Hidden in the fine print of the flooding in KwaZulu-Natal is an elusive set of numbers about the maintenance of simple public infrastructure such as drainage.
Municipalities throw up fences against those statistics. A little bit of digging reveals that there is simply no digging going on. For decades of the democratic era, hardly anybody has taken a spade or a torch to the hundreds of thousands of miles of pipes and canals that form an intricate web under our homes, roads and cities.
Every so often, a manhole cover (one that has evaded slimy scrap metal dealers) pops under pressure from the torrent below. Its innards spill onto public roads. Sand, plastic bags, a broken kitchen appliance or 10. Everything goes into the drains in cities and towns where nobody cares what goes into the drains. Culprit number one in the recent deluge is eThekwini Municipality — the last of the trophies on the ANC’s mantlepiece of metropolitan councils.
Hanging on by his manicured fingernails is Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda who, since his deployment in 2019 to replace Zandile Gumede, has not done a day’s work beyond an out-of-office tweet during last July’s looting. So terrified is the man of his deputy, PG Mavundla, leader of the Abantu Batho Congress, that he refused to hand over the mayoral chains even while on sick leave.
A third party was brought in to act as mayor instead of the deputy taking his natural role. Mavundla, the mandarin of City Hall, is proving an uncomfortable bed partner for the ANC. If the daily whine on Twitter from the opposition DA is to be believed, they’re planning a putsch with Mavundla ready to eject Kaunda from his parking bay. More mayhem is in store in the municipality as the DA cobbles together a coalition.
None of these intrigues is, of course, of any help to the hapless citizens of the city, who are routinely either out of water or have too much of it.
With so many people not doing their jobs, it’s fallen to KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala literally to pick up a shovel himself. His Twitter timeline is chockful of his daily grind, right down to physically filling potholes. Very commendable. He is routinely a safe pair of hands in a crisis.
In the midst of the flooding, Kaunda’s jackboots were out bulldozing illegal backyard rooms in the most depressed section of the mostly Indian township of Chatsworth. With the mayor heading for deep cover, it was Zikalala who stepped forward to meet a justifiably hostile community.
Stepping into other people’s breaches should not be his job. As premier, he should command and then ship out those incompetent at getting the job done.
In the latter half of last year, a statement on his social media platforms read: “KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala has called for the ring-fencing of the maintenance budget at all levels of government to cater for the regular and scheduled maintenance of public infrastructure.”
Now that last month’s floods have again shown that municipal officials are turning a blind eye to maintenance and sinking public funds elsewhere, will the premier unsheath his sword or is he concerned about his own head ahead of a divisive provincial conference? DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.