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.