South Africa


Ex-Karoo mayor Gayton McKenzie’s claims regarding swimming pools, bucket toilets and Eskom debt under scrutiny

Ex-Karoo mayor Gayton McKenzie’s claims regarding swimming pools, bucket toilets and Eskom debt under scrutiny
Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie. (Photo: Gallo Images / Rapport / Edrea du Toit)

When Gayton McKenzie resigned just over a month ago as the mayor of Central Karoo District Municipality, after just one year in office, he made a number of claims of having delivered in the region. Daily Maverick visited the area to check out the lie of the land first-hand.

“On a scale of 10, for all his promises I would give him a six,” said Beaufort West community activist Brian Jooste about some of the claims made by former Central Karoo District Municipality mayor Gayton McKenzie after the completion of his tenure in the region. 

In McKenzie’s resignation speech on 2 May, he made several claims about his “successes” — which Daily Maverick recently checked out. 

McKenzie, the Patriotic Alliance (PA) president, became mayor of the Central Karoo District Municipality on 11 April 2022. He was seconded to the district after becoming a Proportional Representative Councillor for the PA in the Laingsburg Council. Laingsburg, Beaufort West and Prince Albert are part of the district. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Central Karoo mayor Gayton McKenzie calls illegal immigrants a ‘stain’ and warns of ‘citizen’s arrests’

Despite resigning on 2 May, the provincial Department of Local Government told Daily Maverick they had not received notification of McKenzie’s resignation as mayor or as a Laingsburg councillor. McKenzie is now focusing on PA campaigning in the build-up to the 2024 national elections, where the party hopes to be kingmaker, with Mckenzie himself declaring his presidential ambitions.

In his resignation speech, McKenzie made several claims about his tenure, including that he had fixed swimming pools, eradicated the bucket system and made a dent in Beaufort West’s debt to Eskom. 

Daily Maverick visited Beaufort West to do a fact check on services Gayton McKenzie promised he would implement in the town, 11 May 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

When Daily Maverick drove through Beaufort West on the N1, the highway was in good condition and garbage-free. However, in the Beaufort West suburbs of Kwa-Mandlenkosi, Rustdene and Prince Valley (named for former mayor Truman Prince), rubbish was strewn all over the streets. 

“When it comes to service delivery, I’m talking about how our town looks. Except [for] the upper town, our town looks pathetic,” said Jooste, a critic of not only McKenzie but also of the administration that runs the Beaufort West municipality. 

As mayor of the CKDM, McKenzie had oversight of the Beaufort West municipality, which has consistently ran into financial and governance troubles. In the latest Auditor-General (AG) findings on local government released on Wednesday 31 May,  the financial sustainability of Beaufort West was in question, with the municipality receiving a qualified audit outcome for the second year in a row.

The swimming pools 

In McKenzie’s resignation speech, he claimed that six public pools in the area were in an “absolute” state of disrepair but, “Under my leadership, five of those pools are working, and the children swam and will swim again this year and in time to come.” 

During Daily Maverick’s visit, the swimming pool in Bird Street was closed. Charlton Davids, a qualified plumber who works at the pool, said the pool needed to be repainted and the pump fixed. Davids said that the paint initially used to refurbish the swimming pool in December was not water-resistant and started to peel. “I don’t think it’s a good-quality paint,” he said. 

Then in mid-February, while Mckenzie was still mayor, the pump broke. Davids told Daily Maverick: “What breaks my heart is the pump and I’ve told the municipality about it. It’s heartbreaking if a pool is closed for a child, especially in the summer. This time, they have to do it right … use proper paint … with the pumps, they have to sort it out, get proper electricians in.”  

Community activist Brian Jooste looks at the pool in Bird Street, Beaufort West, 11 May 2023. It has been drained as the pump stopped working. This is one of three pools Gayton McKenzie promised he would revamp in the town. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

In the suburb of Kwa-Mandlenkosi, the indoor pool at the youth hub was operational, but the water was dirty. 

“There was water but they have to clean the pool regularly,” said Jooste.

