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UNCOOPERATIVE GOVERNANCE

Fire sale: Eastern Cape’s Dr Beyers Naudé Municipality flogging land as it fights for financial survival

The municipality has been identified as being in 'financial distress' by the Eastern Cape Provincial Government. (Photo: Donna van der Watt)

The Graaff-Reinet caravan park, golf club, public swimming pool, the town’s botanical garden, a nature reserve in Aberdeen with a fresh water spring and a quarry are up for sale as the Dr Beyers Naudé Local Municipality fights for financial survival. Land used by subsistence farmers have also been advertised as for sale by the municipality, but mayor Deon de Vos said agricultural land will be excluded.

The Dr Beyers Naudé Local Municipality has put several public assets, including the Graaff-Reinet municipal swimming pool, the caravan park, the golf club and the airfield up for sale as its financial situation worsens.

A spokesperson for the municipality, Edwardine Abader, said the municipality had developed a municipal financial recovery plan, after an assessment. 

The municipality has been identified as being in “financial distress” by the Eastern Cape Provincial Government. Among other creditors, it owes Eskom R141-million. 

“It has been communicated on various platforms that the Municipality is financially distressed, with one of the main concerns relating to availability of financial resources to deliver adequate services. The municipality also needs to address historical financial challenges of the [local] municipalities that formed the Dr Beyers Naudé Local Municipality,” said Abader.

“As a result, various strategies have been developed within the recovery plan, for a positive turn around. Despite laudable efforts by all role players to curb expenditure and increase income, the financial situation has not greatly improved. To address the situation, the municipality requires a financial injection.

“One of the strategies submitted for consideration and approval by the municipal council is the disposal of municipal land not utilised for the provision of service delivery. To ensure public participation, an advertisement on the intention to dispose of land, was published on the municipal website and newspapers, for comments and input from community members.

“No land has been disposed of and current rental agreements remain in place,” said Abader.

“The financial recovery plan is critical to achieve the objective of financial, service delivery recovery and sustainability, and therefore implementation thereof is crucial and is being prioritised.”

The inside of the public swimming pool. (Photo: Theo Jephta)

The assets that the municipality intends to put up for sale are: Camp 39 outside the Camdeboo National Park, the local quarry, the caravan park next to the dam wall, the botanical garden, Hardwood Farm in Klipplaat, Karoo Vlakte Farm in Nieu Bethesda, the airfield, Fonteinbos outside Aberdeen, the site of a spring and a nature reserve, and a number of smaller parcels of land.

In his weekly letter to the community, mayor Deon de Vos said the sale of land not required for provision of basic services, the transfer of sold land from the municipality to private owners and billing retrospectively would exclude government-acquired farms and commonage land.

But Amos Mcinga, of the newly founded Service Delivery Movement in Graaff-Reinet, said the movement would apply for an urgent interdict to stop the sale of the land. 

“It is not their land to sell. These are common assets. They belong to the people from Graaff-Reinet. They are not for the municipality to do with what they please.”

He said there had been no consultation with communities and the municipality, apart from the notice published on the website, had not shared reasons for the plan.

“By not consulting, they have contravened the Municipal Systems Act.”

He said the municipality issued the notice that it intended to sell the land over the festive season as it knew there would be minimal, if not no, public participation.

“Take for example the swimming pool. We need a swimming pool. Where are the kids going to learn how to swim? It limits their career prospects and it is unsafe if they can’t swim.”

The only other municipal swimming pool was demolished after a child drowned there.

The once-majestic outside of the public swimming pool in Graaff-Reinet. (Photo: Theo Jephta)

Mcinga said the Service Delivery Movement had been approached by farmers using common lands who were now afraid that these would be sold. He said the farmers met in Jansenville last week to discuss a response to the proposed sale. 

“The problem is not money,” said Mcinga. “It is how money is managed.”

Community leader Sias Smith said communities in Graaff-Reinet were “totally opposed” to the sale. 

Community leader Melvis Petersen said while the municipality claimed that the sale had to do with “easing their financial burden”, “I don’t know how this can be true as they don’t have any expenditure on the properties. The small farming community in particular has a huge issue with the sale. We were never consulted. We don’t know who drew up this financial recovery plan or when it was drawn up,” he said. 

“It is scary to me that they are getting rid of a public asset like the botanical garden that has many facilities on it,” Pietersen said.

According to the municipality’s annual financial statements for the year ending 30 June 2019, it was running at a loss of R101-million with employee-related costs having risen by 15.3% over the 2018/2019 financial year to R159-million and the cost of sub-contractors by 153% to R15-million.

Debt owing to the municipality had risen by 268% to R37-million. Abader did not answer any questions on why the municipality had not, for example, instead of selling the caravan park, recovered rates that allegedly total more than R750,000 from a politically connected individual who has been renting it. 

Makhaya Komisa, spokesperson for Xolile Nqatha, the MEC of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, said the municipality should be asked if it had written to the provincial government to inform it of the impending sale. DM/MC

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