As SA municipalities continue to fail because of financial chaos and service delivery collapse, a high court decision contains timely warnings for anyone brought in as an emergency municipal administrator about the limits of their powers.

During the second half of 2014, Ramachunderan Nair was appointed administrator of the Ngaka Modiri Molema district municipality. As he would later tell the North West high court, it was no easy situation: the municipality had been placed under administration, the local community was protesting over the lack of service delivery, municipal employees were on strike, municipal creditors had not been paid, and roads and government buildings were damaged along with water and sanitation service plants. Motorists driving in the area of the protests were also attacked and threatened. Nair discovered that the existing "service delivery agents" responsible for water and sanitation feared for their lives and were not prepared to go out to the affected rural areas to repair and install water and sanitation services. Some of these service providers also complained that they had not been paid, and "withdrew their services" pending payment. As a result, water and sanitation provision was "almost no...

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