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North West residents take matters into their own hands, and get court’s blessing

When local government broke down, the people of Kgetlengrivier rolled up their sleeves and did the work themselves.
The area has clear drinking water even though its municipality ‘fails to supply potable water’. Image: Shutterstock

In an astonishing judgment in the North West High Court in December last year, the judge ordered the imprisonment of the municipal manager of Kgetlengrivier in North West province for 90 days, suspended on condition that raw sewage spilling into the Elands and Koster rivers be cleared up within 10 days.

The Kgetlengrivier Local Municipality falls within the Bojanala Platinum District Municipality (the seat of Bojanala Platinum is Rustenburg).

Justice Gura also ordered that residents association Kgetlengrivier Concerned Citizens be allowed to take control of the area’s sewage works, to be paid for by the local and provincial governments.

The municipal manager was further sentenced to imprisonment for 90 days, suspended on condition that he provides clear, potable water to the residents of Koster and Swartruggens in North West within 10 weeks of the ruling.

This is a judgment that should have officials in dysfunctional municipalities across the country quaking in their boots.

It means potential jail time for the worst offenders, and opens the door for citizens to take control of essential services in their areas.

Read:

Residents given control

Justice Gura also ordered that residents in Kgetlengrivier be given control of the area’s water works so they could appoint qualified people to run it. All this must be paid by the local and provincial government.

The result?

“Now we’ve got beautiful, clear, drinking water, and we’ve got more than we know what to do with,” says Carel van Heerden, the head of Kgetlengrivier Concerned Citizens.

“Local residents paid R7.5 million out of their own pockets, but we got the pumps repaired or replaced, we rented generators to make sure the water could continue pumping in the event of power outages, and we got the water system back in full operation in a matter of weeks.”

The local government will have to pay the residents back their R7.5 million – plus their court costs.

Read: Confirmation that municipalities are a huge burden on taxpayers

“This is unprecedented in South Africa,” adds van Heerden. “The judge in this case was incredibly brave, and we believe established a precedent for other ratepayers’ associations around the country dealing with corrupt or failing municipal leaders.”

Ministers’ reaction a sign of things to come?

In the Kgetlengrivier case, the national ministers of Environmental Affairs, and Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation were cited as respondents, but agreed to abide by the court‘s decision – perhaps signalling national government is no longer willing to back comrades found to have mismanaged at local government level.

On January 8, the municipal manager, RJ Mogale – facing jail time unless the conditions of the court order were met (and they were, but not by him) – issued a public notice claiming van Heerden “and a handful of white males” had illegally taken over the water and sanitation plants and “had disrupted the provision of water fundamentally violating the rights of residents to Kgetleng”.

Mogale goes on to advise residents that the municipality had made an application in the North West High Court to reassume control of the water and sanitation plants. That application was dismissed by the court.

‘Illegal takeover’ claim ‘despicable’

Van Heerden says Mogale’s attempt to frame what happened at Kgetleng as an illegal takeover by a “handful of white males” is racist and despicable, and a legal suit is being planned against him in the coming weeks for his incautious remarks.

The court order makes it clear that the municipality has been bypassed and rendered irrelevant, other than to pay the costs of providing water and sanitation services provided by the residents.

“We have the support of the community, regardless of race,” says Van Heerden.

“We’ve provided jobs to the local community that were not there before. And we got the job done in weeks that the municipality couldn’t get done in years.

“It took us about a week to get the sewage plant running again. People from every part of this community [were] involved in this salvage operation, and everyone is fed up with the non-delivery by the municipality.

“Many of the more affluent people in the community have joined this fight, even though they don’t rely on municipal services. They have solar panels and boreholes because they can afford them. They got involved in the fight because they wanted to ensure poorer members of the community who desperately need these services were able to survive.”

How it came to this

There is a long and storied history behind this court judgment.

In 2018, workers at the newly constructed R144 million sewage plant downed tools over a pay dispute, leaving the community without water for several days. Van Heerden says vandalism and theft of equipment was rampant, and those running the site were incompetent. Workers abandoned the site one by one until there was no one left to work it at all. The town’s taps ran dry.

Residents obtained an urgent court order to restart the plant and supply water to the community. They ran the plant for a few weeks until the municipality resumed control.

In February 2020, workers again went on strike for backpay and again abandoned the site, says van Heerden. “We again got a court order to restart the plant and we ran it for four or five weeks before handing it back to the municipality.”

