Citizens are doing local govts' work - but is this the right thing to do?
Grahamstown residents are taking to fixing up their own town rather than waiting for the municipality to do it
Fixing up the Eastern Cape town of Grahamstown is not the endgame for residents’ organisation Makana Revive!
Instead they’re “just helping out” and smoothing the way for government structures to run the town properly.
So says local businessman Ron Weissenberg, chairperson of Makana Revive! (MR) which has given Grahamstown (soon to be renamed Makanda) a facelift over the past couple of months.
“We’re increasing in size, because we unfortunately don’t have any competition and the government continues to be our best salesman.”
He mentioned a litany of problems, which spurred residents into action.“As potholes in town continued to become craters, roads crumbled, vegetation took over, street lights remain broken and problems with water, sanitation and electrical infrastructure persist, we had to do something.”
“Our ultimate goal is to not exist any more, because that would mean that the local, provincial and national government are actually fulfilling their constitutional mandate and duties. We as an organisation are planning on disbanding as soon as possible,” Weissenberg said.
MR recently raised R500,000 during a charity event ahead of the National Arts Festival which started last week Thursday and ends on July 8. They used the money to buy paint to spruce up faded road markings.
Resident John D’Urban Davies helped with some of the road repairs and is happy about the work being done, but feels if the infrastructure were maintained, it would never have come to this.
“If you miss one year, that second year you now have to do a bit of sanding and a bit of filling on some places and a touch-up and then put the coat of paint on. It’s now more than twice the costs than just an initial coat of paint.”Davies dusted off and cleaned some of the road signs he owns from when he still helped the municipality repair the road.
“I just hadn’t ever sold them or cut them up or something or thrown them away or anything. Road signs are quite expensive.”
Makana Local Municipality city manager Ted Pillay was seconded from the Sarah Baartman District Municipality in February this year to bail out the troubled Makana Municipality.
“I think they (the residents) have very good intentions, but sometimes they do it in a way that is probably not cognisant of all the rules and regulations,” Pillay said. “They themselves appoint the contractors and those contractors sometimes do not liaise with us or we’re not even aware of it.”However, Pillay said the municipality has no plans to take a legal action against MR and does not believe their work is interfering with the municipality.
“It’s not as if they are withholding rates from the institution. This is over and above that,” Pillay said.
“Ideally, as a municipality we should be focusing on these things. The trouble is we’re trying our best to stabilise the institution so that we can get the municipality to respond to these things timeously.”
According to the national Treasury, the cash balance of the municipality was R9,7-million at the end of the 2017 financial year, which ended in June. This is down from R91-million it had 2015. National Treasury defines cash balance as “money it has in the bank that it can access easily”.
The municipality only spent 0.97% of its budget on repairs, well below the 8% which national Treasury regards as “good”.The Public Service Accountability Monitor told the Daily Dispatch that MR should tread a fine line when “filling” in for local government.
“People are rightly concerned with where the city is headed and how that affects the trajectory of their businesses and general wellbeing,” PSAM director Jay Kruuse said.
“But it is also necessary to hold to account those duty-bearers who are legally and constitutionally obliged to maintain standards and deliver services.”
Weissenberg said if funding were not a problem, their main project would be repairing and maintaining the waterworks on both sides of town.
The municipality last week Thursday implemented water rationing for the duration of the festival.Mayor Nomhle Gaga said in the statement the town is currently in the midst of a drought.
Outlet valves at reservoirs will reduce the water pressure between 9pm and 5am, affecting the rate at which water comes out of taps.
“This will allow critical water storage levels to recover after daily usage,” the statement read.
Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize visited Grahamstown on May 4. He said there would be no money to help the distressed municipality until it got the basics right. It is estimated to repair the roads alone would could more than R1-billion.
Residents taking control also resonated in North West last month.
The Sunday Times reported earlier this month about a landmark ruling that put the control of key services of the Kgetlengriver Local Municipality in the hands of its citizens.This followed after the community of Koster exploded in anger, burned down a guesthouse and set five cars on fire due to maladministration.
Residents were unhappy about the potholes, sewage, overflowing rubbish and no water in their taps and accused mayor Kim Medupe of “living large” while failing to provide basic services.
The water supply to the town was cut days after the protest began.
Koster magistrate Herman van Wyk granted an interim order to the local ratepayers’ association, allowing it to take control of the municipality’s water and refuse systems “for as long as necessary”.