South Africa


The (Un)Fair Cape: There’s a way to go before the poor see some of Cape Town’s sparkle

The (Un)Fair Cape: There’s a way to go before the poor see some of Cape Town’s sparkle
Illustrative image | Sources: Leila Dougan | Gallo Images / Die Burger / Jaco Marais | Nadine Hutton / Bloomberg via Getty Images | EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma

According to practically every empirical metric, the DA-governed City of Cape Town outperforms South Africa’s other metros. But for the residents of the Cape Flats and the city’s townships, this may be scant consolation.

How do you measure how well a city does at providing for its residents? You can monitor the provision of basic services. You can consult the Auditor-General’s reports on municipal spending. You can look at metrics like the employment rate and the average annual household income. You can survey public spaces to see how well they are maintained. Or you can seek out more touchy-feely indexes, like “citizen satisfaction and trust”.

On almost every measurement one can devise, the DA-governed City of Cape Town outperforms South Africa’s other metros. The 2021 Citizen Satisfaction Index published by Consulta puts Cape Town more than 10 points ahead of its nearest municipal rivals and categorises it as the only metro “performing significantly ahead of par”. The index does note, however, that Cape Town declined by 4.1 points from its 2020 rating.

Underspending on budget

One of the only municipal ranking projects to score another metro higher than the City of Cape Town was News24’s Out of Order index, which recently gave eThekwini a one-point higher score, at 62/100, than the City of Cape Town at 61/100. This result might seem confounding to the residents of eThekwini, with Daily Maverick recently reporting that water infrastructure in the municipality has decayed to such a degree that around 300 leaks a day are being experienced.

News24 explains: “The difference in scoring that saw eThekwini score slightly higher than Cape Town is due to Cape Town underspending against its budgeted operating expenditure in 2018/19.”

Cape Town’s underspending on its capital budget was also flagged as a concern by economic analyst Reg Rumney in a piece looking at the finances of Johannesburg and Cape Town. Rumney also highlighted as worrying the tendency by the City of Cape Town to spend too little of its capital budget on asset renewal, and too much on new assets.

In response to this criticism, City of Cape Town spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo told Daily Maverick that the “small percentage” of its capital budget that is not spent is due largely to “factors outside the control of the City”. 

The city also rejects the idea that it is not spending enough on asset renewal: Tyhalibongo says that it spent 55% of its 2020/2021 capital budget on asset renewal, while the National Treasury sets the norm for asset renewal spending at 40% of the budget.

Does Cape Town work for the poor?

One of the arguments most frequently levelled against Cape Town is that its affluent Atlantic Seaboard and wealthy leafy suburbs work beautifully for its residents, but the same cannot be said for the Cape Flats or the city’s townships. This is a charge the DA has been strenuously pushing back on ahead of Monday’s local government elections, with the party’s head of policy Gwen Ngwenya writing of the province more generally: “The elite areas in the Western Cape are better than elite areas elsewhere, but so do poorer households fare better than they would elsewhere.”

Continued Ngwenya: “There are some (coincidentally not poor) who are cynical enough to say that better is not enough. Only someone who does not struggle to access services, such as water and electricity, or has the luxury to make a different plan could argue that nothing or the status quo is better than incremental improvement.”

This is a clever argument, since it effectively aims to insure the DA against the charge that its municipalities are not yet doing enough for the poor. To the activists of Cape Town’s Social Justice Coalition (SJC), however, it’s not good enough.

“There has been no notable improvement in the harsh living conditions for residents in informal settlements,” an SJC spokesperson told Daily Maverick.

The city disputes this. Spokesperson Tyhalibongo told Daily Maverick that since 2012/13, more than 38,000 toilets have been installed in informal settlements and 230,000 households have received basic water and sanitation.

“Cape Town became the first municipality in SA to provide a dedicated janitorial service for toilets in informal settlements,” Tyhalibongo said.

He acknowledged that the city’s delivery of basic services to residents of informal settlements is beset by challenges, however, including the creation of at least 64 new informal settlements since March 2020 “on unsuitable land where services are not possible”. Tyhalibongo also pointed to the vandalism of infrastructure and an increase in the hijacking of city vehicles as thwarting effective service delivery in some instances.

Asivikelane, an NGO which represents the voices of informal settlement residents on issues of basic services, suggested that the City of Cape Town’s latest budget does not make enough provision for addressing the backlog in the delivery of water and sanitation in townships.

“The project that delivers permanent flush toilets to informal settlements only received an allocation of R26.8-million in the August 2020 adjustment of the City’s 2020/21 budget. The project that provides taps to informal settlements in the City received an even smaller allocation of R7.5-million. Together, these two projects only account for 0.4% of the City’s total capital budget of R8.6-billion,” Asivikelane wrote in its report on the matter.

The NGO has also criticised the City of Cape Town for setting the same service delivery targets for informal settlement taps and toilets for three years, since “these targets show no apparent response to Covid-19 or the growing need for taps or toilets”.

SJC points out a less flattering performance index than the ones the city likes to cite: the 2019 Municipal IQ listed the Western Cape as coming in second nationally for volume of service delivery protests in 2018.