Residents previously won another case against the municipality, which they claimed was unlawfully setting rates and taxes.

Yet another case interdicted Eskom from cutting electricity to the municipality, which was more than R200 million in arrears.

Read: Municipalities owe Eskom R31.5bn

Municipality must show that it’s up to the task

This time, however, the court may not be so lenient with the municipalities’ attempts to reclaim control over the water and sewage systems.

The December 2020 court order reads: “It is declared that the KLM [Kgetlengrivier Local Municipality] fails to supply potable water to the residents of Koster and Swartruggens.

“It is declared that the water purifying works at Koster and Swartruggens are in states of disrepair and are mismanaged.

“It is accordingly declared that Bojanala [Platinum District Municipality, also a respondent in the case] and the KLM are in breach of their constitutional obligations for providing potable water sustainably.”

Though an interim order, the municipalities must show by March 1 this year why this order should not be made final – meaning they will have to put a powerful case to the court that they have managed to get their act together and can do a better job than the residents.

Growing trend

“Civic indignation is a growing trend across the country, as shown by this event in Kgetleng,” says Tim Tyrrell, project manager at the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).

“In this case, residents approached the court because they were being forced to pay for services that were not being delivered. They decided to ask the court for permission to take over those services, and the court agreed.

“This is an encouraging sign that courts are alert to the problems facing communities and are trying to come up with solutions that ensure services continue uninterrupted – as required by the Constitution.”

In other parts of the country, tax revolts in dysfunctional municipalities are either underway or being contemplated. That’s the subject of the next instalment.

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An incredible story and a court case I had not heard of until reading this article. Kgetlengrivier is but just one example of most other (ANC controlled) municipalities. Rates are paid but service delivery is non-existent and infrastructure is collapsing. One can only hope that residents in other towns start similar revolts because the current regime ain’t going to be hurt where it counts, the ballot box.

Many in Mpumalanga as well have failed in a similar fashion.

Also worth noting that the more corrupt and dysfunctional the more likely they are to blame the whites for their problems. Zuma’s RET crowd sings from the same hymn book all the way down.

Although the happy ending warms the heart and gives certain communities hope for eventually receiving services that they pay for, it is a terrible state of affairs that this was necessary in the first place. This means that not only is local government failing residents, but provincial government that oversees local government and also national government that oversees provincial government are all failing residents. Accountability should not end with local government, if this happened at a business heads would roll on different levels from managers to supervisors, maybe even the CEO.

Lastly, I hope the residents of this municipality spreads the word about what can be done if communities are working together rather than being split into arbitrary groups. Where the groups are pitted against each other for political gains. We are all on the same ship, if it sinks we will all sink together.

Do yourself a favor and go and listen to a podcast of “Regsake” RSG 1 February 2021….very insightful.

This is our future

Many suburbs in my city have started groups to look after their neighbourhood, with security and maintenance and clean up’s

It’s a crying shame how the ANC run Municipalties have destroyed beautiful cities

How on earth do you fill pot holes with sand and gravel, and that on an arterial route on a route entering a city?

One has to beg the question why we have to keep paying rates when mayors, city councillors and city managers earn millions and don’t deserve it

Municipalities like Government spend the bull of their revenue on salaries

Get rid of Mayors (make them ceremonial like the days of old) , get rid of dead wood and fire useless civil servants..There are plenty KFC consuming Civil servants, and we pay for the lunch

And ditto for Klerksdorp. Just different horror stories…but still horror. A characteristic of a muni being run by ANC.

And MANY other towns.

The ANC consists of a mixture of thugs / lazy bums / nepotists / kleptocrats / and some narcissists. There is no consequences…the fired/suspended lot just return to office, or leave with full pay.

And the create the same unaccountable example to their supports. No matter what you do during riots…there are no consequence for your destructive actions.
And a self destructive monster is created.

So what did it take to fix the problem???

Does not look as though Cyril’s BEE has anything to do with it. Maybe he needs to read the article and think again about his disingenuous insistence on something that is paralyzing this country.

The only possible reason he could be doing this is to not unlike Trump convince “the people” of some common threat that his BEE policy would somehow miraculously eliminate. “The people” don’t realize that his BEE policy is only used as a vehicle for corruption and theft by his friends the political elite. Guess this is how he rewards them????

