Cogta minister blames ‘evil apartheid’ for service delivery dearth
Thembi Nkadimeng says it is a ‘daunting task’ to rid the country of apartheid’s spatial planning, which excluded provision of services to black South Africans
Co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Thembi Nkadimeng blamed “evil apartheid” for the slew of service delivery failures plaguing the embattled local government sector.
This as the SA Local Government Association (Salga), the employer body representing the country’s 257 municipalities, hailed the “massive progress” the government sphere has made over nearly three decades.
Nkadimeng, who delivered the keynote address at the Salga national members’ assembly, after President Cyril Ramaphosa could not attend due to other commitments, complained it was a “daunting task” to rid the country of apartheid’s spatial planning which excluded provision of services to the black majority.
ANC politicians are wont to blame apartheid for the government’s shortcomings. Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu last week blamed apartheid for the tragic deaths of 74 people who died when a five-storey, hijacked building caught fire in the Johannesburg CBD.
“Trying to rid our country off an entrenched system of apartheid planning has been a daunting task. The access to basic services prior to 1994 was skew and services were provided mainly in the former white suburbs and main cities. As a government, we continue to redress the evils of the past by prioritising the elimination of backlogs to provide basic services such as water, sanitation, roads, electricity, low-cost housing, schools, primary healthcare facilities and telecommunications in areas where access was not provided before,” Nkadimeng said.
“The decline in existing infrastructure is therefore [compounded] by many more users of the entire spectrum of infrastructure than it had been designed for. There is therefore greater need and urgency for economic infrastructure investment, while continuing to address the apartheid-era backlogs.”
Local government is at the coalface of service delivery, but poor governance in the sector has resulted in most municipalities being run into the ground due to maladministration, looting and corruption, while others are struggling to pay staff salaries and employment benefits, or deliver basic services such as refuse collection, or supply potable water and sanitation. Of the 257 municipalities in the country, 123 have cases of corruption under investigated by the Hawks.
The two-day Salga conference, held in Boksburg east of Johannesburg, is aimed at examining challenges facing the sector and recommend mechanisms to address them. It will also reflect on progress made and challenges faced by sector since the November 2021 municipal elections, which resulted in many hung councils and saw the ANC losing crucial metros to coalitions of opposition parties.
Nkadimeng told the gathering of mayors, councillors and government representatives that the government was doing its damnedest to deliver basic services such as water, sanitation, roads, electricity, low-cost housing and schools.
The former executive mayor of Polokwane local municipality said almost 90% of citizens now have access to electricity while access to piped, potable water “remains one of our constant challenges in local government”. Nkadimeng described the results of the 2021 municipal elections in which the ANC lost control of the Gauteng metros of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane to the opposition as a “sign of a maturing democracy”.
Nkadimeng said Cogta had no intentions of running municipalities, saying they were difficult to manage. She said the government had been receiving letters from disgruntled citizens about municipalities behaving badly and of projects that “only exist in paper”.
“We can’t allow municipalities to collapse … we will work together with you…. I implore you: we carry the responsibility to be accountable to council, to our citizens, and to deliver sustainable services,” Nkadimeng said.
Salga president Bheke Stofile said the summit needed to ask difficult questions: “Are we on course and driven in building a people-centred local government system? This question must guide us through this national members’ assembly.”
Stofile said the sector had made “massive progress” over the past 29 years, as it tackled the delivery of basic services and rapid development, quality infrastructure and “massive progress in financial management and institutional resilience”. He admitted, however, that currently municipalities are under “extreme cash flow constraints”.
Briefing parliament’s standing committee on the auditor-general (Scoag) on the local government audit outcomes for the 2021/2022 financial year on May 31, auditor-general Tsakani Maluleke said the 257 municipalities racked up R4.74bn in fruitless and wasteful expenditure during 2021/2022. Of the 257 municipalities, only 38 received a clean audit, from 41 the previous year, highlighting the effect of instability in local government blighted by inadequate skills, cash flow challenges, governance failures, and a lack of accountability and consequence management.
In July, ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula told the party’s local government intervention workshop that poor local governance was an indictment of the governing party, whose electoral support is expected to fall below 50% during the 2024 election, according to several polls, including one by the ANC itself.
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