Under a DA government, a town like Upington will come alive
11 October 2021
Note to Editors: The following speech was delivered by the DA Federal Leader John Steenhuisen at the Mxolisi Dicky Jacobs Stadium in Upington in the Northern Cape today.
Good morning, fellow Democrats, fellow South Africans,
It’s wonderful to be here in your beautiful town of Upington, on the banks of the great Orange River.
I don’t come here as often as I’d like to. Yours is not the easiest town to travel to in a busy election year. But when I am here, I am always glad I made the trip.
And I think this is true for almost everyone who ever visits here. Most South Africans don’t know what this place offers and not that many make the trip out here. But almost everyone who comes to Upington once, returns again.
It’s just that kind of place. Here you will find some of our country’s most genuine, down-to-earth people, living out here in this incredible landscape.
Then there’s the region’s agriculture - the wine industry here, and all the farms with raisins and fruit and nuts - which has turned this stretch of the Orange River into a fertile oasis on the edge of the Kalahari.
This Upington area is a truly special place.
But… and there’s always a but - for everything Upington and its greater Dawid Kruiper Municipality has got going for it, it also has one major disadvantage. And that is its local government.
Like so many other wonderful towns across the length and breadth of our country, Upington is being held back by a local government that simply does not care about the communities it is meant to serve and has long since abandoned any idea of accountability.
If it weren’t for the residents in this town who have taken to filling potholes, mowing verges and cleaning parks themselves, Upington would be in a far worse state.
As is the case in so many other towns, the community - individuals, businesses, churches and NGOs - have to act as a buffer between a failed local government and the residents of the municipality.
And they get nothing in return. I have been told about the exorbitant water tariffs here and the erratic billing for water and electricity. I know how detrimental that can be for those trying to run a business, not to mention all the ordinary households who are struggling to pay bills.
I have been told about the raw sewage that continues to pollute this community’s lifeline, the Orange River.
I saw for myself the state of some of the roads here - the crumbling surfaces and the growing potholes. This too makes it near impossible for businesses to operate properly.
I am told that the municipality’s licensing is in a state of disaster, with only a handful of licenses being processed daily, and scores of people being turned away and told to queue again on a different day.
I have heard about places like Rietfontein, where the people have no water and have to fetch their drinking water from elsewhere on donkey carts. And of places like Askam and Andriesvale that still don’t have any toilets.
All these things are the very minimum a local government should be doing. If they can’t do these basics, there is no way they will ever get round to implementing a long-term plan and vision for this municipality.
But the problem in an ANC-run municipality like this is that it hasn’t been about serving the people for a very long time. In these municipalities it’s every cadre for him or herself, and the people are an afterthought.
We see this in the bogus municipal positions created for ANC councillors who lost their seats in the previous Local Government Elections. And even a Public Protector finding against the municipality has not forced them to take action and cancel these positions.
They see it as one big jobs-for-pals scheme, even if this sucks up all the money meant for service delivery.
We also see it in the absurd amount of overtime paid to municipal officials, because there’s no one who will stop them from abusing the system. While residents have to wait forever to have issues attended to, many jobs are deliberately scheduled for after-hours just for the overtime pay.
Again, as long as there is a way to extract a little more from the system, the people can wait.
We see it in the number of vehicles and equipment lying unserviced and unusable while the work backlog piles up. This municipality’s backlog of vehicle repairs - which includes literally hundreds of vehicles just waiting for tyre repairs - has brought service delivery to a halt here.
I am told that a refuse truck has been out of service since March because it is waiting for tyres, and that the municipal bulldozer has been standing idle for over six months now simply because there is no order number to have the pump repaired.
That is what a failed local government looks like. Because when you can’t keep your refuse truck or bulldozer operational despite such minor issues, you cannot do your basic job of collecting residents’ refuse and doing earthworks for service delivery projects.
I am told the lack of a functional bulldozer has meant that the development of sewage works in Dakota Bay has ground to a complete halt.
Similarly, I am told that the nearly brand new compactor at the landfill site is also now out of commission because it has not been serviced, resulting in trash being dumped all around the site and along the roads.
You cannot run a municipality like that. If you want to fulfil your constitutional duty as a government, you have to start by doing the basics right.
And let me tell you, there are towns across South Africa where this does happen - where vehicles are serviced, where equipment is maintained, where finances are meticulously managed and where no unqualified cadre will ever be deployed to a crucial job simply for his or her political loyalty.
These towns may be in the minority, but they are there, and they serve as a reminder of what is possible when a local government has its priorities straight.
I am talking, of course, of the towns and cities run by the Democratic Alliance.
We may govern less than 10% of South Africa’s 278 municipalities, but the top 5 best run municipalities are all DA-governed, and all the failing ones are managed by the ANC.