Maybe without BEE there could be a possibility that “the people” can get services after all.

You are describing virtually every single ANC municipality where local government has broken down and where the people are doing the work themselves.

In stark contrast the DA led municipalities in the Western Cape are functional.

And Midvaal. They have received a clean audit, perfect service delivery and run by a 30 year old DA Councillor for the past 15 years. ANC from Vereeniging tried to get the boundaries changed so that they can benefit from the clean audits. Failed – like everything they touch and do!!!

30 year old manager for 15 years?

Did he start working at 15?

That’s actually false, a qualified audit means the exact opposite, and I know they had one in the past 10 years.

Although the DA is functional, they’re not doing such a great job either – I’ve seen the service delivery deteriorate over the past few years not at the alarming rate, not as bad as the rate of the ANC, but it’s still down.

In addition to this, they also struggle with the (mentality) concept of thinking, that we need more taxes and levies – in order to get money – to solve the problems… they’re not applying their minds on how to utilize the existing monies.

Take New Zealand for instance, they have a pool of taxes and that’s it, the officials has to make it work and tender for the slice of the pie.

@ Octavian: Sorry for the misstep (been at it since 05:30). I meant to state that the DA has run Midvaal for the past 15 years. Bongani Baloyi was the youngest Mayor ever appointed since “democracy” – at the tender age of 23.

https://mg.co.za/opinion/2020-08-02-bravo-bongani-baloyi/

@Irishbelssing: I am not sure where the point of a qualified audit report comes from as I specifically stated “a clean audit report”. Having been an Accountant since 1985 I am aware of the differences. However on your note, I am not sure if you have travelled to Midvaal recently. The License dept is operational and not dysfunctional. Most of the services and admin functions do not disappoint and their local Govt hospital is NOT the worst in the land. I also recently travelled to George and Albertinia and it was an absolute joy to see traffic lights working, refuse collected and clean streets and municipal offices.
Lastly your reference to NZ is correct but they are a 1st world country with only 5m law abiding citizens who take their environment and services very seriously.

Fantastic story. I’d like to think of this as good triumphing over evil. Hopefully these actions will now pave the way for more resident interventions in all the towns/cities controlled by nothing more than useless and greedy oxygen thieves.

Salute to the citizens and judge involved — This is a landmark and sure to be followed in the hundreds of dysfunctional ANC municipalities countrywide.
What is groundbreaking here is the order regarding payment of costs and the jail time/otherwise sentence
of the person at the top !!

Imagine. A judge setting an ultimatum to Squirrel and the head of the NPA and the head of the SIU that their 24 month sentence be suspended on condition that all comrades guilty of corruption, racketeering and theft are properly investigated and brought to book, and all stolen assets forfeited, (what’s happened to VBS for example?) before the end of this year. One brave judge (and a new SA legend with many statues) that would be.

Residents should have finished off with a public tar and feathering of all municipal officials.

Thus needs to happen everywhere. If you can’t get rid of the ANC cadres with a ballot, do it through the courts.

At last someone’s on the hook for lack of accountability.
Big up to the judge for his view of justice.

High time to tighten up the bolts and nuts for the useless anc’s town / city management style – every little mayor / ceo of the smallest town thinks he is the king of the town, he just got his new car recently.

the attitude towards the residents and rates-and-tax-payers are: ” we are all and always in it, it is just the depth that changes some times, thank heavens my house is at the top of the hill with water tanks and a generator.

My question is just:”will the residents ever get their R7 million back for work done obo the useless municipality?? or is it a case of: the incompetence / corrupt municipality could not do a simple, standard task, but still wants rates and taxes for doing nothing and that starts becoming the norm to improves one’s town / city???

This is “the people” against the ANC. This court case is a peaceful revolt against Luthuli House. In effect it is similar to the French Revolution, only more civilised and orderly. Citizens rise up against a corrupt and self-serving regime to take back their right to dignity and freedom.

This case is an indictment of the ANC. The ANC was found to be incompetent and negligent and the court removed them from their position, to rescue the people from the tyranny of Luthuli House.

Best of luck wishes to the people who forked out 7.5 Mil to see any of their money from the obviously dysfunctional municipality.

This is fantastic and should be done in all disfunctional municipalities (basically all)
Maybe I lost all faith, but how long before the corruption will enter here as it seems that there is very little ethics left in this country.

