Ulf Martz: time for new rules of engagement

We caught up with the next ExCom Chair, Ulf Martz, to discuss his vision for the MDGA, the challenges and priorities ahead, and – critically – how to build a full-strength ExCom

First things first: congratulations on your appointment. As per the usual etiquette, we’re sure you’d like to pay tribute to your predecessor, Richard Midgley.

Absolutely. Richard’s attention to detail, tireless energy and his formidable strength in the face of multiple challenges and frustration make him a very hard act to follow. His final report (see above) is an impressive tribute to his numerous achievements. Of course, there is still so much to be done. But the good news is that Richard has committed to offering support and guidance whenever I need it. On behalf of us all, I would like to thank him for everything he has done during his many years on the ExCom.

What are your personal priorities over the next year or so?

The new Kingfisher, for starters. The City of Cape Town admittedly handled the last acquisition of a new Kingfisher poorly. We will follow the procurement stages closely to hold the City accountable to its commitment on delivery of the weed harvesters.

Kingfishers aside, my priority is to focus on the factors that we can control. For example, the strength of our security infrastructure, the quality of our parks and open spaces, the state of our infrastructure and waterways. And, of course, our standards. Everything we do will begin and end with making sure we stay faithful to the MDGA constitution and members.

But let’s be upfront about the fact that are starting your tenure with a skeleton ExCom.

That is why one of my other priorities is to co-opt new members as a matter of urgency. Not just any individuals – but the right ones with the right skills and mindset. The Marina is full of highly competent and accomplished individuals, so we know that the right talents are out there. But persuading them to join ExCom is still a tough sell. For a start, the work is unpaid, the hours are long, the responsibilities can feel overwhelming, and the role, while considered rewarding, is not always appreciated by all.

There is another factor that I do not want to dwell on. But unless we acknowledge it, we will never solve it. Many of the people our members have spoken to about joining ExCom say they are reluctant to come on board because they cannot ignore the abuse that ExCom members routinely receive from a very small but persistent number of individuals.

We fully accept the need for scrutiny and accountability. We know we can always do better. We are prepared to put in the hours and the effort to ensure we do. But tolerating this hostility is another matter – and social media only makes matters worse. Growing a thick skin helps, but when your family members are also exposed to attacks, then the rules of engagement have to change.

Fortunately, the vast majority of MDGA members have the emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills to understand that conflict does not produce positive results or attract people to your cause.

True. But unfortunately, these issues have been going on for years and they are not confined to any particular ExCom.

So, what to do?

I feel this would be a good time to begin a new chapter in the engagement between the MDGA ExCom and its members. To agree new rules of engagement and set out our roles and responsibilities so that members know where our remit begins and ends. Members are often surprised, for example, that we have zero control over the Kingsfisher or the waterways. Believe me: if we could have conjured a new weed harvester out of thin air during the latest algae crisis, we would have.

In terms of the possible, we would commit to carrying out our constitutional duties to the very best of our ability. Investing the time. Attending the meetings. Making the phone calls. Drafting and redrafting the emails. Lobbying the decision makers. Applying the pressure. Responding to our members. Always accepting and acting on constructive advice in the spirit of co-operation. But never accepting abuse. Of course, it takes two to tango. So, it would be interesting to hear what members think of this idea. Another agenda point for another time, perhaps?

For now, though, I want to celebrate the many good things about being an ExCom member and Marina resident. Like the fantastic work that our Events portfolio holder, Dominique Erasmus, is doing with her partners in the community. The difference that our gardening volunteers have made through their joint efforts with the Marina gardeners. The wonderful work that the Friends of Park Island do. Our consistently low crime rate. And despite all the problems and challenges we face, the fantastic natural surroundings that we wake up to every morning.

I look forward to taking our commitment to the community and the neighbourhood we share to the next level.