Defend Truth


Durban mayor acts like an autocrat while the city decays for all to see


Dr Imraan Buccus is a senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-economic Research Institute and a postdoctoral fellow at Durban University of Technology.

Mxolisi Kaunda’s ban on opposition councillors performing their oversight duties is an attack on democracy and the principles of accountability and transparency that underpin it. 

Durban is rapidly joining Johannesburg and a host of smaller towns as a broken place. Dry taps. Highways darkened by brazen cable theft. Highway robbery of the public purse. Public parks left to fall into ruin. Public transport off the rails. Public buildings hijacked, while officials sigh with their hands in their pockets. Roads riddled with potholes. Councillors on murder raps. Citizens in revolt withholding municipal taxes.

The problem is systemic, and it’s increasingly national. It’s an ANC problem, and if we have any chance of addressing it we’ll have to address it keeping in mind that parties such as the EFF and the Patriotic Alliance have shown themselves to be just as bad, if not worse, in coalition governments.

But leaders must lead and part of that means being held accountable. Here in Durban, the groundswell of opposition from below is tightening around Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda. Even party bosses with less-than-stellar records in service delivery themselves shudder at his rank incompetence.

His latest aberration is to forbid opposition councillors from conducting oversight of broken infrastructure without the permission of the city manager. Democratically elected public officials are subject to the whip and whims of a salaried bureaucrat.

Party grandees parachuted from retirement hover around City Hall holding Kaunda’s hand, but to no avail. Durban’s downward spiral is headed in the direction of Day Zero, when the lights will go from dim to pitch-dark.

The rapid deterioration of governance and infrastructure under the ANC’s watch spells doom for the party in both the City and the province. The Durban Metropolitan Council is the jewel in the local government crown. Citizens in every other major city have shown the ANC the middle finger. It’s a matter of time before the party loses its major assets in KwaZulu-Natal too. Many long-time ANC supporters will stay at home in the next election; others will vote DA or IFP.

In the early years of the democratic era, Durban had well-maintained roads and reliable utilities. Of course, the public transport system was always a fiasco, and attempts at the mass eviction of shack dwellers to what the poor termed “human dumping grounds” far outside the city were appalling.

A major concern for everyone

But today the sense of decay is everywhere. Pothole-riddled roads have become a major concern for citizens and commuters alike. The municipality’s maintenance failures have led to damaged vehicles, accidents and increased transport costs.

The water, sanitation and electricity supply services in Durban have become so unreliable that private citizens truck water at their own cost to affected communities such as those in Hambanathi and greater oThon­gathi. Meanwhile, the Muslim community in Durban North did a sterling job of providing water trucks and water from the mosque’s borehole.

Inaction and incompetence have driven citizens into revolt. The middle classes of Westville withhold their taxes (with the backing of the courts).

They are late in the game. Their fellow citizens in the shacklands have been in revolt for almost 20 years now. If the middle classes and the poor make common cause, the ANC will be in serious trouble.

Despite the gravity of the situation, the ANC has failed to take any action to rectify the situation, leaving residents to grapple with essential service disruptions, all the while blaming the city’s woes on the floods or – the ANC’s script in Joburg – human rights lawyers who act for the homeless.

Kaunda’s ban on opposition councillors performing their oversight duties is an attack on democracy and the principles of accountability and transparency that underpin it. Opposition councillors play a vital role in ensuring that the municipality is held accountable for its actions. They provide necessary checks and balances for the ruling party, preventing abuse of power and corruption. By banning them from fulfilling their duties, Kaunda is silencing those who could bring attention to his failures.

This ban is not only unconstitutional, but also displays an alarming disregard for the rights of citizens who elected those councillors to represent their interests.

It is crucial for Durban’s citizens to demand accountability and transparency from their elected officials. With the middle classes and the poor both reeling from years of corruption, mismanagement and gross incompetence, it’s time for a united front to demand a well-governed city that puts its residents before a corrupt and avaricious political class. The time to act is now. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

DM168 front oage


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Michele Rivarola says:

    What do you expect from admirers of Putin’s and Xi’s “democratic style”. Fortunately we are till protected by our judiciary and a progressive constitution.

  • Peter Utting says:

    The Preamble to THE SA Constitution which I understand should be secular, needs to be amended.

    “We, the people of South Africa,
    Recognise the injustices of our past;
    Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
    Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
    Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.”

    [I don’t BELEIVE in anything – if I don’t know, I will find out. Replace BELIEVE with KNOW.]

    “We therefore, through our freely elected representatives,”
    [the Zondo Report, clearly shows that our freely elected representatives have failed us]
    ” adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to –
    Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social
    justice and fundamental human rights;
    Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
    Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
    Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
    May God protect our people.”

    [Where did this God come from? God has never been proven to exist. The onus is on those who claim there is a God to prove God exists! Rather: May this Constitution protect our people.]

    The SA Constitution has been hijacked by politicians – unprotected by The Constitution.

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    As a person who lives in Durban I can testify to the incompetence of most or our elected councilors including the Mayor. Decades ago Durban was the second most financially City in the world. Now it is almost bankrupt. Some years ago I was a member of the Durban City Planning Commission representing the engineering private sector. Our ‘status quo’ report on the city’s performance was so damning that the then Mayor just buried it!!, for political reasons.

  • James Webster says:

    You can’t expect infants to act as adults, you can’t expect the illiterate to understand the rule-of-law, you can’t expect a dipstick to behave like a sophisticate, you can’t expect a savage to advocate for progress, you can’t expect first world behaviour from a third world Quasimodo, you can’t expect honour from the corrupt and you can’t expect civilisation from a culture that never invented writing and never conceived of the wheel.

  • Anil Maharaj says:

    This correspondent can write moderately well about current affairs provided the issue does not involve religion (especially his own) or India. Otherwise, his bigotry shines brightly.

  • Anil Maharaj says:

    Why do you have to publish my email as my name?
    Is this normal policy?

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