STATE OF THE CITY
‘It’s a mess’ – response to eThekwini mayor’s speech shows ANC and its opposition occupy parallel universes
Ethekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda hasn’t had a fun time of it lately. Apart from the gush of some ANC apparatchiks, you seldom hear a kind word about him these days.
This week disgruntled members of the civil group Umsinsi Wokuzimilela “stormed” Kaunda’s Durban North house and ratepayer groups marched to the steps of City Hall demanding an audience with the first citizen.
Perhaps in a move to stave off the blues, Kaunda and the party faithful decided to crow about eThekwini at the “State of the City” address at the International Convention Centre on Wednesday.
The venue was festooned with posters celebrating the City’s service delivery successes, as some guests got goodie bags from the mayor’s office and were dressed up to the nines for the event.
But it was a day of stark contrast: what Kaunda said couldn’t have been more different from what opposition councillors and ratepayer groups had to say.
The mayor’s celebration takes place against the backdrop of faltering service delivery, rising City debt and smouldering discontent with the ANC’S control of eThekwini, regarded by many as unstable.
In a word, opposition response to Kaunda’s speech would be: “WTF!”
Kaunda finally got to speak after about an hour of argument about whether opposition parties would get to respond to the mayor’s speech.
You would swear the mayor is living in cloud cuckoo land.
They were originally due to respond at another meeting in May but complained that Kaunda’s glowing monologue about the city wouldn’t allow residents to know the real state of affairs.
Kaunda said the municipality was “functional and financially viable” in spite of “challenges around irregular expenditure” highlighted by the Auditor-General.
He trotted out a list of achievements around cooperatives, Wi-Fi hotspots and housing delivery. He said the City could honour its financial obligations with regard to bulk purchases from Eskom and Umgeni Water.
eThekwini had maintained its AA+ investment grade credit rating with 60 days’ cash on hand.
He said eThekwini was better off than before 1994 because 83% of households had “a basic level” of access to water; 75% to sanitation; 90% to electricity and one million households had access to waste removal.
Without saying how many people called eThekwini home, Kaunda said the city’s population had grown by 25%.
But, Kaunda’s speech didn’t wash with many.
S’bu Zikode, the leader of the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, said: “The state of the city is disastrous. It’s worsening every day. We don’t have any leadership. You only hear from the City when it wants to increase tariffs. Service delivery does not exist in some places. Pipes are broken. There are leaks everywhere and the sewer systems are disgraceful. In shack settlements there is no refuse collection. About 800,000 of the city’s 3.5 million population lives in shacks. Housing projects have stopped because of the fights over tenders to build them.”
ActionSA’s Alan Beesly was equally scathing:
“You would swear the mayor is living in cloud cuckoo land. eThekwini Municipality is in dire straits and is progressively getting worse. Service delivery is at an all-time low – many residents have been without basic services for a long period of time. The city water and sewage infrastructure is collapsing and leaks aren’t fixed in a reasonable time. Every day 615 million litres of water literally go down the drain, which equates to over R2-billion losses a year.
They don’t deal with people who hijack projects or costly employees who don’t have a commitment to serve. And then they increase rates and expect business and residents to accept that.
“The sewage system collapse is evident by the high E coli levels found in the rivers and on the beaches. The city’s poor governance is evident by the finding by the [Auditor-General’s] report for the year ended 30 June 2022. Corruption is flourishing. Tourist numbers are down and the amount owing to the municipality for outstanding debtors has increased by R4.7-billion over 12 months, from R18.5-billion in February 2022 to R23.2-billion a year later. The non-caring leadership proposes outrageous tariff increases that are way above inflation. For example, Umgeni Water has proposed a water tariff increase to the City of 5% and the City wants to charge ratepayers 15%.”
Mdu Nkosi, the IFP’s eThekwini caucus leader, said: “Durban is in a mess. Infrastructure has collapsed. You find there is no water in so many areas. The City is in the process of borrowing R1.5-billion… but, every cent needs to go to development, not operating expenses. Our capital budget used to be about R7-billion (of the total budget of R66-billion). Now it is R4-billion. The City (administration) is becoming a beast that exists just for itself. Leadership is indecisive. They don’t deal with people who hijack projects or costly employees who don’t have a commitment to serve. And then they increase rates and expect business and residents to accept that.”
‘We won’t pay’
This week, Ish Prahladh, the president of the eThekwini Ratepayers and Residents Association (a grouping of 53 civic and ratepayer bodies), led a march to City Hall, demanding to see Kaunda.
The protesters demanded the improvement of “appalling conditions” in eThekwini at a time when the City wanted to increase tariffs.
“These guys have done shit-all,” Prahladh said.
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“We demanded an undertaking that they respond to the proposed tariff hikes. We won’t pay them. We will refuse. Why is Durban different from Cape Town and Johannesburg where the tariff increases are less?
“For 20 years they have promised social housing but instead they give their pals the houses meant for the poor. The informal settlements grow and people live in appalling conditions. About 55% of our water is wasted. It should knock on your head to fix a broken pipe immediately. Corruption is rife. Durban is a free-for-all and we have had enough. We will go legal on them,” Prahladh promised.
In a comparison with the major metros, Durban’s proposed tariff increases are the highest.
Add to this, late in 2022 National Treasury said that as local government became more unstable, a lack of fiscal discipline followed.
Glen Robbins, a research associate at the University of Cape Town and former head of economic development in Durban in the 2000s, said that in the past decade eThekwini had managed to spend 80% to 85% of its planned capital budgets and didn’t have the capacity to spend a R8-billion earmarked for the next financial year.
“The risk is that to get the spend up, irregular spending will rise.”
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Robbins said the City should make an effort to secure direct support of the national government, the Development Bank of South Africa, local business and civil society to support desperately needed infrastructure.
“With more scrutiny, there might be confidence. Cape Town has shown greater progress in building confidence in their capital budget planning and execution.” DM