THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM - SOUTH AFRICA 'S MUNICIPAL COLLAPSE
Since 1994, the South African public has experienced changing emotions over the performance of the ANC , particularly in the municipal sector. After the initial euphoria - or the perceived euphoria because many knew what was to come - came the acceptance that, well, maybe they needed some experience in running a local council. Disappointment followed as the decay set in, but there were lots of excuses - the legacies of apartheid and colonialism were regularly proffered. Time advanced, and the corrosion deepened: greed, corruption, incompetence and nepotism became the modus operandi, while complaints flew thick and fast as those who "expected more" realized that what they got was no better than what the rest of Africa got.
Disillusionment morphed into dislike, disgust, even a smouldering enmity. Unfazed, the ANC continued to place their struggle chums into positions where the wheels of proficiency ultimately fell off. The shame of failure was non-existent - public wrath was dismissed in a breathtaking denialism.
Gratuitous promises were made at lavish launches where new strategies and turn-around schemes were tendered to a weary public, mostly tired of the nonsense and the humbug and the empty gestures. Even the ANC's most fervent followers vented their wrath, but to no avail.
The South African public has been reduced to a complaining mass of letter writers to newspaper editors, of columnists and business leaders and academics entreating the ANC to do what should be done, and to those who have simply given up. The I-told-you-so's enjoy no triumph as the bleakness of their prophesies have come to pass.
The beginning of the destruction of local government as South Africa knew it was the reintegration of the ten black homelands into the greater South Africa , while their capitals and administrations were dismantled. The four provinces were divided into nine, and 843 municipalities were reduced to 284.Farmers were roped into extended municipal areas, and rarely received anything from these councils for the municipal rates they were forced to pay.
BRAVE NEW WORLD
In his book "South Africa's Brave New World" (2009), R.W. Johnson points out that reorganization of local government into these 284 councils "set the scene for the explosion to come. It was a fatal error. Everywhere there was a mounting problem of unpaid rents, rates and service charges. By 2003, R 16 billion was owed in arrears, an amount rising by 13% per year.
The ANC's response to this situation was a mass mobilization campaign called Masakhane, attempting to encourage people to pay rates when in fact they could get away with not doing so. (Italics ours). The instinctive assumption at grass roots was that central government must provide. Local people, habituated by years of anti-apartheid rent boycotts, felt they could not and would not pay - they frequently made illegal connections to obtain free water, electricity and telephone services and huge amounts of copper wire and piping were stolen as fair game".
(The Masakhane campaign saw Bishop Desmond Tutu dancing around the townships urging people to pay. It appeared on television and in the printed media, and cost many millions. Nothing of course resulted from this frivolity, paid for by the usual suspects - the taxpayer.)
Continued Johnson: The Helen Suzman Foundation conducted a survey over 13 years ago on the non-payment of municipal dues. It was obvious that everything had worked best where well-run old white municipalities, with competent staff and working systems, had incorporated surrounding black areas, stretching their staff and systems to cope. The following year, all these were abolished in the cause of reform.
Inside the new councils, another type of pillage was going on, declared Johnson. "The new councillors awarded themselves large allowances, while the new managers and executives took unheard-of salaries. White engineers and other specialists were "transformed" out of their jobs, some of which went to the new ruler's friends and relatives, while other positions just stood vacant. The new councils became part of the spoils system".
Johnson continues with a litany of corruption, tender favoritism and protests in the streets. In 2002, "there had been protests in fifty towns and cities. Of the country's 284 municipalities, 203 were unable to provide sanitation for 40% or more of their residents. A quarter of the towns had no refuse removal and in 201 of the towns, most people did not have flushable toilets. Over half the residents did not have piped water".
"At the same time, the councillors were awarding themselves ‘performance bonuses'. Many of these people lacked any formal qualifications and expertise. Seventy four of the biggest municipalities lacked a single qualified civil engineer, while 36% of all municipal managers had no tertiary qualifications".
The rest of course is history. Denialism was juxtaposed with ubiquitous "turn-around" strategies as a palliative to paper over the cracks. After Masakhane, Project Consolidate was launched in 2004, yet in towns assisted by this project - which were by definition not coping, "67% of municipal managers received large performance bonuses!"
Johnson says that "no government reform went more catastrophically wrong than the reshaping of local government - within three years, it had caused municipal collapse."
Back to the drawing board by a chastened administration? Not likely! Instead of calling back the competent white municipal employees (many of whom had already departed for Australia and other points off shore), the project launches continued, and more promises were dispersed to fend off growing rumblings.
As the disintegration increased, advertisements for municipal staff continued to emphasise that Affirmative Action applicants would receive priority. In April 2011, it was reported that the government and municipalities were up among the top 30 advertising spenders in the country. This farce continues today - Newcastle Municipality wants a Municipal Manager but there must be "representativity" (sic) in their selection of suitable candidates. In March this year, the Tsolwana, the Mbhashe and the Chris Hani municipalities in the Eastern Cape advertised for highly sophisticated positions, but all applicants have to be from "designated groups", or "Employment Equity conditions" must apply.