So nice to read something positive for a change. Just a pity the good judge couldn’t include some “hard labour” in the 90-day sentence. It would have saved future courts a lot of wasted time in trying similar cases unnecessarily.

It cuts me to the quick to see to what a sorry pass that part of South Africa has come. I grew up there viz Zeerust, Groot Marico, Swartruggens and Koster. I must commend the ratepayers of those districts for taking a stand. Alle voorspoed!
But the ANC will be voted in again which I battle to understand. Can somebody give me a plausible explanation as to why people keep voting the ANC into power? I’ve racked my brain to no avail.

there is simply no logical explanation for the anc disciples – to see how ones town / city literally goes down the drain and still vote for the same party/crowd who is directly responsible for the deplorable state thereof, based on promises of new unworkable bright ideas – just to discover later on they have been taken for a hell of a ride once again, whilst our ex-president can take a nice dip in his fire-pool at home.

Now I suppose they will be taxed for using the water they fixed themselves.

The solution to dis-functional local authorities are simple and cost effective:

Make the city and town counsellor positions honorary again, without pay, as it was pre-94.

You attract a better class of counsellor, one with more life and business experience, that put the interests of the town first. The town saves much money that can be used for better service delivery.

Absolutely. There were no ” Councillors” back then earning R 100 000 pm, and the Mayor got a cup of tea at Council Meetings. And we didn’t pay rates and taxes like we do today.
Press reset.

Pres Ramaphosa wants to build a smart city yet the ANC cannot run a small municipality, of which there are hundreds of examples.

Well done people of Kgetlengrivier. This is true leadership and will put the corrupts ashamed. You are example to the nation.

The ANC is a digraceful government

They hold their heads high in shame

They dont actually care what anybody thinks. Their snouts are far too deep in the trough with their a@@’s in the air.

Some good news at last.

I can believe in people working together for the benefit of the greater good, this gives me hope, I thank you.

(Please find more of these scenarios and report them, we need to drive awareness that the people can do something about their circumstances.)

So they have basically set up a parallel municipality.

Maybe that is why Zuma set up a parallel SSA and his Govt – easier to plunder and only answerable to himself…….

Next should be Makhanda (Grahamstown). Its a tragedy what happened there with regards to water.

Let’s do this municipality by municipality!

Make Justice Gura the President!!!

Agreed,
But the question is will the voters change their loyalty?
Next municipal election can be as early as 4th August 2021 but before the 1st November 2021

There should be no politics at local level. The ANC and its cohorts have shown time and again that municipalities are merely a get rich quick exercise and service delivery is nowhere near a priority for those in these cushy overpaid and underperforming positions.
The arrogance of many of the senior officials is sickening. They don’t seem to understand that they are PUBLIC SERVANTS – in those positions TO SERVE THE PUBLIC – and NOT themselves.
Well done to the residents and the judge – you’ve provided me a joyful and hopeful morning !
May this news be spread far-and-wide for all to enjoy, savour and rejoice about.

Hi grew up in the small town Koster where the waterworks are situated. Once a thriving town, I remember (in the 80s) municipality replacing old septic tank system with sewage works (dug up every street, imagine fun as kids!)
I still visit there often, and I’ve witnessed now the ANC has neglected everything to a shameful state of affairs after 1994.
I applaud the citizens, and thank you for making me proud again to call Koster my home town

This Government is useless and incompetent! You wonder why everyone else can provide services better than them, Gift of the givers finds underground water and installing boreholes quicker and more efficient than the current Gov, they do this way better without any corruption the distribution of COVID food parcels, they repaired EC healthcare workers living quarters in record time even working during Dec 2020 holidays just to name the few. Now we have communities doing better and proving to be more efficient!
Things need to change a soon.

Its time for the residents of Johannesburg to follow the brave example of the Kgetlengrivier Concerned Citizens organisation.

Something so simple.
Just remove the thieving ANC, and everything functions normally.

And how long will these criminal cases take vs. the negligent managers? Lots of dreaded deseases and golf games are on the way. Wish the things got better managed. Small companies really need a break and the communities they serve too. Here’s to hoping this is the first step to a new dawn, I love this country and want to see it prosper. Glad to see people have not thrown in the towel and finding creative ways to fix the system.

Moneyweb may not like my comment about the ‘failure of South Africa under Black-rule’ but I believe it to be the truth plus why not publish it and see what others have to say?

End of comments.

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