Highly respected former Cape Town City Engineer Arthur Clayton passed away at the age of 77 on 29 September 2012, while on Municipal Pension Fund business in London.
Arthur was born in 1935 in Windhoek and grew up there. He loved the bush, and it taught him the importance of trustworthy relationships – such as that between hunter and tracker – and that being calm and rational can be a life-saving attribute. At the same time he also learned the precious value of water and a pristine environment.
Arthur believed in the adage that we stand tall because we stand on the shoulders of those who went before us. He listened and learned from anyone who had a meaningful contribution to make. He was easy to talk to because he had a warm personality and a ready smile.
After graduating in 1957 from the University of Cape Town with a BSc (Eng) in civil engineering, Arthur worked for a contractor and then for Ninham Shand, before joining the then South West African Roads Department in 1963.
Seeing greater potential in municipal engineering, he joined the Windhoek Municipality two years later, working under then City Engineer Jan Brand. When Jan moved to Cape Town in 1967, Arthur was appointed to succeed him – a mere ten years after graduating. His portfolio included oversight of all engineering disciplines, as well as spatial planning, valuations, provision of housing and amenities, and related duties. He excelled in this position for 15 years.
Windhoek was rapidly expanding, and shortage of potable water was one of the greatest issues to be faced. Building on the work started on Jan’s watch, Arthur led the team which made Windhoek in 1968 the first water supply authority in the world to implement recycling of treated wastewater for use in the potable water supply system. A most self-effacing person, he would describe himself only as a member of the team which in 1970 received the Gold Medal of the Associated Scientific and Technical Societies in recognition of this ground-breaking work.
In 1982 he was appointed City Engineer of Port Elizabeth, and in December 1989 succeeded Des Riley as City Engineer of Cape Town. While holding this latter office, he received SAICE’s Urban Engineering Award for outstanding achievements in the field of urban engineering over an extended period of time.
Arthur’s energy and expertise were meantime drawn upon by national bodies, such as the Water Research Commission (board member from 1987 to 1997), and the Roads Board (1988 to 1997).
At his memorial service, his former Deputy City Engineer in Cape Town, Dave Bradley, movingly ascribed Arthur's success to his masterly hand-picking of a team competent in their individual fields, and his great ability to motivate people. Like a symphony orchestra conductor, said Dave, Arthur understood the music and brought in additional expert players (read consultants) to deliver a fine rendition of any chosen work.
He led the City Engineer’s Department with aplomb through the challenging times of the early 1990s. His considerable wisdom and firm, calm leadership of the approximately 8 000 staff members were invaluable when the Department was faced with strikes, a major oil spill following the sinking of a large bulk carrier (the Apollo Sea) just off Clifton in 1994, and a massive flood in Vredehoek.
Major infrastructure projects included rehabilitation of the storm-damaged Green Point sewer outfall and the building of the Faure Water Treatment Works. Faded from memory is the huge effort put into the unsuccessful Cape Town bid for the 2004 Olympic Games. However a positive spin-off was the sports facilities built with grant funding, such as the Hartleyvale hockey stadium.
National developments resulted in the need for major local changes and this put huge pressure on Arthur to offer solutions to a myriad of problems. Not least of the challenges were the service delivery backlogs which had to be tackled when the City took over the former Black Local Authorities. The amalgamation of 19 local authorities into seven, and later into a single metropolitan authority, required major diplomacy and input regarding human resources and systems changes. In March 1997 Arthur’s tenure as City Engineer of Cape Town – the last holder of this distinguished office – came to an end, and he was appointed to the newly created position of Executive Director: Water and Waste in the Metropolitan Council.
The Deputy City Manager of Cape Town, Mike Marsden, offered a glowing tribute to Arthur in the City’s formal obituary:
“Arthur was a highly respected professional who will be sorely missed… He had a huge positive influence on the careers of many young engineers, all of whom will attest to the support and encouragement they had received from him… He was possessed of sound judgment and knew just how to get the best out of his staff, with his leadership style driven by his almost unrivalled professional competency. The City owes Arthur a considerable debt of gratitude for his contribution over many years. He was certainly an icon of the civil engineering profession.”
Arthur retired from municipal service in 2001. His huge reservoir of knowledge still in demand, PricewaterhouseCoopers took him on board as a Senior Consultant. Here he consulted on civil engineering projects, including a large investigation in Windhoek! Later in the decade, Cape Town enticed him back in a part-time capacity, and he became professional advisor to mayoral committee members – first to the councillor responsible for utility services and thereafter to the councillor responsible for the transport, roads and stormwater portfolio. He played an important and valuable role using his experience and unflappable style to find innovative and sometimes simple solutions to technical challenges.
Arthur’s understanding of finance went way beyond the usual engineering role, and this, coupled with his special interest in the well-being of retired employees, led him to accept a trusteeship of the Cape Town Municipal Pension Fund. It was while engaged in this work that he passed away.
Kendall Kaveney, the City's Director: Development Facilitation, recalls his calmness under duress, his purpose, his decisiveness, and his impish sense of humour. For instance, while he was City Engineer of Windhoek a resident phoned him to say “my water is discoloured”. Arthur suggested that the man should see a doctor!
Arthur leaves his wife Cathy, three married children – Charlene, Billy and Gail – and six grandchildren.
Compiled by Kevin Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with contributions from Kendall Kaveney, David Bradley and Mike Marsden
Photos kindly supplied by Cathy Clayton