When the Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) High Court last month ordered the dissolution of the municipality of Makana for failing in its constitutional duty to provide services to the community, the great fear among the political class was that this would unleash an orgy of similar court challenges to unseat dysfunctional municipalities around the country.
Barely a month later, it looks like that day is at hand.
PAC president Narius Moloto this week put the Tshwane city manager and the three major political parties – the ANC, DA and EFF – on notice that they either quit their squabbling and return to governing the city or he will approach the Pretoria High Court to have the council dissolved and placed under administration.
That would open the door to fresh elections, which could be disastrous for the ANC, says Moloto. “Let the people decide whether any of the politicians who engineered this crisis are worthy of holding office again.”
Tshwane has been in chaos for several months, with the ANC and EFF attempting to unseat DA Mayor Stevens Mokgalapa after several votes of no confidence. That’s being appealed and is still unresolved.
The EFF hopes to emerge from this as the kingmaker and appoint one of its own as mayor. Its gripe is that the DA-controlled council under Mokgalapa is dysfunctional, resulting in a water and power crisis in and around the city.
The ANC threw its weight behind the vote of no confidence over what it called a corrupt property tender in the city. This looked like a return slap for the DA, which repeatedly hammered the ANC for corruption when it ran the city.
Moloto says city residents are left to pay the price for the power play between the three major parties. If he gets his way, Tshwane is about to get the Makana treatment.
“The despicable display of politicking among the three major parties has descended into farce, each side more concerned about guarding the public trough from which they feed than in governing the city,” he says.
The implications of this are potentially huge for the country. Imagine, says Moloto, if residents in failed municipalities across the country used the Makana decision to toss the cadres out of office.
Of the 257 municipalities and 21 municipal entities assessed by the Auditor-General in 2018, only half received unqualified opinions on their financial statements, and only 19% were free of any material misstatements.
“This is a shocking betrayal of our political liberation,” adds Moloto in a recent statement. “Those responsible must be held to account, investigated and removed from office. Those found guilty of criminal conduct must be jailed.”
Cilliers Brink, DA shadow deputy minister for Cooperative Development and Traditional Affairs, and formerly part of the DA’s ruling alliance in Tshwane, says it is Tshwane’s ruling council that is dysfunctional rather than the municipality itself, though this has a knock-on effect on governance in the city.
Hence, it may be harder to convince a court that the metro council should be dissolved. “But there is no doubt that many smaller municipalities around the country are failing to provide even the most basic level of services,” says Brink. “Part of that is mismanagement, part of it is corruption, and about 12 years of economic decline, which has hit the income of these municipalities. It’s hard to deny that Tshwane has become dysfunctional, and a political power play is the cause.
“The EFF has revealed itself as a faction of the ANC, and this is something the DA has had to learn the hard way.”
The DA formed coalitions with the EFF that allowed the former to govern in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape. All of these coalitions have fallen apart. Brink points out that under the DA, financial governance improved to the point where Moody’s awarded it a two-notch credit upgrade.
Michelle Rademeyer, a Freedom Front Plus (FF+) representative in the farming town of Bethal in Mpumalanga, came within a whisker of unseating the ANC candidate in the town during last year’s elections by campaigning against corruption and mismanagement.
Parts of the town have had virtually no water for most of the last year, and rely on farmers trucking water into the town.
Power cuts are a daily affair. “In addition to the Eskom outages, we also have daily power cuts implemented by the municipality,” she says.
Refuse collection in Bethal has ceased to exist for most, so private refuse collectors have stepped into the breach, charging R4 a bag for removal. The Govan Mbeki Municipality, responsible for an area covering 2.5 million square kilometres from Bethal to Secunda and Leandra, has 12 refuse trucks but only two are working.
The sewage system functions erratically and potholes have gone unrepaired for decades. Local residents try to patch the potholes to keep the roads driveable, but they are not allowed by law to make any permanent repairs.
“I have abundant evidence of corruption in the municipality which is fed to me by local residents, so we could definitely argue that this municipality has virtually ceased to function, but the cost of bringing a Makana-style case to court means we would have to fundraise for this,” says Rademeyer.
“If we are going to get rid of dysfunctional municipalities, we would need legal assistance.”
The story of broken dreams is repeated up and down the country, from Mokopane (formerly Potgietersrus) in Limpopo to Mamusa (Schweizer-Reneke) in North West province. Many parts of Mokopane have water for two to three hours a day and roads are being destroyed by coal trucks. Power supply is erratic and people complain noisily but feel there is little they can do to change things.
It has started to dawn on smaller political parties like the FF+ and PAC that change can come from below.
As Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara observed, revolution never falls fully ripened from the tree. It has to be plucked.
Deidre Carter, former MP for Cope, recently left politics after 10 years in parliament armed with a conviction that change will only come about with grassroots movements driven by civil society and alliances with like-minded groups.
There is now a very real possibility that corrupt and mismanaged municipalities can be unseated.
Carter now works for Agri Limpopo, which has given her a deeper understanding of the privation of living in small-town and rural SA.
“This is the result of decades of mismanagement and corruption. We have to take back control of our local governance structures and restore accountability. I think the Makana judgment is a great step in the right direction.”
The Makana municipality was dragged into court by the Unemployed Peoples Movement (UPM) on the grounds that it had failed in its constitutional duty to provide basic services such as a healthy environment, health care, food, water and social security. Governance had all but collapsed. Livestock roamed the streets, refuse piled up in residential areas, the water taps ran dry for days at a time and raw sewage poured out into the community.
Judge Stretch found that the local municipality could not provide even the most basic of services such as clean water, refuse collection and sewage, and for this reason should be dissolved. The decision put other dysfunctional metros and municipalities on notice: either perform your constitutional duties or face getting the boot.
This may turn out to be one of the most liberating court decisions in recent history, says Moloto, even though the losers in the case say they plan to appeal. “What a breath of fresh air it would be if corrupt and incompetent municipalities across the country were to be tossed out of office to face the wrath of the electorate. This court decision can and must be replicated across the country.
“While the Guptas were busy looting state-owned enterprises, the ANC not only turned a blind eye, many of its senior officials were eager participants. We now know from Open Secrets’ The Enablers report that state capture cost the country R5 trillion and five million lost job opportunities.
“Think about that for a minute, and imagine where South Africa would be today had the state capture project been strangled at birth. Not a single participant in state capture has yet been jailed, while the ruling party circles the wagons and defends those in its ranks who gaily joined in the looting.”