Picture: EPA/KEVIN SUTHERLAND
Picture: EPA/KEVIN SUTHERLAND

There’s less than a month to go before the 2021 local government elections and, magically, the ANC has answers to the power challenges in Soweto, the water crises in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and the billing nightmare in Joburg.

It is a wonder to behold, how solutions miraculously materialise ahead of elections and immediately evaporate the next day. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s lifestyle audits of national leaders promised in the run-up to the 2019 national elections are yet to happen, yet they are being promised once again, this time for officials at local government level. To be fair, no-one has ever accused politicians of honesty or of keeping their promises, but the ANC’s cognitive dissonance this time around is particularly galling.

Listening to its leaders on the campaign trail, you’d swear some other party has been in power in most municipalities for over two decades. In June, auditor-general Tsakani Maluleke delivered audit results for the country’s 257 municipalities: just 27 clean audits, 66 qualified audits, six adverse opinions and 12 disclaimers. And R26bn in irregular expenses.

Communities across the country periodically protest against the near complete breakdown in services.

And former finance minister Tito Mboweni was candid about the state of municipalities in his budget vote speech this year: "Rather than moving communities forward, many municipalities have themselves regressed — struggling to perform their basic functions, unable and sometimes unwilling to bill for services and collect revenues, and some have even been bold enough to request financial assistance from national and provincial government to pay salaries."

He told parliament that 163 municipalities were in financial distress, 40 were experiencing "a financial and service delivery crisis" and 102 had adopted budgets they could not fund.

The City of Joburg has recently announced that it is in negotiations to take over the provision of electricity to Soweto, which now receives electricity directly from Eskom. Residents have not been paying their bills, racking up debt of R13bn, of which more than R5bn was recently written off by the cash-strapped utility. The city’s plan to take over Soweto’s power supply smacks of politicking to win votes.

The newly appointed ANC mayor, Mpho Moerane, says the city will ensure supply and — the fine print — install smart meters. Sowetans have fiercely resisted these in the past.

Two weeks ago, Ramaphosa campaigned in Soweto, vowing to address the power issues in SA’s largest township. "People are entitled to electricity to have a better life, because I just can’t imagine how anyone in this day and age can live without electricity," he said.

His comments may seem to come a bit late in the day for residents of the Nomzamo informal settlement who have reportedly had no power for more than two years, and for others in Soweto who have suffered regular outages and cut-offs.

The outstanding feature of Soweto is that it is crucial to the ANC securing control of the Joburg metro in the polls — if Soweto turns out for the party, the city is pretty much in the bag.

The party should stick to its "give us one more chance" message and quit insulting the intelligence of voters with cheap tricks and more promises that are likely to be forgotten as soon as the election results are out.

And, in any case, by November 2, ANC leaders will have switched their attention to the next internal contest for power, which is set to take place at the end of 2022.

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