In the run-up to the municipal elections, various media outlets have carried excellent, albeit highly distressing, reports detailing the collapse of basic services in towns and townships across the country.
The North West town of Lichtenburg rose to particular prominence on News24 after Clover announced that it would close a large cheese factory there, owing to ongoing service delivery problems, ranging from serious water and electricity disruptions, through to roads that are so potholed as to make logistics beyond difficult.
And if things were bad for the dairy group, they were even worse for those residing in the Ditsobotla local municipality, where Lichtenburg is the administrative centre. Adding insult to the lack-of-delivery injury was news in the Sowetan that municipal officials were not only unqualified for their jobs, but were, in many cases, also related.
An EWN report on the Thaba Chweu municipality, in Mpumalanga, where Lydenburg is the administrative centre, were equally disturbing. Residents in nearby Coromandel face the daily stench of raw sewage, while the potholes in Lydenburg itself are so bad that online traveller reviews now warn motorists to use alternative routes.
Then there are the near apocryphal stories that have emerged from various news outlets about the Eastern Cape town of Makhanda, previously known as Grahamstown. Makhanda has arguably become the poster child of municipal decay: water- shedding is now a regular occurrence and there has been a dramatic deterioration in other public infrastructure and services.
Similar stories can be told across the length and breadth of the country, from Emfuleni in Gauteng, which is in administration, to certain wards in Khayelitsha, in the Western Cape.
There are also obvious signs of infrastructure stress and distress in some of the metropolitan areas, where residents have been somewhat shielded from the full horror of degeneration that have unfolded in many smaller towns.
The latest municipal audit report by the Auditor-General, which shows that only 27 of South Africa’s more than 260 municipalities received a clean bill of financial health, fails to tell the full story of the impact of the current crisis and the frustration and hostility it is causing.
President Cyril Ramaphosa had a small taste of this anger while electioneering in Soweto in September. Reports indicate that the President had his hands full as he tried to calm angry community members protesting over a lack of electricity, in particular.
Indeed, unreliable electricity supply and rising costs have arguably become the defining issue of the 2021 municipal elections, epitomised by the protest held, in late September, outside the Soweto house of the President’s sister, Ivy.
Worryingly, our political leaders are unlikely to feel the full brunt of this pent-up anger at the polls themselves, owing to the lack of alternatives for many.
The upshot will be ongoing poor accountability, while progress, if any, will depend increasingly on active citizenry and, in some rare instances, strong individual leaders, who are prepared to resist corruption and accept help from the private sector.