South Africa

KwaZulu-Natal SOPA

Premier Zikalala talks up KZN’s achievements with his eyes on 2021 polls

Premier Zikalala talks up KZN’s achievements with his eyes on 2021 polls
KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala delivers the State of the Province Address on 4 March in Pietermaritzburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

It was clear during KwaZulu-Natal’s State of the Province Address yesterday that Premier Sihle Zikalala’s eyes, and those of his government, were firmly focused on the 2021 local government elections.

The KwaZulu-Natal State of the Province Address (SOPA) on Wednesday morning started the way most ANC backslapping exercises do – more than an hour late. 

Unlike other provinces, this was not the official opening of the legislature, which was done the day before by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu. 

The king is gifted approximately R60-million of the provincial fiscus every year without any solid accountability on how the money is managed or spent. He also “owns” about a third of the land in the province through the Ingonyama Trust. 

Former president Jacob Zuma, who has attended previous KZN SOPAs since being axed, was not present due to health reasons, but his son Duduzane was, and was seen flashing his Colgate smile while taking selfies with admirers. 

Despite the late start and the quirky social order of the province, it was clear that Premier Sihle Zikalala’s eyes, and those of his government, were firmly focused on the 2021 local government elections. 

In his speech, Zikalala hit all the necessary pressure points of portraying a government fixing failing municipalities, building and repairing infrastructure, implementing plans, developing new master plans, pushing “radical socio-economic transformation”, castigating poorly performing government workers, making the expected call for disciplinary action, and distancing the provincial government from the economic failures of the national economy. 

Zikalala, once a firm Zuma ally and now firmly in the camp, at least publicly, of President Cyril Ramaphosa, did what any good politician would do – he pointed out his government’s deficiencies before his opposition had a chance to – and then attempted to show he was in complete control of implementing solutions. 

He admitted he was “not proud of the 2019/2020 audit outcomes” for the province, stating he did not want KZN to be synonymous with irregular, wasteful and fruitless expenditure.

“The auditor-general is clear that we are regressing as a province. We need to reverse this trend,” said Zikalala. 

Among one of the flagship achievements of his administration, said Zikalala, was an assessment of the 54 municipalities in the province. 

“This was the most comprehensive exercise of its kind, focusing on the state of municipal governance, finances and service delivery… with 54 municipal support plans developed and adopted by municipalities. 

“The process has enabled us to attend to the critical challenges that are crippling the performance of our municipalities, such as dysfunctional municipal executive committees, municipal public accounts committees, vacancies, poor revenue collection, debt owed to Eskom and specific service delivery issues in municipalities.” 

Zikalala said interventions by the provincial government into the Msunduzi and eThekwini municipalities had progressed well, and the entities would soon be returned to “their former glory”. 

It was based on these assessments that the provincial government had replaced the entire political leadership at Msunduzi (home to the capital city, Pietermaritzburg) and eThekwini metros. 

It was a convenient mechanism, particularly in eThekwini, where the then-mayor Zandile Gumede was arrested for her alleged role in a R208-million tender scandal involving outsourced waste collection projects. 

“Our re-engineering process has ushered an era of stability and there is pulling together among councillors. The culture of ill-discipline and unethical behaviour is fast waning and is not being tolerated,” said Zikalala. 

However, the province has nine municipalities that have been placed under administration in terms of section 139 of the Constitution – Msunduzi being one of them. (Its administrator, S’bu Sithole, was recently spirited away to the mess that is Ugu District Municipality.) 

The capital is still in a dire financial position. It also experiences poor service delivery and has an uncontrolled landfill that leads to frequent fires and toxic fumes engulfing the city. The region’s ANC still suffers political infighting – split almost along the lines that dominated the Nasrec elective conference. 

The other KZN municipalities under administration are eDumbe, Mooi-Mpofana, Inkosi Langalibalele, Richmond, AbaQulusi, Mtubatuba and Endumeni. 

Embarrassingly, the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Municipality was placed under administration between March 2018 and March 2019, two months before its namesake was given the position of national minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs. 

Local government in KZN is in a precarious position. According to the State of Local Governance Report 2018, available on the National Treasury website, 15 local municipalities and seven district municipalities in KZN were deemed to be under financial distress. National Treasury uses the term “financial distress” as an early warning sign that a municipality is close to a financial crisis. 

This does not bode well for Ramaphosa’s proposed New District Development Model Plan, punted as a panacea for SA’s deteriorating municipalities. It places the district municipalities at the centre of the revitalisation. 

In 2019, according to Municipal IQ, 21% of all service delivery protests in South Africa occurred in KwaZulu-Natal. Gauteng topped the list at 24%. 

As recently as last week, Ladysmith was brought to a standstill by protesters for days on end as they called for the mayor to be removed, accusing him of corruption. 

Earlier this year, dismissed Ugu staff embarked on a vandalism rampage, sabotaging the district’s already precarious water supplies. 

“We are deeply concerned that, in most cases, the disruption to water infrastructure arises not from routine operations and maintenance issues but due to unlawful actions, unauthorised interference and tampering with infrastructure, rendering it unable to provide water to communities,” said Zikalala in his SOPA. 

Noting the dysfunctional infrastructure and deficiencies in operation and maintenance, Zikalala said the province was making water provision a “top priority for this administration”, with a water intervention plan being implemented over the next 18 months and a long-term solution called the Provincial Water Master Plan in the pipeline. 

But the reality is the ANC may just be concerned about a resurgent Inkatha Freedom Party, which in 2016 managed to snap up 13 municipalities, either outright or in coalition, up from two in the previous election. The IFP maintained this momentum into the 2019 national and provincial elections. 

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance – which nationally had a poor showing at the ballot box – has marginally grown in the province over the same period and is within spitting distance of gaining control of uMngeni Municipality, which houses a growing retirement class in the town of Howick. 

A loss of any further municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal, particularly Msunduzi or eThekwini, would be disastrous for the governing ANC, and the highly ambitious Zikalala certainly would not want it to happen on his watch. DM


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