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Over the past two days, the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Shadow Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), Cilliers Brink MP, together with the Free State Provincial Leader, Roy Jankielsohn MPL, carried out oversight visits to municipalities in the Free State that included Matjhabeng and Mangaung municipalities. The purpose of the oversight visits was to assess the state of service delivery in these municipalities, specifically relating to water and waste water management.
Residents of municipalities across the Free State have been victims of poor services that includes sporadic water supply and sewage in fields, streets and yards.
The oversight visit highlighted the impact of poor financial administration, lack of skills due to cadre deployment and political infighting on service delivery. In many instances water boards such as Sedibeng and Bloemwater are unable to deliver bulk water supply due to internal mismanagement and lack of payment by municipalities.
Over our two day visit to the towns of Odendaalsrus, Welkom, Wepener and Bloemfontein we encountered the following:
Serious sewage spillages in Odendaalsrus and Welkom which is affecting the health and livelihoods of residents, and in some instances residents had to abandon houses and cancel the sale of their property because of this.
Diesel powered pumps, hired from contractors but often re-fuelled by residents, keep sewage from flooding large parts of Welkom. If one of these pumps stops working, or if heavy rain starts falling, residents despair, because then the sewage rises up into their streets and backyards.
In Welkom, a resident has built his own system to divert rising sewage from blocked municipal lines from his yard into the street. It is not ideal, but under the circumstances it is the best that can be done. The resident indicated to us that he, as well as his neighbours, still pay their municipal bills in full.
The water problems affecting towns in both Nala and Matjhabeng municipalities are a result of the poor management of the Sedibeng water board. A simple thing such as the lack of chemicals have left communities without water for weeks at a time.
A similar situation exists in Wepener where Bloemwater has restricted water supply to residents that often leave individuals in high lying areas waterless. Borehole pumps meant to alleviate the problem are not maintained and often unserviceable.
In Botshabelo poor management of tenders and financial abuse has robbed residents of their dignity since they are still subjected to temporary VIP toilets and pit latrines.
In Bloemfontein, refuse removal is intermittent and refuse sites have become health and environmental hazards to surrounding communities. Poor roads infrastructure also remain impediments to the communities, especially businesses.
The Maselspoort water plant indicates a lack of maintenance and silting which require urgent attention to prevent a day zero for residents.
In the towns of Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu, in the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality, hundreds of households still use bucket and pit toilets, which the Metro services infrequently, certainly not once a week. An emotional resident has informed us that she is now building her own septic tank which the municipality refuses to approve.
Further aggravating the situation in the Free State is the sheer lack of interest displayed by the National Department of CoGTA to intervene in these municipalities that continue to deteriorate.
There is no evidence of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s (NDZ’s) district development model in the Free State. We have found no government lead or enabled ‘development’ in Mangaung and Matjhabeng. There are no effective districts, no recovery plans being implemented and no support, monitoring or intervention taking place
Voters in the Free State did punish the ANC in the 2021 local government elections, harsher than ever before, but not harsh enough to lose power in Mangaung and Matjhabeng.
Ace Magashule’s legacy still lingers in the run-down Free State municipalities: in the pipes that push sewage into streets and backyards, in the contractors that issue invoices for work not done, and in the despair and indignity of pit and bucket toilets.
It is not clear whether NDZ is scared of confronting Ace’s ghost, or just indifferent to the suffering of communities. The CoGTA Minister certainly cannot be ignorant of what is happening here, but she is not lifting a finger to fix the damage done by the ANC in Free State municipality
We know that calling for councils to be “placed under administration” is often a meaningless or even harmful prescription. Provincial administrators in the Free State are just as likely to be entangled in ANC infighting and patronage networks than their comrade mayors and municipal managers.
NDZ is the minister of local government, the bearer of national government’s constitutional responsibility of monitoring the performance of municipalities and supporting their functions. There are many things national CoGTA can do short of taking over and dissolving municipalities.
A financial recovery plan, adopted for Mangaung, in conjunction with National Treasury, is not being implemented. Does Ace’s ghost also keep the finance minister from monitoring and supporting Free State municipalities?
The DA caucuses across the Free State have devised clear plans of how the water and sewage crisis in these municipalities can be solved. We have to be prepared for the post-ANC era in the Free State. But nothing stops current ANC mayors and ministers from using these plans. #FixTheFreeState
The DA believes that provincial and national interventions might work if these governments and municipalities worked in unison, but political infighting within the ANC and government dysfunctionality is endemic, which undermines such interventions. The problems in Free State municipalities, as highlighted in presentations by DA councillors, lies in the following:
Improving financial systems and debt collection.
Ensuring that skilled individuals with the necessary expertise are appointed in technical and other departments within municipalities
Governance can be improved if the ANC were to put aside factional interest in favour of sound governance.
Municipalities must prioritise core functions such as basic service delivery that includes water, sanitation, waste management and infrastructure.
Conditional grants need to be monitored by national treasury to ensure that they are used for their intended purpose and in a financially efficient manner.
Municipalities need to restructure their organograms in line with their core functions of service delivery instead of being employment agencies for ANC cadres.
While the DA continues to promote these important aspects, residents of municipalities need to take responsibility for the state of our affairs by using their votes more effectively.
Where the DA governs, we have sound records of service delivery that can be used as models for excellence in the Free State. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma needs to visit provinces and municipalities in the Free State and other provinces where service delivery has collapsed and use her political influence to improve the situation instead of partaking in frivolous political factionalism. The same applies to the MEC of CoGTA in the Free State, Mxolisi Dukwana, who promise improvement, but under whose watch the situation has deteriorated further.
The DA will continue to hold national and provincial governments accountable where we are in opposition, and where in government we will ensure that the DA’s track record of good governance is upheld.
Issued by DA Shadow Minister of CoGTA, Cilliers Brink