MICHAEL AVERY: SA’s beating heart is failing due to inept management
Living in SA under the misrule of an ANC government is like a Groundhog Day Friday the 13th.
I’m not in the least superstitious, so woke up early last Friday the 13th, like I do most Fridays, to prep for a busy end to my week with a school run ahead of a three-hour podcast recording in Sandton, followed by a lunchtime meeting and wrapping up with some planning for the radio show this week.
No water. Again. Apparently another pipe burst in the Rosebank area, which has become commonplace and is what happens when overdevelopment meets underinvestment in infrastructure capital and operational expenditure. Right, extra roll-on then.
Through bleary eyes I trundled off to the kitchen to make coffee — but there was no comforting fragrance of East Africa’s finest. I checked the local WhatsApp group, which has become more efficient than the City of Joburg’s non-communication. Low voltage problem at the substation. It’s too early to engage the gas-powered, noisy generator. Coffee will have to wait. I must get that solar installed now, I think to myself.
That evening, at about 7pm, I trundle outside to switch off the generator, which had been whirring away the entire afternoon, only to hear a waterfall in the outside cottage. Great. Someone left the tap on with a plug in the basin while the water was off, and the water was reinstated at 5pm. Flood mop-up operations conclude at 11pm and the welcome embrace of sleep to forget that Joburg feels like living in Khartoum right now.
Saturday morning arrives with the promise of a Rugby World Cup quarterfinals weekend, greeted by sunshine and the sobering reality that the Boks are the only thing that works in SA because there’s still no resolution to the low voltage issue. A quick zap of the generator after 8am to get a few things done. Off again and then the smell of burning wires. The low voltage issue has burnt out the solenoid switch. No power at all now.
By now the community WhatsApp group has cycled through Kübler-Ross’ five stages, and desensitised taxpayers are joking about the predicament facing City Power technicians photographed standing dumbfounded by a locked substation. Apparently, the electronic key is nowhere to be found. “Maybe they should ask the vagrant in the park who keeps stealing the cables?” someone chimes.
You see, the thief of confidence is not the daily load-shedding we have developed strategies to deal with, nor the now increasingly frequent water outages. It’s the knowledge that this once economically vibrant, challenging, multicultural beating heart of the country is succumbing to the sclerosis of inept management. Like arteries hardening after years of consuming junk, the bureaucracy is blocked with incompetent cadres who line the walls of local government power so thick that barely anything moves.
A snapshot of the outages this weekend include the Ruimsig switching station (Honeydew); the Peter Road substation feeding large parts of Roodepoort; the Gresswold substation (Kew central distributor); the Eldorado Park substation supplying Pimville and Devland; the John Ware substation, a vandalised mini-substation in the Newtown area; the Bellevue substation vandalised; the Ridge substation — fort interconnector ripped. I could go on.
In total, City Power reported 186 outage calls this past weekend. Joburg Water dispatched 55 water tankers to areas across the city, with some areas in and around Melville being without water for 50 days now. I wonder who gets the tenders here?
I feel for the employees of City Power and Joburg Water. There are still a few good souls being ground up under the weight of the incompetence on display masquerading as the city’s senior leadership.
The recently published census numbers don’t lie, and they’re spelling out a bitter truth about SA. The headcount has swollen by 20%, going from 51.8-million souls in 2011 to a whopping 62-million in 2022. But what’s the ANC been up to? The economy has only managed to eke out a measly 12% growth when you adjust for inflation.
So here we are, caught in the crossfire of this population surge and economic lag. GDP per capita has been on a nosedive, a grim slide that has lasted over a decade. As that GDP per capita figure slumps one feels the fallout most acutely at local government level, with essential services slipping through the cracks for the majority. It’s the fallout from less tax in the kitty per capita.
The effects are borne disproportionately by the poor, who cannot afford the fixes I have been privileged to implement in my leafy, middle-class existence. But even here the edges are fraying rapidly.
There is a glimmer of hope. The department of co-operative governance & traditional affairs is targeting unstable coalition governance in local municipalities. After the 2021 local government elections about 70 municipalities were left with unstable coalitions, leading to ineffective service delivery. We’ve had three mayors in Joburg this year alone.
Co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Thembi Nkadimeng says she recognises the constant changes in executives due to shifting coalition dynamics have hindered service delivery. Her department singles out unethical manipulation by smaller parties, infighting in councils and an inability to adopt budgets as the major issues facing municipalities.
To address these problems, government is working on a draft bill to amend the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act of 1998. The proposed changes include setting stricter requirements for parties to qualify for seats in municipal councils, limiting motions of no confidence to two years after council elections, and establishing regulations for coalitions. Once adopted, these rules will be legally binding in the hope of stabilising municipal councils.
We cannot afford to let this critical reform slip while our eyes are fixed on the network industry reforms required to arrest the decline on our doorstep.
• Avery, a financial journalist and broadcaster, produces BDTV’s ‘Business Watch’. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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