“This can be attributed to the unequal distribution and prioritisation of service delivery,” SJC said.

“Informal settlements in Cape Town continue to receive inadequate service delivery as compared to the services which are rendered to the affluent suburbs. There seems to be no concerted effort to improve the current state in delivery of services in informal settlements.”

In addition, the SJC pointed to Cape Town’s public transport challenges as evidence that the city is failing its lower-income residents: trains are currently operating at only around a third of the capacity required, though the group acknowledges that this is largely due to the arson attacks on Cape Town’s rail services over the past four years. MyCiti bus services are also not operational in places like Khayelitsha.

Expensive rates and tariffs

There are also pockets of discontent with the governance of the metro in more well-resourced areas. Sandra Dickson runs a Facebook group called Stop CoCT, which has more than 18,000 members and has been vocally critical of the high rates charges meted out to the city’s residents. The City of Cape Town was unable to give responses to these particular criticisms by deadline.  

Dickson argues that the “exorbitant” City of Cape Town tariffs for services date back to the 2017/2018 drought, at which time punitive water charges were introduced to clamp down on water usage. These were meant to be temporary, but have since been entrenched.

“Within a period of five years, water tariffs in Cape Town went from 6kl free to now being around R18 per kl in the first tariff step,” Dickson told Daily Maverick. Adding to the unhappiness is the fact that the City of Cape Town now has one of the most expensive electricity tariffs in the country.  

Dickson and her supporters have other grievances: another source of concern is the alleged over-valuation of City of Cape Town properties, leading to inflated property rates. Dickson claims that of the 30,000 objections received by the city in this regard, “many were rejected and Capetonians are left with the bitter taste of a city that has zero empathy with those struggling to pay their inflated property rates”.

2021 local government elections

Despite these issues, it would be a brave gambler who’d bet against the DA winning the City of Cape Town in an outright majority. If the party has reason to fear, though, it may not be the threat posed by the ANC — which tends to do worse in municipal elections any way — but that of smaller parties.

There is every reason to believe that the Freedom Front Plus will continue the growth it displayed in the 2019 national elections, although voters in South Africa’s coastal cities tend to be more liberal than elsewhere. There are also credible threats from Patricia de Lille’s Good party and from the Patriotic Alliance, which has been using the grievances of the Western Cape’s coloured population as a wedge issue. DM

City of Cape Town spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo sent the following response to the issue of tariffs and rates after publication:

The City absolutely rejects any misinformation being spread by certain groupings about the City’s tariffs and rates, despite numerous efforts by the City to correct the misinformation. It is very clear if one actually looks at the data that the City’s tariffs are fair, as affordable as possible and at a sustainable level to ensure the municipality is healthy and can carry on delivering services, paying Eskom for electricity bulk purchases and all other major input costs.

The City’s tariffs are competitive in comparison with other metros.

The City also had the lowest tariff increases of any metro in the new financial year.

It now costs the City 17,8% more to buy electricity from Eskom. Because of this increase, the City was compelled to implement a 13,48% electricity increase from 1 July 2021. Nevertheless, the City has absorbed more of the price hike than any other metro in South Africa – where the average increases are 14,59%. Although it is not a straightforward comparison to make as there are different tariff bands and customers bases for all these metros, if you are supplied by the City including the fixed component of the tariff, you still generally receive more units than in Joburg especially when you use less. For example, for the City of Joburg, the equivalent fixed charges per month is R768,21 (incl. VAT). This does result in lower per kWh charges, so which metro is cheaper depends completely on the amount of energy consumed – again lower consumers will pay less in Cape Town.

On water, the Facebook Group StopCoCT continues to imply a drought charge came into effect and remained. Such a charge was never approved by Council and never implemented. In fact, if one actually looks at the data available, one would see the water tariffs have almost halved since the peak of the drought – from R785,38 at level 6B 2018 (obviously this was the result of lower usage and lower supply increasing the cost to protect the resource) to R432,66 (2021/22) – for 10 500 litres of water per month.

Lastly, on rates the City’s rates (cent in the rand) are the lowest in South Africa. Yet the municipality is sustainable, has high levels of service delivery, most of the budget is spent in vulnerable areas or to the benefit of vulnerable areas and money earmarked for services go where it should go. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rolando MacJones says:

    You’re trying hard to diss the DA again, Rebecca. How about some factual comparison against other ANC run municipalities?

    This is a joke:

    “To the activists of Cape Town’s Social Justice Coalition (SJC), however, it’s not good enough.”

    Well activists would not be activists if things were good enough? But good enough for whom?

    Cape Town’s population has more than doubled since liberation in 1994. This is almost all due to uneducated influx from the Eastern Cape.

    What do you expect? A fairy to just create new facilities for the new population?

