/ 17 October 2005

Mbeki visits troubled municipality

The five Sedibeng district municipality residents who were earlier reported to have typhoid are not critically ill, the council’s executive mayor Mlungisi Hlongwane said on Sunday.

He said the five had been to the East Rand’s Delmas location where a typhoid outbreak had left at least five people dead in August and September.

”None of them are critical. None of them contaminated typhoid from the district,” he said after a meeting with President Thabo Mbeki, who visited the area on Sunday.

A report on the five cases said that ”we should not have fears with our water”, Hlongwane said.

The five people came from the Lesedi council, one of the three municipalities that form the district municipality.

The other two are Midvaal and Emfuleni, the only council in the area placed under Project Consolidate, an initiative that Mbeki said was created to help councils where ”there is something going radically wrong”.

Throughout the country, there are 136 municipalities under this project.

Forty-one officials suspended

In his report to Mbeki, Hlongwane said 41 officials from the Emfuleni municipality had been suspended for alleged corruption.

Of the 41 officials, 11 were disciplined and dismissed. Four — including a politician — were criminally charged.

He said three senior officials from Sedibeng district municipality were also suspended, and that the positions of the municipal managers of Sedibeng, Emfuleni and Lesedi councils would be filled after the upcoming local government elections.

”This is to give the coming mayors an opportunity to select their own accounting officers,” he said.

The report, which Hlongwane said is an ”honest reflection of our performance” on basic services delivery, states that residents are ”relatively happy” with the council’s service-delivery record.

Apart from corruption and vacant posts, Hlongwane reported a housing backlog budget of R1,8-billion in Emfuleni, R327-million in Lesedi and R306-million Midvaal over the past 10 years.

He also reported a 2,5% economic growth rate in the district, largely due to Emfuleni, the district’s economic hub.

”It is our opinion that under the circumstances the municipalities have performed admirably, amid many challenges,” Hlongwane said.

While Mbeki, Hlongwane and government officials tackled the problems of corruption and housing backlogs behind closed doors at the Vereeniging City Hall, a handful of people from the Sedibeng Organised Residents’ Forum protested outside.

They were demanding free basic services as promised by the African National Congress in its election campaign, said the group’s leader, Mdude Mxunya.

”Mr President, you are our last hope, failing which we will have no choice but to go to the streets,” the group said in a memorandum handed to Mbeki’s spokesperson, Murphy Morobe.

Some of the posters the group waved — amid a strong police presence — read: ”Mbeki change the situation”, ”Down with corrupt councillors”, ”We demand free basic services”, and ”Down with Emfuleni”.

Priority areas

In his speech to the community, Mbeki identified — among others — housing, unemployment, the capacity of municipalities and skills development as ”priority areas”.

If government can solve these challenges in Sedibeng, it will be able to solve others elsewhere in the country, Mbeki said.

He said South Africa’s municipalities are serious about rooting out corruption — as evidenced by the suspension of 41 officials from Emfuleni.

He was reacting to a councillor’s complaint that the suspension of Emfuleni’s municipal manager had caused only instability.

The suspension was the eighth of a municipal manager in Emfuleni in the past six months, the councillor said.

”I think all of us will agree that it is better to have the instability rather than to have corruption,” Mbeki told the packed auditorium at the town’s city hall. ”Municipalities are serious about serving the people. When they see things go wrong, they will not allow that to continue.”

Responding to another question, about racism, Mbeki told the audience he did not really know how to deal with racism among ward-committee members in the area.

Mbeki and top government officials were in Vereeniging to address service-delivery challenges in Sedibeng.

Mbeki was at the meeting with Minister of Housing Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Public Service and Administration Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry Buyelwa Sonjica. — Sapa