South Africa


Service delivery seeks divine intervention as Polokwane municipality closes for prayers

Service delivery seeks divine intervention as Polokwane municipality closes for prayers
Illustrative Image: EPA-EFE/STR

This week, the embattled Polokwane municipality closed all its offices on Tuesday morning for a three-hour prayer session. The municipality argues that ‘spiritual rejuvenation’ can lead to enhanced service delivery — but not everybody is convinced.

“All municipal customers are hereby notified of a three-hour closure of all municipal offices due to workplace interfaith prayer from 09h00 to 12h00 on Tuesday, 27th September 2022.”

This was the wording of a notification from the Polokwane municipality this week. It assured residents that essential services would not be affected by the shutdown.

A phone call from Daily Maverick to the municipal offices during the prayer period went unanswered. We gave up after 20 minutes of being on hold, with a recorded message periodically stating that the municipality was experiencing “high call volumes”.

When asked by Daily Maverick for the purpose of the prayer session, Polokwane municipal spokesperson Thipa Selala said that there had recently been an alarming “number of death cases that involve its employees”, and that “all in the municipality” needed to “come together to seek mercy in prayer to God”.

Selala added: “Whilst we accept death to be part of our lives, this experience cannot go on without seeking [a] divine intervention breakthrough”.

The spokesperson framed the interfaith prayer session — which involved Christian and Muslim religious leaders — as a “wellness” initiative which was permissible in terms of municipal human resources (HR) policies. He suggested further that the experience would have a positive impact on municipal service delivery.

“The municipality has a responsibility to its employees’ wellness, and therefore arranged the workplace session through the Employees’ Assistance section of the HR in order to offer healing and spiritual rejuvenation to excel in service delivery,” Selala stated.

This is not the first time that the embattled Polokwane municipality has turned to a higher power for assistance with earthly challenges.

In November 2021, it hosted a prayer session against gender-based violence, with the Polokwane Review reporting: “Jeanette Raseluma from the Polokwane Municipality’s special focus unit said the prayer service was important in the fight against GBVF [gender-based violence and femicide]”.

The wider Limpopo provincial government has also hosted numerous mass prayer sessions in the name of road safety.

The city of Polokwane is currently suffering acute water shortages, due partly to low dam levels but largely to infrastructure problems as a result of insufficient maintenance. Parts of the city have in recent months been without water for weeks at a time. This is a situation which is brewing into social and political instability: The Citizen recently reported that a number of community organisations and political groupings are “threatening to turn the city into a battlefield in order to get government’s attention”.

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Rolling blackouts have been exacerbating the water supply problems in the city, while causing additional challenges. Health facilities have reportedly been forced to cancel all elective operations.

News24 reported this week that the failure of generators at the Polokwane high court, meanwhile, has set court cases back by several months and “sparked fears of possible escapes by transported awaiting trial prisoners”.

Against this backdrop of municipal instability, news that the municipality was shutting all its offices for employees to pray this week appears to have been met with a mixed reception by Polokwane residents.

On Facebook, comments in response to video footage of the interfaith prayer session included: “Hopefully when u done praying our taps will no longer be dry”, and “Leave this for Sundays and fix the people’s water”.

When Daily Maverick asked Polokwane municipality why the prayer session could not take place after hours, spokesperson Selala responded: “This is a workplace internal service for the municipality’s employees and it has to take place during working hours in line with the conditions of service”.

The DA’s Polokwane caucus leader Jacques Joubert said that as a Christian himself, he supported the idea of prayer — but was concerned about the time lost in working hours.

“During the executive mayor’s engagement with the City Cluster on Monday evening he gave an undertaking that no staff would be allowed to go on leave until the water crisis has been addressed, so I find the fact that this [prayer] event went ahead in working hours to be againt the spirit of what he said,” Joubert told Daily Maverick

Joubert suggested that it would have been more appropriate for such a prayer session to take place either after hours or during lunch time.

He added, however: “God knows Polokwane needs as much heavenly intervention and wisdom as we can, especially with the current water crisis.” DM


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