The pool at the youth hub in KwaMandlenkosi, Beaufort West, is one of three pools Gayton McKenzie promised he would revamp in the town. This pool was painted with wall paint and has started peeling. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

In Rustdene, the swimming pool complex was completely vandalised — toilet doors were broken off, the gate was gone, the floor was littered with broken glass, and there were overgrown shrubs and trees. 

Buildings surrounding the pool in Rustdene has also been vandalised in Beaufort West. This pool is one of three pools Gayton McKenzie promised he would revamp in the town. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

In July 2022, Daily Maverick visited the pool and the gate was there, but locked to the public. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘I will run for President in 2024’, Central Karoo Mayor Gayton McKenzie says after 100 days in office

PA spokesperson Steve Motale told Daily Maverick McKenzie had fixed the pools using his own money or self-generated funding. 

“It is now winter and no one is swimming in the Central Karoo, which gets very cold in winter. There is therefore no need to keep all those pools filled with water during winter,” said Motale. 

“There is no reason that the pool you describe cannot be painted again and have its pump repaired, again, ahead of the upcoming spring and summer swimming season.”  

There was no short-cut to fixing a pool, said Motale. “It either holds water and works or it doesn’t. And those pools lasted all the way through the swimming season and brought great joy to a great many families.” 

The bucket toilets 

“Today, no one is using bucket toilets. People used the veld and today they are using flushing toilets,” said McKenzie in his resignation speech. 

But when Daily Maverick spoke to people in Beaufort West, a slightly different story emerged. 

In Nelspoort, a small railway settlement some 50km outside Beaufort West we found Joyce Xoliswa Mhlahlo (39). She has been living in her house for about 10 years. Her mother, Adelaide, has lived in the area for more than 27 years.

Before the installation of the flushing toilets, Mhlahlo said, “I had to literally go to my mother’s house or I needed to use the bushes.”

When flushing toilets were installed last year, Mhlahlo was pregnant. “Imagine you as a pregnant woman with a child whose stomach is running and you have to run into the bushes. It really helped us,” she said. 

She was one of the people in a group of 20 households who received a flushing toilet under the McKenzie administration: “It was wonderful, sitting on a toilet that flushes. You flush twice because you really can’t believe it … there goes the faeces.” 

Mhlahlo showed Daily Maverick her toilet, which is behind her house. It is in an enclosed structure, but with no tap to wash your hands inside. 

Joyce Xolisa Mhlahlo and her mom Adelaide are grateful for their flush toilets. The toilets were installed in Nelspoort where residents were still using the bucket system. The land, however, belongs to Transnet. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

“We were very happy now that we don’t have to work with faeces any more,” she said. Previously, they had to take a bucket and throw out any excrement. “If it’s warm you need to smell how it smells here,” she said. 

“We’re hearing now people are asking questions and want to investigate — the DA’s people — but I feel they did nothing for us and this is a DA ward. They didn’t do anything and that man [McKenzie] came and put in these toilets with his own money; it’s not the municipality’s money,” she said.  

Both DA councillor Schaun Meyers and the SA Communist Party spokesperson for the Central Karoo, Mawonga Furmen, told Daily Maverick that the only bucket toilets in Beaufort West were in old railway homes in Leeu-Gamka and in Nelspoort, where Mhlahlo lives. 

“The bucket toilets, they are on properties owned by Transnet,” said Meyers. “He [McKenzie] should have kept Transnet responsible.” 

He called the installation of the flushing toilets a “publicity stunt”.  

Furmen echoed Meyers’ words and said the announcement that McKenzie was eradicating bucket toilets was “a big shocker because everyone knows  there are no bucket toilets in Beaufort West … you have the train station and these train stations belong to Transnet”. 

According to both the Beaufort West 2020/21 and 2021/22 annual reports, there were 309 households that used bucket toilets in the municipality. 

South African Communist Party Central Karoo spokesperson Mawonga Furmen. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

“I saw with my own eyes the toilet … people’s dignity is restored. Nelspoort’s people are happy because all these years, they’ve used buckets. Any person would be happy, said Jooste, who accompanied Daily Maverick to Nelspoort. “For that, I need to applaud him.”  

