Town? The answer is it has none. It has been absolutely eviscerated by sheer excellence and its own inner turmoil.

Cape Town will be worth watching closely over the next ten years. At some point it will reach a stage where it will have done everything within its power — that is, everything not under national control — and the only thing holding it back from complete separation from the rest of SA will be the ANC-run national administration.

Now there is an irony for you.

Just like bad governance, good governance is self-replicating. After five years of repair and reconstruction the City is taking off. And that pattern will gather more speed with time. As it does the ANC in the Western Cape and elsewhere is going to be left further and further in the distance, as comparisons become increasingly stark and definitive in turn.