The Tshwane ( Pretoria ) council is currently being taken to court because an appointed candidate for a job was allegedly shown the interview questions beforehand. Hundreds of Tshwane Metro's final demand notices have been found dumped in a lot in Claremont . Nobody at the council answered the phone calls of the woman who found the notices. Complaints about incorrect Tshwane billings fill local newspapers, and ratepayers complain that nobody at the council answers the queries.
In February of this year, a lavish dinner costing over R1,4 million was given by the Metro to congratulate staff members "for their hard work". In addition, the council is spending millions on changing the names of Pretoria 's streets, but it cannot guarantee water at its district hospital. Families of patients must bring water themselves.
A cancer patient sits in a Pretoria hospital in terrible pain because there's no morphine. The council announced in March this year it would introduce the Bus Rapid Transport System despite its inability to run the Tshwane Bus Service. It has introduced a new emblem - Igniting Excellence - and has co-opted the Ethics Institute of SA and the SA Bureau of Standards in a bid to attain "a clean and world class governance system". The self-delusion knows no bounds.
South Africa's so-called world class city - Johannesburg - is mired in incompetence, lethargy and corruption. The ruling ANC is suffused with self-delusion and denialism.
+ In February 2011, a Craighall Park pensioner's water was cut off because she would not pay an erroneous bill of R106,000. The city's new computer billing system appeared to be way ahead of the capacity of the ANC's appointees, resulting in absolute chaos. Thousands complained and stood in queues for hours, but Mr. Parks Tau, head of the Finance Committee (and soon to be mayor) was defended robustly by the ANC's Christine Walters who said he had "impeccable struggle DNA" and was a caring husband and father! She said the chaos had been inherited and was a legacy of apartheid. Mayor Masondo declared there was no crisis at all!
TAU SA has tracked the promises made in 2011: they were not fulfilled a year later, as is the ANC's wont! The 2011 municipal elections brought forth the best of ANC humbug, from extravagant pledges to the interminable launches of new and complexly-initialed projects.
+ In April 2011, Executive Mayor Amos Masondo launched yet another contrivance - the Inner-City Property Scheme (ICPS), which replaced the Better Buildings Programme (BBP). The ICPS was to transfer "expropriated buildings" (another term for squatter take-overs) into an Inner City Property Portfolio where Broad Base Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) participants would hold controlling shares. . This scheme involved thirty buildings that had become derelict. We haven't heard much about that since. On 21 March 2012, a Johannesburg city building "apparently weakened by the theft of support pillars", collapsed. A fire started by squatters had previously undermined the building.
+ "Joburg vows to fix billing chaos" read the April 2011 headline. Mayor Masondo declared that 35 353 of the 65 000 queries had been resolved. He said the city was "doing well" and blamed management and "communication problems" for the breakdown. In the same month, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) revealed that City of Johannesburg (CoJ) was R2,8 billion in debt. City Power, Joburg Water and Joburg Roads recorded massive cash-flow irregularities because of overspending and a lack of cash inflow.
+ In February 2012, the CoJ announced it would create a set of procedures and establish a new team to streamline its processes for "dealing with billing queries" which were escalating at an alarming rate. In the same month, CoJ appealed against 45 compliance notices issued against it by the National Consumer Commission for billing faults, each of which carries a maximum penalty of R1 million.
+ A March 2012 headline read "R18 000 water bill? That's right, says Joburg City ". A hapless family man with two small children had to pay this account, and "settle the problem afterwards", while thousands more continued to complain about the billing crisis.
+ In the same month, Mayor Parks Tau declared Johannesburg would be introducing a "Customer Charter" which would "create jobs, develop infrastructure and improve municipal services!"
+ In April 2012, Mr. Tau came up with another launch - the Citizens for Partnership with Government (CPG), admitting that the city "may" be struggling with poor financial management and the city would "look to the private sector" to help sort out some problems. At the breakfast launch (these launches always include food!), Tau indicated that there was evidence that "some people were not doing their jobs". (Meanwhile, the ratings agency Ratings Africa showed that the CoJ was the most financially unsound of SA's eight largest municipalities. Johannesburg suffered a net negative cash flow of R675 million after capital expenditures for 2011, forcing it to borrow money to cover its operating expenses.)
The rest of South Africa 's municipalities - with the notable exception of DA-led Cape Town - are in the same dire straits. Yet every municipality in South Africa advertises for personnel who must meet the government's Affirmative Action requirements. There is no point in asking why this is so, and "wouldn't you think they would try and get things right by either re-appointing the previous efficient workers, or at least advertise for people on merit" is a statement often heard, but never acted upon. There is no point in asking that question, because we live in what DA councillor Patrick Watkins calls "a parallel universe", something that was warned about many years ago but which went unheeded. The chickens have certainly come home to roost.
Will the ANC sink under the local government morass? This remains to be seen. When one sees the ANC's frenzied reaction and the vitriol flung at Nedbank's Raoul Khoza for criticizing the party, the outlook for government introspection doesn't look good. We move towards a precipice.
This article first appeared in the International Bulletin of TAU SA, April 24 2012
Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter