Heidelberg: Even 'good' towns have bucket loos
The first thing that hits you about Heidelberg is how clean its streets are. The next thing you notice is that street after street is named for Afrikaner glory in this former Boer Republic capital.
The base of the old town hall's obelisk bears the faces of Afrikaner leaders Petrus Joubert, Marthinus Pretorius and Paul Kruger. When a funeral at the NG Kerk on HF Verwoerd and Voortrekker streets threatens to disrupt traffic, a traffic officer – already on standby – springs into action when the cars spill out into the narrow intersection.
Heidelberg, it seems, also maintains tight control over its informal traders, who are mostly confined to the taxi rank's perimeter. A mugshot photographer whose tent is discreetly lodged in the doorway of a gutted apartment block, one of the only derelict buildings in sight, said the traffic cops treated them as a nuisance.
According to the auditor general's consolidated report on the audit outcomes of local government released this week, the Lesedi local municipality rates quite highly. Municipal IQ, the municipalities barometer, ranks it second to Midvaal among Gauteng's local municipalities.
But as one of the best of a rather scruffy bunch (only 5% of municipalities received clean audits this year – none from Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Free State, Northern Cape or North West), Lesedi does not emerge squeaky clean. An annexure reveals two consecutive financial years of unqualified audits "with findings". There are also findings on expenditure management, compliance with rules and regulations and, like almost all the others, the root causes of discrepancies seems to be "key officials lacking minimum competencies and skills" and a lack of consequences for poor performance.
Vuyo Ndzinyana, who has served as chief financial officer for the past two years, said the municipality constantly trained employees to improve efficiency. "If you call Wits Business School, they will tell you that our municipality has the highest number of people enrolled for business and municipal finance management. As we speak, our mayor is getting training."
Flip Minnaar, a former Democratic Alliance councillor, said although there was some financial discipline and the integrated development plans were somewhat inclusive, "the underspending reflects that spending money is either not a priority, or the municipality does not have the capacity to spend".
Ndzinyana said the only time the town's municipal infrastructure grant was not spent was in the 2008- 2009 financial year.
Municipal IQ's Kevin Allan said a municipality could be well run and not receive a good audit. On the other hand, a municipality could meet auditing requirements and still have crises. "Jo'burg, for example, has liquidity issues," he said. "The biggest issue around auditing municipalities is that they do not adequately account for what they're doing."
Ndzinyana was forthcoming about the auditor general's description of Lesedi's performance and risk management systems as "unspecific, unmeasurable and irrelevant".
"Our key performance indicators provided no clear trail for auditors," he said. This applied specifically to the service delivery department.
In March, council property worth about R18-million was damaged during several days of protests. In the nearby Ratanda township, a group of youths smoking dagga at the back of the gutted centre for the disabled said a library, social services centre and home affairs office were among the properties destroyed. Nearby sports facilities were also destroyed and foreign-owned shops looted. "The library … they [protesters] fucked us over with that one," said a dreadlocked youngster in jeans and All Stars who refused to give his name. "The library had free internet. There were four computers there and they were about to install four more. Now we have to spend R15 to go to town and back."
I asked them whether they could see that their municipality was ranked second in Gauteng.
"All the streets are paved," another said. "Even in the RDP [reconstruction and development programme] sections there's paving. But when it comes to electricity, they'll shut it off if you do not pay."
In one of the surviving offices behind one of the burnt buildings two women helped residents to fill in their "indigent application forms". One of the women, Thato Moloi, said only people earning less than R2 500 a month qualified for a subsidy and screening committees visited the homes of each applicant to verify the information.
"If the information corresponds," she said, "we will annul existing debt and provide a R150 per month subsidy, leaving the owner to settle the difference. We review the situation every year for pensioners and every six months for the public."
Residents said this programme only started on July 13 and was a result of the protests in March.
Ndzinyana said the tariff system, which was subjected to public participation in 2010, had been reconsidered for a while. The municipality reduced the amount of free electricity it supplied to indigent households across the board from 50kW to 25kW. This subsidy was being phased out and further subsidies would benefit only those registered as indigent.
According to Moloi, the municipality is efficient and workers are always on stand-by to fix malfunctioning taps and electricity.
Two doors down, small businessman Nhlanhla Shabangu said he would rate the municipality's performance at 50%. "We have a stadium here but people can't really play there," he said, stitching a customer's skirt. "They planted grass but they don't maintain it, and as a result the culture of soccer is dying. We used to have karate and boxing, but now there are so many restrictions to these facilities. We have to ask the municipality for permission and we have to pay for that."
Extension One is one of several small informal settlements dotting the township, known locally as wagplekke (transit camps). Mathapelo Motaung, who has lived there since 2000, said residents still used buckets instead of toilets and every summer, without fail, the area flooded.
"When we phoned the Gauteng department of housing to ask about our progress on the RDP waiting list, they said our former mayor told them that there were no shacks or people using the bucket system in Heidelberg," said Motaung.
Ndzinyana said by the second quarter of this financial year – December – the toilets would have been sorted out. Although he would not make promises on the eradication of informal settlements because "shacks were a national issue", he said there were no "massive" complaints about the allocation of RDP houses and the process has been "by and large" fair.
Responding to allegations of dereliction of duty, councillor Lindi Batshege (whose ward four includes Extension One) said she kept a register of all the meetings and had made sure that her cellphone number was widely distributed around her ward.
"If there are problems, residents know that they must call me," she said. "But if I hold meetings and people don't attend because they have better things to do, then they must not complain."