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MUNICIPAL GOVERNANCE

Knysna Municipality must adopt service delivery report or face intervention — Alan Winde

Knysna Municipality must adopt service delivery report or face intervention — Alan Winde
Residents have raised concerns over poor service delivery in Knysna. (Photos: Gallo Images / Rapport / Edrea du Toit)

Knysna Municipality – a coastal gem in the Garden Route – faces severe service delivery issues, particularly related to the provision of drinking water. On Friday, the council is expected to table and adopt a diagnostic report from the provincial government. It has taken a long road to get here.

Knysna Municipality is expected to hold a special council meeting on Friday, 1 March, to adopt a diagnostic report into its service delivery problems. The municipality – a key tourism destination in the Western Cape’s Garden Route district – has faced several challenges with water and sanitation service delivery in recent months. 

Western Cape Local Government MEC Anton Bredell said in January 2024 that a draft diagnostic report had been sent to the municipality highlighting concerns related to service delivery, political governance and financial challenges. 

The council was supposed to table and adopt the report at a special council meeting earlier this week; however, it was postponed. Another special council meeting is scheduled for Friday, according to the provincial government. 

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has warned that if Knysna does not adopt the plan, an intervention by the province will be on the cards. 

On Thursday, Daily Maverick sent queries to Knysna Mayor Aubrey Tsengwa to confirm whether the plan would be tabled at the council meeting and to request an update on the water situation. He had not responded by the time of publication. If a response is received, Daily Maverick will include it in this report. 

Winde said this week: “If the municipality does not adopt this recovery plan, the WCG [Western Cape Government] will consider initiating an intervention in the municipality under section 139 of the Constitution, but our fervent hope is that the municipality works with us. I am particularly concerned about the potential disaster that is developing around safe drinking water, sewage and refuse management.”

In addition, Bredell has written to the national Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), Thembi Nkadimeng, to ensure closer cooperation between the three spheres of government in addressing the challenges that Knysna is facing.

Winde said the Section 154 plan – to be tabled and adopted – was aimed at ensuring a provincially coordinated approach to support initiatives offered to the municipality. 

“This situation has been allowed to worsen, and collaboration is needed to fix Knysna. Knysna residents, like all residents of the Western Cape, deserve the best possible services,” he said. 

How did we get here? 

Knysna has long been plagued by service delivery problems, which caught even Parliament’s attention in June 2020, when a petition from local organisation Knysna United was heard in the Cogta oversight committee.

That petition raised issues related to water meters, service delivery and political governance.

The municipality’s political leadership has changed hands several times, leading to accusations and counter-accusations about service delivery between the two largest parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the African National Congress (ANC).

This came to a head in November 2023, when the coastal municipality’s sewerage and water crisis made headlines. Raw sewage has spilled from overflowing manholes and sewerage pipelines. In addition, water shortages have left the municipality’s residents and businesses without water, with humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers having to provide water to affected communities. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Knysna Municipality given two-week deadline to solve unchecked raw sewage spillages

Knysna is a key tourism destination. According to the provincial government, the wholesale and retail trade, catering and accommodation sectors provided 26.3% of the jobs in the municipality in 2020, together making them the largest employer. 

Despite concerns raised by various quarters about poor service delivery and water quality, the local tourism office Visit Knysna said it was working with the relevant departments and the municipality itself to find a solution to the service delivery issues.

“The water quality at recreational areas in the estuary is monitored, and an independent laboratory tests the water every month to ensure readings fall within the prescribed requirements,” the office said. 

The Greater Knysna Business Chamber also issued an advisory on 19 February, saying that despite media reports, it wanted to assure visitors that the town was “nevertheless functioning and safe to visit”. 

“The members of the chamber, like fellow South Africans across the country, display incredible strength under adversity – so life goes on, relatively well, for most. The town may have its problems, but the residents and business owners help each other in times of need.

“Knysna is not unique in experiencing service delivery problems, but individual citizens and businesses are and continue to be resourceful while looking to civic organisations for leadership of community initiatives,” chamber chairman Jan van der Westhuizen said.

“While the chamber executive is working with the municipality to build relationships, we expect progress in resolving the issues with positive results. We will not stand by while there is suffering, and while I don’t want to go against the municipality, we certainly cannot accept poor service delivery,” Van der Westhuizen said.

Politics come out to play 

Knysna is currently run by a coalition of the ANC, Patriotic Alliance (PA) and the Plaaslike Besorgde Inwoners (PBI), which the opposition DA has dubbed a Coalition of Corruption. 

After the 2021 municipal elections, the council was divided: with the DA and local party Knysna Independent Movement (KIM) on one side with 10 council seats and the ANC/PA/PBI coalition with 10 council seats on the other.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has one council seat and has voted with the DA-led coalition and the ANC-led coalition on separate occasions. The DA-led coalition took office after the municipal elections, with the help of the EFF vote. 

The current ANC-led coalition has governed the municipality since August 2022, with help from the EFF. 

Just last week, Winde – who comes from Knysna and is campaigning for a second term as premier – visited the area to hand out bottles of water and hosted several engagements with residents of the municipality.

On Thursday, 29 February, the DA also organised a march to demand the resignation of Tsengwa; his deputy, Alberto Marbi (PBI); and mayoral committee member for infrastructure Beauty Charlie (PA). DM

Update on Friday 1 March, 2024: The report was support and adopted by council on Friday. In addition, as the report was an ongoing support plan, comments from the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs will be added to the report.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Brian Algar says:

    It’s high time the ratepayers in Knysna get together and hold the municipality accountable. Knysna is a classic example of why one man one vote is not necessarily the best form of democracy. The biggest losers in this debacle are the poor who cannot afford any other remedy when the municipality fails, however are the voters who are keeping these incompetent crooks in power. To allow your chosen representatives to destroy a town, and with it the chance at a decent job, better services and your constitutional right to running water, and then vote them into power again is just mind boggling. And the fact that this happens at local government level, where grants and other socialist temptations should not be a factor is even more confusing. Wake up all you sheeple. Your lives will never improve when you give your vote to corrupt incompetent trough feeders.

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