Maverick Citizen: Eastern Cape

EC Premier to announce new partnership model for citizens to work with local government

By Estelle Ellis 24 February 2020

Protesters recently closed the roads to Hofmeyr in ongoing protests over water and electricity outages in the town. (Photo: supplied)

Faced with unprecedented legal action to dissolve dysfunctional municipalities in the Eastern Cape, Premier Oscar Mabuyane was expected to announce plans during his State of the Province speech on Tuesday to co-operate with communities and civic groups to ensure better local government performance.

A public/private partnership between municipalities, community organisations and civil society will likely be announced on Tuesday during Premier Oscar Mabuyane’s Eastern Cape State of the Province Address as the province’s government battles lawsuits to have two of its municipalities dissolved due to their unconstitutional failure to provide basic services.

Protesters recently closed the roads to Hofmeyr in ongoing protests over water and electricity outages in the town. (Photo: supplied)

In January 2020 the Makhanda High Court ruled that the Makana Municipality’s council should be dissolved for its unconstitutional failures to provide even basic services to Makhanda and its surrounding towns. The Eastern Cape government and the Makana municipality have indicated that they will appeal against this ruling.

Shortly afterwards a group of community organisations in Komani and its surrounding towns brought an application for the Enoch Mgijima Municipal Council to be dissolved on the same basis.

Jacqueline Wijtenberg from Let’s Talk Komani said following the filing of their court application, a special adviser to the Office of the Premier was requested by President Cyril Ramaphosa to meet them. Delegates at the meeting included representatives from the Border Kei Chamber of Business, the Queenstown Civic and Ratepayers Association, the Black Management Forum, Komani Residents’ Association (KORA), Phakamisa Business Forum, the Enoch Mgijima Farmers Union, Basic Services Komani, the Queenstown Education Foundation and Zointralesa Traditional Organisation. She said the mayor had been invited, but did not arrive for the meeting. The municipality is opposing Let’s Talk Komani’s court case.

“We want to put together a plan on how we can partner with government for a transitional period to lift the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality out of its downward spiral,” Wijtenberg said adding that all parties present in the meeting agreed that “an intervention is necessary”.

She said the financial situation in the municipality was critical.

“The 2019 year-end audited report shows that R894-million in wasteful and unauthorised expenditure was recently written off by the municipality. On average, half of the electricity purchased by the municipality has either not been invoiced, or stolen. At the end of March, the municipality must pay a rough total of R75-million for salaries, electricity and its court-ordered debt repayment to Eskom. But its average monthly revenue collection is only R23-million,” Wijtenberg said.

She said the municipality must pay back R30-million to Eskom in terms of a court-ordered payment plan and R18-million to keep its account up to date with the electricity provider.

She said it had been explained to them at the meeting that the Eastern Cape cabinet was in favour of a proposal that details which areas of technical expertise civic groups and community organisations can offer if a public-private partnership is constructed so that there can be one approach and one process.

She said, however, that they had made it clear that they would not back down on their court case until they were sure that the municipal leadership was “credible and trustworthy”.

The deputy chairperson of Let’s Talk Komani, Zolile Roger, said they were keen to “go sell” the idea of a public-private partnership to communities in both Komani and the surrounding towns.

“The idea of a partnership is a good idea, but we need better leaders in the Enoch Mgijima Municipality,” he said. He said while municipal officials promised to attend the meeting with the premier’s adviser, nobody arrived.

“The entire Hofmeyr is regularly without water. People are chasing the water trucks away because they want water in their taps. The trucks, they tell us, are used because there are corrupt deals,” said Roger.

He said after two weeks of total water outages the water was restored only when the community of Hofmeyr burnt tyres and protested in the town.

“The town also frequently has no electricity,” said Roger. He said there were three dams around Hofmeyr but their water was being sent to other towns.

“Really, we are at a stage now where we say if you can only bring the water back, it will be good. People are really gatvol. Everything is bad here – roads, infrastructure. There is no service delivery any more.”

Mabuyane’s spokesperson Mvusi Sicwetsha confirmed that the meeting with Let’s Talk Komani took place.

“The premier will talk about this and how the government will work with municipalities and communities to ensure sustainable performance by the municipalities when he delivers the state of the province address,” Sicwetsha said. “He welcomes the commitment by the stakeholders to find lasting solutions for this municipality.”

Roger said the water was not under the control of the Enoch Mgijima Municipality, but was managed by the Chris Hani District Municipality.

Last week, the Democratic Alliance’s Eastern Cape Midlands Constituency leader, Retief Odendaal, wrote to Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu to request that a water committee be appointed to take over the management of water from the Chris Hani District Municipality.

“The Chris Hani District Municipality has to provide water and sanitation services in one way or another to at least six local municipalities, namely: Inxuba Yethemba, Enoch Mgijima, Intsika Yethu, Emalahleni, Engcobo and Sakhisizwe. For the past several years the municipality has increasingly encountered extended water supply problems in each of the aforesaid municipalities, often leaving towns and communities without water supply for days.

“Whilst one can accept that any municipality tasked with the delivery of water and sanitation services to communities will encounter supply problems from time to time, the sheer volume of water supply interruptions in almost all of the areas which [this municipality] has to service, is clearly indicative of severe capacity constraints,” Odendaal wrote.

He said he believed that the water and sanitation services in the municipality were “on the brink of collapse”.

“Since the beginning of December to date, there have been almost daily interruptions in water supply in Cradock in the Inxuba Yethemba Municipality. In certain areas residents have been left without water for three weeks. This while Cradock is supplied with water from the Great Fish River, which is a strong, perennial river… [W]ater supply problems to Cradock, which for the past several years has been a regular occurrence, could have been prevented by the municipality and is a direct result of their capacity constraints,” Odendaal said.

He said another municipality, the Intsika Yethu Municipality (based in Cofimvaba) is plagued by similar problems. Severe, extended water interruptions have become an almost daily occurrence. A year ago residents had no water for two months after a pump broke and had to be replaced. A similar incident occurred in July 2019.

Odendaal said Komani had been without water for days while there was a full dam just outside the town.

“Similar problems have also been encountered in many other areas within the district municipality such as Tarkastad and Middelburg,” he said.

The municipality also struggled to deliver basic sanitation services.

“There is currently not a single wastewater treatment plant under control of the municipality that is not either totally dysfunctional or dealing with serious malfunctions. Many of the sewerage pump stations across the district are also in a state of disrepair, due to a lack of maintenance or vandalism,” Odendaal said.

This has resulted in “raw effluent flowing into and contaminating the very same water sources used to provide drinking water to residents and irrigation supply for farmers”.

Odendaal said he believed the reasons for the collapsing service delivery are a lack of sufficient capital budget to build new infrastructure and a lack of budget to ensure ongoing maintenance, as well as insufficient staff to deal with daily supply interruptions. There was also a lack of expertise to deal with emergencies.

Odendaal said there was severe under-collection of revenue for water and sanitation services — “in some areas the collection rate could be as low as 4%”.

He said he was keen to talk to communities and organisations to support the initiative as he believed it could “set the tone for similar interventions at other water services authorities”.

Water Affairs spokesperson Sputnik Ratau has not responded to a request for comment. DM/MC

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