    • Sean Dayton says:

      Oh Rolando… “Cape Town’s population has more than doubled since liberation in 1994” and “this is almost all due to uneducated influx from the Eastern Cape”. You should try a bit harder next time to hide your obvious sense of entitlement and superiority complex. This is such an unhelpful, and in many ways misleading, comment. Cape Town’s population has grown at an average of just over 2% a year over the last 100 years. Its population growth rate is much lower than many cities in the developing world. And before passing judgment on migrants from the Eastern Cape please remember that all of us are simply trying to make a way in life, whatever our level of education and also remember that the City’s wealthier residents have in many ways benefited from cheap labour in the form of migrants and economic refugees from the Eastern Cape since the days of the Frontier Wars of the early 1800s.

  • L Dennis says:

    Thank u DA for not looting for your beautiful run municipalities.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Reading the comments from some other readers, and then looking at the picture of the smartly dressed new potential major of Cape Town, with the township slumps in the background, I realise more and more how large the gap is between those that have, and those that don’t. Like in India (and other countries I guess), these class differences are just sickening. Perhaps service delivery by the DA run municipalities is better than those run by the ANC (or Malema as king maker), but it does not hide the atrocities created by so-called political leaders

  • Charles Kieck says:

    Rebecca ,be interesting to hear your comments ,should the ANC ever come to power in the WC. Is that what you want? God help us. Why not a full analysis of the ANC failures ,leading to this sad ,broken,dystopic South Africa

  • Change is Good says:

    I am a resident of eThekwini. It would be a good exercise for Rebecca to investigate the rates and taxes, cost of water and electricity in eThekwini as well. She may be surprised by a comparison with Cape Town. This would bring a more factual slant to the conversation.
    Oh and by the way, I have been trying to sign off plans for an attenuation tank for 4 years, but to no avail, simply because the inspectors (3 and counting)tell me I need a certain certificate. The engineer and builders tell me this is not so. Incompetence or corruption, take your pick. At least CT residents do not have to deal with this.
    Attenuation tank is for storm water run off and is required for all property built on a slope in Durban – cost R10000.00 (Built legitimately, with plans and an engineer sign off)
    If I can’t get this done, imagine the plight of the poor. Well, we do know their plight, because service delivery protests are a daily occurrence on matters that are the responsibility of national government.
    Activists are an absolutely necessary component in the world today, this is what brings balance to a one sided story, regardless of the subject matter.

  • Zavier Haddad says:

    The best thing for the poor in Cape Town would be for the DA to take control of more of the public infrastructure from the proven incompetence of the ANC. A failing and corrupt nationally run SAPS disproportionately hinders the poor for example. In my opinion the conclusion to this article should be something like: “look how much better the DA handles all they are responsible for – give them more responsibilities!”

  • Janie Rorke says:

    Surely municipal elections are about services, housing issues etc.? So if a ward is run by a certain party, the onus is on those councillors to rectify problems. For example Khayelitsha, it’s an ANC ward, therefore an ANC responsibility. So why the umbrella blame on the DA in the WC?

  • Hans Wendt says:

    Another article from a “journalist” who in a previously wrote how bizarre it is that a white male can be in politics.
    As is mentioned in the comments section. Do a comparison with any ANC run city.
    To Sean. Be a bit kinder to a fellow commentator. look at the statistics . CT has had a flood of people coming from the Eastern Cape and the rest of Africa during the last few years.
    And Janie is right. Khayalitsha has ANC politicians. I once attended one of their meetings. It was like being part of a Monty Python skit.

  • Rosemary de Waal says:

    Rebecca I cant believe that you dont know that the trains are run by PRASA not by the City.

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    Cape Town should be lauded for underspending on its capital budget. In an ANC muni every cent would be spent to ensure that the trough was kept topped up.

  • Meyrick B says:

    Pray tell, how do you maintain a tax paying base that can ultimately fund the roll-out of amenities in underserved areas, and ensure a sustainable city if you do not service the “well-resourced areas”? If there was evidence of vanity projects and wasteful expenditure being undertaken in formal communities, then scope for criticism being levelled against the DA may exist, but where is this apparent on any material basis? On the one hand you’ve got Sandra and her cronies banging on that they’re already overtaxed. On the other SJC & Co are yelling “we want more”. Given this dynamic where exactly is the DA supposed to get the money to fund the free X/Y/Z that the activists feel entitled to? And not just once, but repeatedly given the widespread vandalism of utilities that are provided. Why doesn’t the DM just actively lambaste the DA for their inability to fabricate money out of thin air, as it appears to be what you expect?

  • Roger Sheppard says:

    Dear Rebecca…get with the game; walk in with the bowler! The DA works wonders where it may and has the authority. Khayelitsha will not allow the DA in. The mob-led ANC govt. won’t offer full policing, proper police support – especially in attempting progress in the Cape Flats, no help with Prasa problems, and much else decidedly anti-DA decision-making by our central cohort of Greeners, Blackers, and Gold-strikers.
    Do not be so scared of the DA Rebecca dear! Get over your clash with Zille – just as we have to get over J Gedleyehlakisa (the one who smiles while he hurts you) Zoompipe. This Soviet Persecution Strategy against the DA has been seen through for what it is, viz, a personal bias against the DA.
    DA is blue, you know, as in ‘Blue Skies’! Cheer up and watch the knee-bends, with an eye on the Constitutional Rights to freedom of expression.

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