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Forgotten at the fringe, SA towns are falling apart

Small municipalities around the country are under pressure with delivery of services intermittent at best.
Picture: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

Trash heaps line the potholed streets of Edenville, where residents complain that municipal services have ground to a near halt, crime is rampant and jobs are scarce.

It’s a familiar story in scores of other rural towns driven to a state of near collapse by years of mismanagement, graft and declining revenue as companies gravitate toward cities with better services and transportation links. The meltdown has put the nation’s finances at risk, as the National Treasury faces increasing demands to bail out broke councils.

It can take weeks for the Edenville municipality to unblock sewage pipes or collect the garbage, and the local economy has ground to a near halt, according to Miriam Matsuso, who lives in the town of about 6 200 people in the Free State province, about 180km south of Johannesburg.

“Sometimes it does feel as though we as the people living in small towns are forgotten by the government,” Matsuso, 70, who supports her unemployed daughter and two grandchildren on her monthly state pension of R1 695, said outside a grocery store. “Our children have to move to bigger towns just to try and look for jobs.”

“I have lost hope for this town. It is too far gone”

More than 60% of the 257 municipalities are categorised as dysfunctional or almost dysfunctional, according to the Co-operative Governance Ministry. The parlous state of their finances was laid bare last month in an Auditor-General’s report, which showed just 33 got clean audits in the year through March last year and spending that contravened regulations surged 75% to a record R28.4 billion.

“Across the country, smaller municipalities are under significant pressure,” Kevin Allan, the managing director of Johannesburg-based Municipal IQ, which monitors local government, said by phone. “It is difficult to sustain a local economy where there isn’t a lot going on.”

Dalene van Stryp, who’s lived in Edenville for 26 years, has seen her own fortunes decline along with the town’s. While customers used to line up outside the door of her butchery, she’s now down to a few clients a day, and her once-full shelves are sparsely stocked.

“A lot of people are leaving to seek a better life,” she said. “The facilities haven’t been maintained in years, the roads are still mainly gravel roads, and I cannot tell you how many times in a week I call the municipality asking for the streets to be cleaned or any other services that we need, and there’s no response.”

The decay is equally evident in Jagersfontein, about 500km southeast of Johannesburg, where many buildings have been abandoned and stripped of their windows and doors and the disintegrating roads are strewn with trash. The town hasn’t had running water since November, according to Nthabeleng Olyn, an attendant at the only gas station.

“It’s almost as though small towns like this one don’t matter or even exist in South Africa because no matter how many times the communities protest or complain to the municipality, there’s no change or development,” 32-year-old Olyn said. “This town is basically dead.”

Fixing the municipalities will require more active intervention by provincial authorities, and the government and ruling African National Congress to ensure officials are held accountable, according to Municipal IQ’s Allan.

The government has set up teams to ensure municipalities put proper governance structures in place, fill their vacancies, do proper budgeting, collect revenue that is owed to them and spend their infrastructure budgets, according to Co-operative Governance Minister Zweli Mkhize.

“Right now we think there is enough political will to actually get the matters resolved,” he said in Cape Town on Thursday.

Matsuso, the Edenville grandmother, isn’t optimistic that will happen.

“I have lost hope for this town,” she said. “It is too far gone.”

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P

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i feel for these people. drive through small towns often and ja, it breaks the heart to watch them disintegrating.

then again service delivery in thr city is nothing to write home about either.

Things, like towns and municipalities ‘fall apart’ because of ANC corruption and mismanagement, more than anything.

The Nigerian classic “Things Fall Apart” sums it up well.

Natural boom and bust cycles – people migrate to where there is opportunity so one needs to become more nomadic. Not just an SA phenomenon, happens even in the developed world.

Agree with you. The farmers sent their kids to universities, never to return. The successful farmers bought out the struggling ones, and the bank(s), post office and other services got replaced by internet supported services, so even less work opportunities in these towns. The reality of the digital evolution.

It’s easy to lay blame at local governance, yes corruption and mismanagement are probably largely to blame, but residents have little morals in terms of litter, theft and their failure to pay their dues. Its easier to make illegal connections than pay your utility bill. The moral thread of society has been lost in SA. Such a pity, the future does not look so bright.

Unfortunately Smartie is correct. Residents have to take over and do the work that the municipality should be doing and are not doing. Why are they not doing so? By not being proactive, their towns are only going to get worse.From my side, I now take on the resonsibility to keep the verges around my property tidy although it is the municipalities responsibility. May be small, but all my neighbours do the same and so our street is respectable.

End of comments.

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