City of Cape Town speaker retires

Dirk Smit, retired City of Cape Town speaker, with his wife, Elna Smit.

After 45 years in public office, City of Cape Town speaker Dirk Smit has hung up his hat.

Mr Smit announced his retirement yesterday, Thursday April 29, and packed up his office today, Friday April 30, when he will leave to start the next relaxing chapter of his life.

Mr Smit grew up and went to school in Alberton, Gauteng. He was involved in all kinds of sport, including earning his South African colours in boxing.

At a young age, Mr Smit became interested in community service. “I was very outspoken and very involved in the organisations. I was involved party politics, ratepayers’ associations and community activities, sport clubs and child and family welfare organisations of the old Transvaal.”

In 1974, Mr Smit said he became a member of the ratepayers’ association in his hometown of Alberton.

He was asked to avail himself for the municipal elections and in 1976 he was elected as councillor. Four years later, he was elected as the deputy mayor of Alberton, and thereafter, was elected mayor twice.

He also served as the chairman of the executive committee of the council, and on various school bodies and sports clubs.

“I was very active in the community in Alberton.Those days, elections were not political; it was for the ratepayers’ associations.”

This was the beginning of a long career in public service, and the political sphere for Mr Smit.

In 1994, during South Africa’s first democratic election, Mr Smit was elected a member of the provincial legislature, and served as chairman of one of the standing committees under the then premier of Gauteng, Tokyo Sexwale.

After the first transitional council was implemented in the Transvaal post-apartheid, Mr Smit served as head of the council. “I was politically neutral, and we were a council for service delivery.

He said post-apartheid, everyone worked towards uniting the people of South Africa. “When I first started as a councillor, service delivery was a priority for the civic. After politics came into play, all of a sudden, policies became important.”

Mr Smit moved to Cape Town in 2003 and was approached by the leader of the Freedom Front to avail himself as a candidate for the party. He was elected city councillor in 2006, as well as speaker. Thereafter, all the smaller political parties joined forces to create a party that would later align with the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Mr Smit joined the DA in 2009 after the floor crossing policy was implemented.

In his 15 years as the council speaker, Mr Smit said he had seen many mayors and premiers come and go: including Helen Zille as the first mayor, and later premier of the Western Cape; Dan Plato, who would become MEC of Community Safety and now serves as mayor for the second time; and Patricia de Lille, who also served as mayor. He has also seen DA leaders come and go, including Tony Leon, Helen Zille, Athol Trollip, Lindiwe Mazibuko, Mmusi Maimane and Theuns Botha.

Mr Smit recalls two of his most challenging times as council speaker – the first one being the Erasmus Commission in 2008, when the then premier Ebrahim Rasool appointed Judge Nathan Erasmus to investigate “wrongdoings” in the City. He said after a taxing time with the investigation, the court ruled in favour of the City government as the investigation was deemed illegal.

Another challenge was the Bowman’s forensic report into allegations of maladministration in the City of Cape Town in 2018, against the then mayor, Patricia de Lille.

Ms De Lille was found not guilty of any of the allegations.

There was also a vote of no confidence in Mr Smit himself in 2018, brought on by the ANC, which he said he won by 157 votes to 50.

Asked about the victories of the City of Cape Town during his tenure, Mr Smit said: “The City of Cape Town has many big and small victories over the years.

“In my time, I experienced that the City of Cape Town is the best run metro with a very good financial standing.”

Mr Smit attributed this to the fact that as the chairperson of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) Speakers’ Forum in the Western Cape, which he also resigned from, he had been invited to visit other metros in South Africa. “My claim to fame was to be part of the team that manages the best run metro in South Africa.”

After Mr Dirk’s 15-year stint as speaker, he said he will leave politics behind.

“I’m going to live closer to my six grandchildren and my five children – 10 now because they are married. I also want to travel with my wife.

“I feel good about it. To get politics out of me won’t happen overnight, but I have to discipline myself and try to do things that are important to me and my family after all these years of doing what was important for the communities.“

Mr Smit will also try to focus on his hobbies, which are gardening, woodwork and also, hunting.

Asked about how the City should move forward during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Smit said the most important thing the City of Cape Town must do is assist the Western Cape Government in aggressively rolling out the vaccine. “All the GPs should be an extended arm of the health sector. That’s the best thing Cape Town can do.”

As Mr Smit walked to close the door after the women left his office for the last time (“ladies don’t open doors in this office”), he mentioned that he hasn’t taken leave in 10 years, and now he will take leave forever.

“I’m a ’has-been’ now… but a has been is always better than a never-been,” he said.