LITANY OF COMPLAINTS
Service delivery collapse: ‘Gatvol’ Eastern Cape resident reports provincial-wide failures
A woman from a rural village got the ball rolling with complaints about a lack of service delivery. The Public Protector investigated and found an entire province in dereliction.
For Eunice Tsese there was a significant moment in her fight for better municipal services. It was when a local council official told her it did not recognise online petitions – even hers with 500 signatures. Then he called her “forward”.
She picked up the phone to the Office of the Public Protector to complain. Earlier this month, this complaint and 65 others had led to a report of 501 pages detailing a service delivery collapse in the Eastern Cape.
The provincial premier, members of the executive committee, several municipalities and the police have been ordered by the Public Protector to report to her on what they are doing to fix residents’ problems.
Tsese lives and works in Gauteng, but Matatiele is where she calls home. Her mom and her children still live there.
When Tsese submitted her complaint in February 2021, the then Deputy Public Protector, Kholeka Gcaleka, was interviewed on Umhlobo Wenene FM. Listeners started calling and 64 more complaints followed.
Issues ranged from housing and social services to education, health and roads.
Almost all the complaints were substantiated, though the Public Protector noted that in some cases “efforts” had been made by municipalities to remedy problems.
“Everything in Matatiele is a disaster,” Tsese said this week. “The roads are a mess and there are no municipal services.”
She explained that when she had returned home for a holiday she decided something had to be done. “It was a group of us who were worried about our parents. They are old now. Because it was still Covid-19 times, we did the petition online. Then the municipality told me they won’t recognise it.
“We just wanted things done. My mother is 71 and is struggling to get water every day. That is so bad.”
When the Public Protector’s report was published, she saw it as a small victory.
“At least someone was listening.”
She said the report could not have come as a surprise to the Eastern Cape provincial and local governments.
“Just take my village. There was a project for RDP housing. It wasn’t finished. Then the government gave a contract to the same firm that never finished the first project to build a road. Now the road is not finished.
“I love my town. I see the struggles. My children are experiencing what I experienced. I want a better life for them.
“In our province people are not used to being taken to task. They dismiss the elderly, so I made it my mission to do this.”
Tsese said she also wanted to highlight the lack of policing in the area and the paucity of police vehicles despite gender-based violence and drug abuse being rife.
“My neighbours’ son was gunned down the other day and nobody found who did it.”
Tsese further wanted to highlight a lack of access to social services and how people have to pay Social Development Department officials to get approved for social relief programmes, food parcels and social grants.
In its response to the Public Protector’s investigation, the Eastern Cape Treasury said: “Due to its economic situation, the Eastern Cape province finds itself in a worse situation than most other provinces due to historical underdevelopment. As a result, the delivery of essential services to the residents of Eastern Cape remains constantly at risk due to budgetary limitations.”
The provincial treasury said the infrastructure backlog alone was R150.1-billion.
The report found that the Departments of Human Settlements, Education, Health, Roads and Transport and Social Development were all failing in their constitutional duties, as were several municipalities.
The Public Protector’s order includes a “detailed project implementation plan” to be provided within 60 days and an order to MEC Siphokazi Mani-Lusithi to provide proper political oversight over departments.
South African Police Service
The Public Protector was also inundated with complaints about the police. In response, the SAPS said they were understaffed “due to early retirements, deaths through Covid-19, resignations and a moratorium on recruitment from 2019” – and that many police stations in the province had fallen into a state of disrepair. Some did not have electricity. The police also blamed the bad state of roads.
The Public Protector noted improvements by the SAPS in vehicle allocation, infrastructure upgrade and electricity supply.
The report noted allegations of Social Development officials soliciting bribes from poor and destitute people in Matatiele, Mphetshwa, Hofisi, Ndakeni and Tyutyu who require distress relief such as food parcels, counselling and housing referrals.
It ordered the department to provide a drug rehab centre in Alfred Nzo district.
Department of Education
The report concluded that there was enough evidence to substantiate a finding that “the provision of basic education by the Eastern Cape Department of Education is at risk of being compromised by the lack of proper school infrastructure or facilities”.
One school mentioned, Loyiso Senior Secondary School, only had 10 classrooms for more than 600 learners. The 120 Grade 8 learners were crammed into one classroom, as were 116 Grade 9s and 164 Grade 10s.
The Education Department stated that 196 schools lacked flushing toilets and only 30 were due to get flushing toilets soon.
Department of Health
In terms of healthcare, crumbling infrastructure and bad conditions at clinics were at the top of the list of complaints. Dr Rolene Wagner, Eastern Cape Health Department head at the time, said 30 infrastructure contracts had been cancelled between 2015 and 2021 because of nonperformance.
Roads and Transport
Public Protector’s Office investigators were inundated with complaints about the roads while they were in the province. But the Transport Department said it would need R3.8-billion to maintain its road network.
Yet again, the report pointed to bad governance. Investigators highlighted “a pattern of incomplete or partial road upgrading and maintenance, possibly due to a lack of proper planning and contract management”.
“The investigation has equally found that there is still a lack of supply of basic essential services as well as infrastructural backlog within certain villages,” the report continued. Areas of concern were a lack of clean and reliable water supply and failure to provide proper sanitation in some villages. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.