How Harrismith bucked the trend
Publish date: 23 January 2020
Issue Number: 693
Diary: Legalbrief Forensic
Category: Local Government
‘When the well is dry, we’ll know the worth of water.’
– Benjamin Franklin
While SA’s heaving parastatals – particularly Eskom and SAA – continue to dominate the state capture narrative, small mismanaged municipalities across the land are now reflecting the extent of the problem and the plight of their people. Legalbrief reports that hardly a day goes by without forgettable rural towns making headlines for all the wrong reasons. While all of SA was justifiably outraged by the senseless drowning of a high school teenager near Brits last week, the former QwaQwa Bantustan in the Free State has erupted after an eight-year-old girl drowned while fetching water from a river. Residents blame the municipality for water shortages in the area, despite the minimum services being provided by the municipality. The pharmacy and laboratory at the local hospital remain closed following a total shutdown that has left many parts of Maluti-a-Phofung Municipality under lock down. And News24 reports that doctors and nurses have been trapped inside the hospital. An employee, who asked to remain anonymous, called on the government to deploy military medical services to the hospital and clinics to prevent the situation from escalating further.
A Gauteng High Court judgment has laid bare how some service providers siphoned off millions of rand from troubled Mogalakwena municipality in Limpopo. A civil matter between two security companies over a R2.3m unpaid debt ended up revealing how inflated invoices were sent to the municipality for payment. A report on the News24 site notes that he municipality is now under administration with a deficit of more than R2bn. The judgment was delivered by Judge Neil Tuchten in a matter between Global Strake Security and Mahlatsi Security Services. Global Strake Security was owed more than R2.3m by Mahlatsi Security Services. Evidence led in court showed that Mahlatsi Security Services sent invoices inflated by over 40% of the rates agreed upon.
A struggling Mpumalanga municipality, rocked by infighting and allegations of corruption and looting, has also been placed under administration. SowetanLIVE reports the Mpumalanga Government's provincial executive committee resolved to put the Dr JS Moroka local municipality under administration following nine months of infighting during which service delivery was adversely affected. A spokesperson said the executive committee has written to Minister of Co-operative Governance Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma about the decision. ‘The process of the appointment of an administrator that would be there for six months will start after the Minister has responded,’ the spokesperson said. The provincial government said the decision was informed by the ‘instances of administrative and leadership challenges leading to unrest, making it impossible for the municipality to deliver basic services’.
Cosatu affiliate, the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu), has warned the Eastern Cape Government not to appeal against last week’s judgment placing the troubled Makana local municipality under administration after years of service delivery failures. As reported in Legalbrief Today, Eastern Cape High Court Judge Igna Stretch ordered the council of the ANC-run municipality to be dissolved for failing to provide services to residents in a sustainable manner. The provincial government subsequently indicated that it would appeal against the ruling. But according to a Weekend Argus report, Samwu has warned the government against the move, saying that what remained in Makana was ‘merely a name and not a municipality’. ‘We therefore caution the provincial government not to proceed with its intentions of appealing this ruling as it will be a declaration of war against residents of Makana and municipal workers, who have been worst affected by the dysfunctionality of Makana local municipality,’ the union said. Samwu demanded that the provincial government abide by the ruling and appoint an administrator, dissolve the council and elect a new one.
The DA in the Western Cape has studied the findings of a forensic investigation into allegations of fraud, corruption, maladministration and serious malpractice within the George Municipality. This investigation was conducted at the instruction of the Minister for Local Government in the Western Cape, Anton Bredell. The report makes two very serious findings relating to the Melvin Naik, relating to alleged corruption, and interference in administrative processes. These findings are substantiated by a number of admissions by individuals involved as well as compelling circumstantial evidence. The DA said there was also evidence that certain relevant documents were withheld from the investigators.
Despite the gloom and doom, one story has demonstrated that ordinary citizens are capable of turning the tide. Ironically, it involves water and has taken place in the same QwaQwa region where last week’s drowning occurred. The infrastructural breakdown in Harrismith is highlighted by the fact that the municipality owes Eskom more than R4bn, the municipality has been under administration since 2018 when mayor Vusi Tshabalala was removed amid corruption allegations, the sewerage works have collapsed and the streets are potholed. Into the void stepped an informal group of local white farmers, black community leaders and others. After 40 days without water, farmer Petrus Claassen van Eeden met community leader Sam Twala and they rolled up their sleeves. In a Daily Maverick analysis, Tony Weaver says the ‘Water Heroes’ fixed the water supply, sorted out the rubbish collection, mended potholes and ran the services the municipality is supposed to provide. ‘The people of Harrismith have answered President Cyril Ramaphosa’s February 2018 challenge of “Thuma mina” – send me. They have set out to fix what has been broken by years of corruption and theft under Jacob Zuma’s ANC and the premiership of Ace Magashule. It is a story of corruption and collapse being repeated in towns, small and large, across SA where the failure of basic services is resulting in environmental degradation on a massive scale. Will the government listen to those, like the Water Heroes, who have answered the “Thuma mina” challenge?’