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.

A final report back from Richard Midgley

Welcome one and all, with a special mention to our esteemed guest speaker, Abdulla Parker; our councillor, Aimee Kuhl; our auditor, Ian Mackay; our long-serving nature reserve and waterways champion, Kyran Wright; and our resident architect, Gordon Hart.

We are exceptionally lucky to live in such an amazing place and yet we have a small handful of members who spend an awful lot of time finding fault.

This speech is dedicated to the silent and vast majority. The people who spend their time walking their leashed dogs along our streets without fear, picking up their pets’ droppings as responsible residents; playing with their kids and grandkids in our waterways and public open spaces. Those who empathise with neighbours who are not doing well and assist them wherever possible. These are the Marina residents that your ExCom works for  ̶  tirelessly.

ExCom comprises a group of highly accomplished professionals including surveyors, engineers, security experts and communicators. If we don’t have the skills in-house, we are connected well enough that we are able to call upon outside professionals for one purpose and one purpose alone: to make the Marina a better place today than it was yesterday.

Some downsides are here to stay – even with the best will in the world. Every year, we will have algae blooms, pond weed growth, sewerage leaks, and one or two breakdowns of the Kingfisher – old or new – just as we have had for the last five decades. Undoubtedly,  we will continue to encounter these problems in a man-made water body with all the complications that come with it.

So, what do we do about them?

As your ExCom, we are fully engaged with people at the highest levels in the City of Cape Town – as borne out by Mr Parker’s presence here tonight. The City is re-purposing its direction with waterways being the top priority, and we quietly take pride that our efforts may be a small part of the reason for this.

Here are some of the other actions we have taken to further professionalise our office and ensure that the MDGA’s financial affairs run on a sound and secure basis:

  • We appointed a professional bookkeeper who reconciles receipts and subscription accounts, mails all MDGA statements, inputs data into Pastel and produces monthly financials within a week of month-end. These financials are then published through our various communication channels. We also made this appointment to help relieve Marcia of her very heavy workload.
  • We upgraded to the latest version of Pastel to access automated bank reconciliations, among labour-saving features. And to eliminate disruption in the office, we bought a UPS to ensure we remain connected to the internet during load-shedding.
  • We appointed a payroll management company that charges a nominal fee to pay PAYE/UIF while maintaining a leave register and issuing monthly payslips – a legal obligation.
  • We have taken the position of Public Officer for SARS away from the non-ExCom member and brought it in-house. We are currently appointing Marcia as our Public Officer.
  • We now email and hand-deliver subscription statements monthly, so no members can claim ignorance of their respective status.
  • ExCom meets every month with our debt collectors to follow up on collections and plan for action in the upcoming period. A massive ongoing improvement in debt collecting ensured we recovered R339,000 in 2021-22.
  • We have improved camera monitoring by changing from iTrak to Navic, the best-connected service provider in the Southern Peninsula. We have completed the installation of cameras protecting the road reserve north of the Uitsig wall and the canal coming into the Marina at Uitsig. We have installed two cameras at Battleridge and cleared the bush along the Battleridge wall, giving us excellent line of sight and security access, if needed. All these cameras have 24-hour monitoring and armed response.
  • ExCom members meet with the SAPS Station Commander every six weeks, which has been a bit problematic over the last few months; and with the Marina’s island security teams every two months or more frequently, depending on circumstances.
  • We have appointed a six-member gardening company, whose owner has work permits, while complying with the AGM commitment to employ SA citizens whenever possible. Under the supervision of volunteer residents on each island, the Marina Gardeners have made massive improvements to our public open spaces.
  • We have ramped up our contacts with senior managers and politicians at the City of Cape Town. We hosted a delegation of 11 managers and a councillor for an onsite inspection of our waterways, the Kingfisher and at least one pump station.
  • We have three representatives on ZPAAC, where we maintain a strong and constructive presence, especially with local councillors, City officials and Kyran Wright.
  • We are active in the Vrygrond community and meet regularly with community representatives to discuss local issues as well as the proposed Vrygrond low-cost housing plan.

Communications

We understand that the world’s rapid acceleration into the age of digital communications is irreversible. The MDGA could not sit idly by and allow this significant opportunity to pass us by. Accordingly, we have leapt into the digital communication space and fully embraced the challenge and opportunities it brings. Here, we owe Patrick McKenna a great debt of gratitude for his tireless efforts and focus on professionalising our communication function, expanding our communication footprint and raising the frequency of the updates we send to members. We also have a highly professional website that holds all our historical memories as well as all monthly financials and ExCom reports and minutes. Meanwhile, the open rate for our email newsletter is around 40-50% versus an average for email newsletters of between 25-30%. We distribute around 1,543 copies of the email newsletter at least twice a month, often more frequently. Yes, our communications do miss a few members who are still not online. But we have made a commitment to hand-deliver printed communications and updates whenever requested. Unfortunately, this is Patrick’s last ExCom event as he takes time out to refocus his efforts on his business career. Thank you, Patrick, from us all.

In closing…

My last four years on ExCom have been a wild rollercoaster ride. It is difficult to replicate the joys of living in the Marina with its beauty, peace and safety. And it has been an honour to lead on your behalf the ExCom that we cherish. But, as with all things, there is a time to move on, hand over to new blood – and not lurk in the shadows throwing stones.

Ulf Martz, my successor, is a remarkable person with an abundance of energy and professionalism. He will take the MDGA to the next level and I will always be there to assist – but only when asked. I will never interfere.

Ulf, I wish you and the ExCom well and I have utmost trust that you and your colleagues will go from strength to strength.