That alone should be all the reason you need to choose a DA government on 1 November.
When I was told about the absurd number of municipal vehicles here in Dawid Kruiper Municipality that are not currently in use because of the massive service backlog, I thought immediately of DA-run Kouga municipality in the Eastern Cape.
We won that municipality in the last local government election in 2016, and one of the very first projects the new DA government there undertook was to clear the vehicle service and repair backlog and get the municipal fleet on the road again.
They realised that as long as all these cars, trucks and equipment that had fallen into disrepair under the ANC were just gathering dust in a depot, the job they were meant to be doing was not getting done.
That is also why DA local governments are so obsessed with maintaining water treatment plants and fixing pipe leaks. They know that this is not something you want to allow to get out of control. You need to stay on top of the maintenance if you want these machines to stay in service.
Similarly, you need to attend, right away, to reports of water leaks, potholes and broken streetlights.
These sound like small things, but all the small things add up. And it is this cumulative effect of doing the basics well, across every aspect of the municipality, that sets DA towns and cities apart.
I have just visited the municipality of Midvaal in Gauteng - the only outright DA-run municipality in that province, and by far the best run municipality in Gauteng. In fact, it is one of the top 5 best-run municipalities in the country.
Compared to its ANC-run neighbours, it is like we’re talking about two different worlds. Now, the thing about Midvaal is that it has benefited from twenty years under a DA government, but those twenty years had to start somewhere. And even in the first DA term there, the municipality left its neighbours in its wake.
When I see a beautiful town like Upington - and I think of all the potential this place has with its agriculture and tourism - I just know it will come alive under a DA government.
Because all you want, from a local government, is for things to get done. You want problems solved when they are reported. You want water when you open your tap. You want light when you flick on the switch. You want to be able to book your license or get yours renewed right away, when it suits you.
And when you look at track records in government, only one party can truly say it gets things done. That party is the DA.
But there is something else about the DA that you need to know too. While we are very good at doing the basics of a local government, we don’t stop there.
We know that there are many functions of national government that simply do not work, and we will not stop fighting to have these functions supplemented, or even taken over completely, by competent local governments.
One such a function is the provision of electricity, and it is no secret that the ANC government has failed dismally in this regard.
But there are DA local governments in the Western Cape that have launched a pilot programme that will look to make them less reliant on Eskom by procuring their power directly from Independent Power Producers, or by allowing residents and businesses to generate their own electricity, and even sell their surplus back into the grid.
The outcome of this programme will have far-reaching implications for millions of South Africans, and particularly those living in DA-run towns and cities.
Another area where the DA is challenging national government’s sole mandate is that of policing, and this will be of particular interest to vulnerable farming communities like yours here around Upington.
The DA has long maintained that a critical function of government such as policing is best managed by those who are closest to the issues on the ground - in other words the local government.
There is no way that a bunch of ministers and officials in the Union Buildings in Pretoria know how to best protect a community on the Cape Flats from gangsters. Similarly, there is no way they will know how to protect farming communities from the brutal attacks that have become far too common of late.
I recently spoke at our election manifesto launch in Tshwane, where I announced that, if given the mandate to do so by voters, the DA would introduce a rural safety unit in the city’s Metro Police Force, because that metro has such a substantial farming community.
This is something we take very seriously. Not only do we believe in devolving more police functions from national government to local government, we also believe very strongly that specialised police units are the answer to specific crime problems.
And one such a specific crime problem that will most certainly benefit from a specialised unit is rural safety and farm attacks.
These are the kinds of fights you can expect your local DA government to fight on your behalf, should your municipality elect such a government.
And let me tell you, Dawid Kruiper Municipality is not that far away from electing a DA local government. There are only two significant parties in the race here, and they are the DA and the ANC.
The DA needs to take just four seats off the ANC to draw level with them. And in this unpredictable election, that’s not out of reach.
And this is where you come in. The final, most important step in the process of bringing change is taken by the voter. I can stand here and offer you plans to turn your town around, but only you have the power to make those plans happen.
If you want to live in a municipality that guarantees reliable, clean water, you need to vote for a government with a track record of delivering reliable, clean water.
If you want to live in a municipality where the vehicles and equipment are maintained and stay in service, you need to vote for a government that does those things.
If you want to live in a municipality where potholes are filled, pipe leaks are fixed, streetlights are fixed, parks are kept neat, pavements are tidy and refuse is regularly collected, you need to vote for a government that gets things done.
There is only one such a government, and that’s a DA government.
On 1 November, let Upington go out in great numbers and elect the DA government that will make this town come alive.
Viva DA! Viva!
Issued by John Steenhuisen, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 11 October 2021