Emfuleni includes the towns of Vereeniging and Vanderbijlpark, while Midvaal extends from Alberton in the south of Johannesburg to the Vaal Dam and includes the town of Meyerton.
Emfuleni recently entered the legal record books after being slapped with a R492 million default judgment for breaches of contract for the installation of smart meters. This is par for the course for this municipality, where residents complain of raw sewage sloshing through the potholed streets and rubbish going uncollected for months.
Contrast this with neighbouring Midvaal, a smaller and more prosperous municipality – and one of the best run in the country, according to Ratings Afrika’s Municipal Financial Sustainability Index (MFSI) survey.
Midvaal’s executive mayor is Bongani Baloyi, who took on the role in 2013 at the age of 26. He is now 33 and something of a legend in mayoral circles, having signed off on six consecutive clean audits and built up reserves of more than R2 billion.
Midvaal is a DA stronghold and Baloyi has a reputation of zero tolerance for corruption.
Emfuleni is ANC-run and is often in the news, but usually for the wrong reasons – not least of all for failing to turn up at court to defend the R492 million claim over a contract gone sour.
Creating ‘the Dubai of southern Africa’
Baloyi plans to turn his corner of Gauteng into the Dubai of southern Africa, attracting businesses to the area with a potentially tantalising offer: cheap and abundant water and electricity.
“Businesses are attracted to municipalities that are well run and deliver good quality services,” says Ratings Afrika analyst Leon Claassen.
“Those that are able to sweeten that by showing a measure of energy independence from Eskom, and lower electricity tariffs, can expect to do even better. Quality of water and consistency of supply is another issue that concerns businesses.”
Midvaal is on the hunt for private sector partners to take over management of the distribution of electricity and roll out solar energy plants that will wean it off Eskom’s erratic supply, allowing it to offer cheaper energy than the rest of the country.
Another private-public partnership (PPP) will be inked later this year to recycle waste water and inject it back into the system, with surpluses being sold to Rand Water.
“The two issues that most concern businesses and residents in the area are electricity and water, and we realised some years ago we had to ensure we had some independence from both Eskom and Rand Water,” says Baloyi.
One of the key measures of municipal efficiency is the debtors’ collection rate: 92% at Midvaal, and about 75% at Emfuleni. That’s a huge difference, suggesting Midvaal’s residents are far more inclined to pay for services than their neighbours, based on their satisfaction with the overall quality of services delivered.
The Ratings Afrika MFSI survey takes a broad look at financial sustainability, measured around six components: operating performance, liquidity management, debt governance, budget practices, affordability, and infrastructure development. Municipalities are then given a score out of 100.
Midvaal’s results are exemplary. Emfuleni’s are miserable.
The infrastructure development figures are particularly revealing, with Midvaal earning a Ratings Afrika score of 77 against 21 for Emfuleni.
What this tells us is that Midvaal is not just maintaining its infrastructure, but adding to it. In Emfuleni, just 1.6% of revenue goes into maintenance and repair of infrastructure, against 3.75% in Midvaal.
Midvaal’s residents are all too aware of the wreckage lurking across the fence in Emfuleni, where the ANC has ruled for decades.
What accounts for this startling difference between two neighbouring municipalities?
“I would say all I have done is my job, and I’ve avoided making political appointments,” says Baloyi.
“The law is very clear as to what is expected and you cannot use local government as a vehicle for political appointees. We employ the best professionals for the job, and I understand my role as gatekeeper against those who want to line their own pockets unlawfully.”
Baloyi’s suggestion for neighbouring Emfuleni?
“I think the rot is so deep that you have cut off a limb. You have to tackle corruption and wastage without mercy.”
He adds that poor service delivery feeds a culture of non-payment, which is very difficult to budge once established.
Outclassing the ruling party
The DA has made a point of outclassing the ruling party where it really counts, at local government level. This, says Claassen, is where governance is of most intimate concern to residents.
The Ratings Afrika survey shows the largely DA-run Western Cape comes out on top with an average MFSI score of 59, with the Free State floating to the bottom with a score of 21. The national average is 37 (or 31 if the Western Cape is excluded).
Midvaal has a much smaller population of 130 000, against Emfuleni’s 777 000. That’s not the only difference. Midvaal has consistently run operating surpluses, while Emfuleni has clocked up deficits of close to R2 billion for the three years to 2019.
In 2018, Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu pulled his staff out of Emfuleni when one of those conducting an audit was shot.
Later, the ANC asked Reverend Gift Moerane, Gauteng provincial secretary of the South African Council of Churches, to take over as mayor and try to clean the place up.
In what was perceived as a brazen case of political gerrymandering, the Municipal Demarcation Board attempted to merge the two municipalities in 2013 but agreement was reached to abandon the idea in 2015.
Midvaal residents have seen what lies across the fence, and they want no part of it.