All about Park Island Arbor Day 2022

With the exception of a couple of drought years and a few for COVID, the Friends of Park Island have added to the rehabilitation of Park Island every June since 1999 by hosting a Park Island Arbor Day. Here’s a quick Q&A on plans for this year’s Arbor Day.

Why June and not the national Arbor Day in September?

In the Cape, we reside in a Mediterranean climate area that experiences wet winters and extremely hot, dry and windy summers. To enable our new plants to get established, we need to make the most of a season of winter rain.

What area of Park Island are you focusing on this year?

The new dog off-leash park. In order to soften the visual effect of this area, which is fenced out of necessity, we wish to ‘landscape’ the west and northern fence line with appropriate plants. 

What plants have you chosen and how will they be paid for?  

We are extremely fortunate to welcome Kathy Sutton to our team. She is creating/managing the planting plan this year and, hopefully, into the future.

Arbor Day offers a unique opportunity to you, the community, to purchase, plant and watch your investment grow on our special island. For as little as R30, you can make a contribution. We will be there on the day to assist you plant your investment.

We are looking forward to welcoming you all.  Bring family, friends and don’t forget your dogs. Also, bring cash, gardening gloves and a trowel. We will have dug/prepared all the holes beforehand. See you there.

A word of thanks

Friends of Park Island would like to take this opportunity to thank the outgoing MDGA ExCom members for their loyal support for our efforts during these difficult times. It has been greatly appreciated.

We should also like to thank all those who contribute financially to the Friends of Park Island /ZENR partnership. Without your generosity we could not do what we do.

Very important:a big thank you to Deep Blue for taking over the onerous but vital task of giving annual, daily access via the pedestrian gate to Park Island Nature Reserve as a community service.

Please note the new emergency telephone number displayed on the gate.

Meet the newest Friends of Park Island team member

Kathy Sutton is a long-time resident of Marina da Gama, having lived here since 1997. She works as a freelance editor. But in the early 2000s, she decided to follow her longtime passion for plants and obtained a National Diploma in Horticulture from the then Cape Technikon. Her main interest is in indigenous plants and she spent time working at Kirstenbosch and Dr Boomslang Nursery. Since she qualified, she has continued with her freelance editing work, but has always pursued her interest in plants and nature whenever possible.

What we plan to plant

The plants we have chosen are all staples of the Cape Flat Dune Strandveld, which is the natural vegetation type on Park Island. These hardy plants cover and stabilise the sandy coastal areas. They produce a colourful spring display and create habitat and shelter for many creatures, big and small, including insects and birds. It is an endangered vegetation type, with large tracts now lost to urbanisation and building.

Typical Cape Strandveld plants include tall, evergreen shrubs, interspersed with bulbs, grasses, succulents and annuals. At this stage we are concentrating on planting shrubs such as Chrysanthemoides monilifera (Bietou), Metalisia muricata (Blombos), Searsia (formerly Rhus) crenata (Dune Crowberry)and S. glauca (Blue Kuni-bush) and Eriocephalus africanus (Wild Rosemary) as well as the larger Tarchonanthus camphoratus (Cape Camphor tree) to create screening of the new fenced-in lead-free area for dogs near the entrance to the island. We will include a few smaller plants such as Salvia africana lutea (Beach Sage) and S. lanceolata (Rooisalie), Nylandtia spinosa (Tortoise berry), Agathosma glabrata (Sand Buchu), Otholobium bracteolatum (Skaapbostee), Pelargonium betulinum (Camphor-scented Pelargonium) and a few Podalyria sericea (Silver Sweet Pea Bush). We are also very pleased to have found a beautiful Sideroxylon inerme (Milkwood) which we hope will grow tall and strong to provide shade for the bench in the enclosed area.

Feedback on Lavender Hill fire appeal

Park Island resident, Beverley Roos-Muller, updates us on how community members helped victims of a devastating fire to turn their lives around.

Photo caption: Paul Kuiler stands at the doorway of his new wooden home, donated by the Weight family from the Marina.

When five Lavender Hill families lost literally everything they owned, after fire destroyed their shacks on the night of 19 May, the prompt compassion and generosity with which Marina residents responded was crucial in helping them restart their lives.

Bags of clothing, household linen and bedding and other much-needed household items have arrived daily. The Weight family generously sponsored a new wooden home for Paul Kuiler and his family. Now constructed on his site, it will radically change their living conditions. Lynne Weight has been on-site every day, in a particularly dangerous section of the shack village. Her energy and constructive contribution have been invaluable, as has that of Lara and (the other) Lynne. Te same applies to all of you who have taken time to think of their plight, and respond so kindly.

Some of the donated goods in Beverley’s house! “There is more,” she says, “including in my garage. Most of this will be moved to the families by the weekend.”

Responders stretched across every divide, including age. Little Lucy of Park Island brought a bright bucket of treats for seven-year-old Danielle Kuiler. Meanwhile Aunt Betty Pretorius of Retreat gave a bag of fine clothing, beautifully packed – she is about to turn 90! And said that, as a former victim of the Group Areas Act, she did so because she knew what it felt like to lose everything.

The fire department must be commended for arriving so promptly, within minutes – helping to limit the spread of fire to only the five affected shacks. City of Cape Town officials have participated; watching site-and-service delivery there, every day, reassuring us that our rates are being put to essential use.

The wonderful Aunt Betty Pretorius of Retreat.

One of the first donations was from little Lucy of Park Island; this lovely bucket of treats for seven-year-old Danielle Kuiler, who was thrilled.

The appeal is now closed except for funding, which has been critical; there were so many unexpected expenses (and still are), from transport to communications, school needs, as well as food.

Thank you on behalf of those whose lives were shattered one fiery night, and who are now beginning to face the future with new hope and dignity.

Read Beverley’s original appeal here.

Photos: Beverley Roos-Muller