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BUSINESS MAVERICK: OP-ED

While councillors squabble, taps run dry in Siya Kolisi’s hometown 

While councillors squabble, taps run dry in Siya Kolisi’s hometown 
Illustrative Image: (Photo: Flickr / Steve Dorman)

A Nelson Mandela Bay township has to endure water cuts on a daily basis while the region’s politicians are back to their old form: they are immersed in political skirmishes instead of running the city’s administration. 

Collecting and storing drinking water is an intricate affair in Zwide, the Port Elizabeth township famed for having reared Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok captain Siya Kolisi. 

Every day, without fail, the taps run dry at around 6:00 am. Sometimes it’s earlier or a bit later in the day, but the occurrence is a daily certainty. This can be an all-day ordeal or a four-hour inconvenience. On good days, licks of water start trickling and dripping out at around 10:00 am. On bad days, the trickle never comes.

On most days, the water comes back, on other days, it does not. Collecting water and ensuring there is enough of it stored in containers is a well-timed dance with reality.

When there is enough of it and it is flowing freely from the taps, it is easy to forget what precious resource water is. But it becomes excruciating when you are forced to do without water for several hours every day for seven days a week. 

You negotiate your daily house chores around water availability. Simple tasks such as doing laundry, cooking, cleaning and bathing become organised around erratic water supply.  

Time stands still as you attempt to figure out what tasks there are that do not require water. You discover there are few, because water is integral to everything in the household.

Throughout December, water cuts ran in tandem with load shedding. This is the new normal for Zwide residents.

Residents in this township have found creative ways to remain resilient, despite their patience being worn thin and tested by a haphazard municipal administration. There’s no official schedule that indicates when and for how long the taps will run dry. The water cuts just happen. Even worse, there does not appear to be any mitigation strategy.  

The municipal administration seems to be winging matters and is directionless in the absence of a mayor. Not too long ago, things were looking up in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality. But the metro has fallen into its old pattern of political dysfunction.  

Historically, this is an ANC stronghold. But the party’s grip on power was broken in the aftermath of the 2016 local government elections. Prior to that, the governing party was on a downward trend, electorally speaking.  

At the height of its long reign, the municipal administration became a proxy for ANC factional politics and battles. This correlated with the administrative decline in the municipal council. The result was a noticeable decay in the provision of services to the metro’s residents.

Power changing hands in 2016 came with the expectations of administrative stability and better services for residents. Anecdotal accounts from residents suggest the first few months post-2016 were characterised by noticeable changes. They were optimistic the metro was turning a corner.

But, true to form, the metro’s toxic politics re-emerged. Since the August 2016 local government poll, Nelson Mandela Bay’s council has successfully unseated two mayors through votes of no confidence.

On the face of it, this represents a victory for the politicians, depending on which side of the political fence they’re on. For residents, however, this spells disaster.

As the political skirmishes unfold and threaten to destabilise Nelson Mandela Bay’s administration even further, residents bear the brunt. Instead of devising strategies to mitigate the region’s water challenges, the metro’s councillors are mesmerised by factional battles.

Whichever parties emerge on top or whichever candidate successfully recaptures the mayoral seat in the metro have their work cut out to regain residents’ trust.

Nelson Mandela Bay residents have demonstrated a healthy appetite for political change when faced with unresponsive politicians. They are watching their politicians’ shenanigans closely with the understanding of how that behaviour affects their daily reality.

With less than a year to go until the next local government elections, Nelson Mandela Bay’s councillors are running out of time to get their act together. They have forgotten who put them in power. They run the risk of being reminded who their key stakeholders are: the residents of the metro. BM

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Otsile Nkadimeng - photo by Thom Pierce

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