Because the land is owned by Transnet, and not the local or district municipality, Jooste and Mhlahlo questioned how the toilets would be maintained. 

One of the pipes leading from the newly built toilets to the tank in Nelspoort is disconnected. Residents were still using the bucket system. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Motale said: “That those toilets are on Transnet land was always the excuse given for not eradicating the disgusting bucket toilet system throughout the Central Karoo. We are proud of eradicating the bucket toilets there. 

“We have given those communities something they were crying out for, but should one refrain from installing toilets that bring dignity to people because you simply assume they will not be able to maintain it, or that no one will be able to maintain it? That is an insult to that community.” 

This is not the first time bucket toilets became a talking point in McKenzie’s mayorship. In August 2022, McKenzie and the DA were involved in a spat over toilets in the DA-run Prince Albert municipality. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Failure of epic proportions’ — lifting the lid on Gayton McKenzie’s flush toilets project

In Leeu-Gamka in the nearby Prince Albert municipality, Esmare Koopman stood outside her home. She told Daily Maverick they had previously had a bucket toilet, but “these [flushing] toilets, they put in last year”.  She said that while the toilet works, “It is a bit broken at the bottom, but we will try to fix it.” 

Koopman has an outside toilet and water taps were installed on her property. New tanks were also installed which allow for water to flow into the kitchen. 

“I’m very satisfied, I’m very happy,” said Koopman. At the moment, the biggest problem for Koopman is a lack of work. She is unemployed and her partner is a part-time farm labourer. “We’re just struggling with work,” she said. 

Esmare Koopman is a resident of Leeu Gamka, where flush toilets were installed by Gayton McKenzie as residents were still using the bucket system. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Beaufort West electricity saga 

In his resignation speech, McKenzie said there was money in the bank and “we have been paying R10-million a month towards our Eskom debt”.

In August 2022, Daily Maverick reported that the Beaufort West municipality owed Eskom R78,468,653.26 in outstanding debt — one of four Western Cape municipalities that owe the struggling state power utility.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Four Western Cape municipalities owe Eskom nearly R256m; only two have payment plans in place 

The municipality is currently under a financial recovery plan and needs to stick to strict financial repayments. Provincial Treasury MEC Mireille Wenger told Daily Maverick the financial recovery plan was in the first phase of implementation, which focused on restoring the municipality’s cash flow position. 

The municipality, said Wenger, “has made progress in managing the payment of its creditors, including Eskom. The municipality has consistently paid its monthly bills from Eskom since the middle of 2022. The municipality also signed a repayment agreement in January 2023 to repay the arrear amount owed to Eskom and has been able to meet its commitments in terms of this agreement. At the end of April 2023, the municipality owed Eskom an arrear amount of R78,892,293.” 

Wenger told Daily Maverick the municipality intended to apply for a write-off of the debt from the National Treasury. 

Motale told Daily Maverick: “The municipality still owes Eskom debt but that debt has been greatly reduced.”

In April, Beaufort West DA councillor Derick Welgemoed resigned from the party and from the council and joined the PA. Days later, he was appointed as the new Beaufort West acting municipal manager. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Beaufort West councillor switches from DA to PA — and days later becomes municipal manager 

When Daily Maverick asked Motale about McKenzie’s tenure, he said the facts about McKenzie’s tenure were “well known” and that Furmen’s words should be measured carefully. “The DA’s Angus McKenzie is the kind of person who will go to a pool that Mr [Gayton] McKenzie never fixed and somehow adduce this as evidence that Mr McKenzie didn’t fix any pools at al l… They must tell us what they have done for the people instead of trying to spit on the many things that Mr McKenzie genuinely did do,” said Motale. 

“Great men do the things while small men try to piss on those things,” concluded Motale, seeming to ignore the fact that while McKenzie claimed to have fixed five pools, during Daily Maverick’s visit to Beaufort West early in May, we saw only one pool that appeared operational — and that pool was dirty. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • R S says:

    On one hand, at least people have toilets. On the other, if these services are not provided with public funds how is it any different from what the ANC does? This is just an upgrade on the KFC and t-shirt that they use.

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