/ 19 December 2007

Sunny days for Western Cape’s Swartland

The Swartland, made famous throughout the country by WeetBix’s old advertising campaign, is characterised by undulating fields of wheat planted and harvested in orderly rows and a few industrious rural towns cleansed by the wind and the sun shining from a clear blue sky.

While Cape Town’s troubled clouds sit just over the horizon, the 3 700km2 that comprise the Swartland Municipality are orderly, clean and well run. There is the impression that every grain of wheat is in place. The legendary ‘Ouma” in the Weet-Bix ad campaign would have been proud. Swartland municipal mayor Anton Bredell and municipal manager Joggie Scholtz certainly are.

The municipality they oversee — which includes the towns of Malmesbury, Darling, Morreesburg, Riebeek-Kasteel, Riebeek-Wes, Yzerfontein, Koringberg, Riverlands, Chatsworth and Kalbaskraal — last month won the 2007 Vuna Award in the local municipality category and the award for the cleanest town (Malmesbury) in the Western Cape for the second year in a row. Last year it scooped first prize at national level.

Of course there are blemishes. The biggest of these is the poverty-stricken Ward 7, encompassing the settlements of Kalbaskraal, Chatsworth and Riverlands, which have little infrastructure and border on the Cape Metro, absorbing some of its problems, such as housing and service delivery.

It is the residents in Ward 7 who comprise the 1% of the municipality’s population who, according to its 2005/06 Integrated Development Plan (one of only three in the province to receive a commendation of ‘excellent” from the department of local government and housing), have no access to sanitation services.

The cost to provide proper services to Chatsworth alone, says Scholtz, is R250-million. The municipality’s capital budget for 2006/07 is just more than R64,7-million.

In the meantime the municipality is ‘doing what it can”. It recently piped potable water to the area and has applied to the provincial government for a housing scheme and the delivery of bulk services there. Smaller efforts, such as tarring bus routes to reduce dust pollution and wear and tear on vehicles, have made a difference.

But, while problems with service delivery in the ward loom large, there is no rush to provide hasty ad-hoc solutions as often seen in other municipal areas. There appears to be a calculated approach to doing what is possible according to a best-practice scenario.

The ability to take the long-term approach is afforded by the political stability the DA-led council enjoys. In the past seven years there has been only one incident of floor-crossing, says Scholtz.

It is this stability (nine out of the region’s 10 wards voted DA and, surprisingly, the poorest ward, Ward 7, was among them) that has allowed the administrators to get on with the job unaffected by political winds of change. This has created a ‘climate of service delivery”, says Scholtz, ‘in which [council] members feel secure in their jobs”.

‘There are no political appointments in our organisation. People are appointed solely on merit. They must meet the minimum requirements,” says Bredell.

But, like municipalities across the country, there is a skills shortage, especially in the technical fields. The municipality spent only R54,8-million of its R64,8-million budget in the past financial year. Swartland would like to have spent its whole budget, but the capacity to do so was simply not there. ‘We need to maintain, attract and develop staff,” says Scholtz.

The other part of the solution is ‘getting rid of the vrot apples”, he says. This has been an ongoing process with more than 200 disciplinary actions instituted in the past three years.

In February 2005, says Scholtz, 7,8% of the municipal workforce was guilty of absenteeism on Mondays, Fridays and before and after public holidays.

‘Last month it was down to 1,6%,” he says. ‘And I think you should mention that in August it was 0,78%,” says Bredell.

‘It’s a long process,” says Scholtz, ‘and there are no quick fixes. But discipline is a key factor in the functioning of a municipality.”

Initiatives such as a closely monitored database of unemployed people who could be called on for municipal projects and whom tender winners were required to use, and a well-functioning equitable share database allowing residents earning R1 800 a month or less to access the minimum amounts of free water and electricity, ensure the municipality’s poorer citizens are cared for.

Additional initiatives, such as employing two plumbers to fix leaks at no cost to residents on the equitable share database, help the municipality to save money by lowering water bills, as well as saving a scarce resource. ‘It costs less to pay these plumbers than to pay for the cost of lost water,” says Scholtz.

Savings have been achieved by appointing a municipal legal team for the collection of arrears.

Another best practice is the lack of performance bonuses, an area prone to corruption and cronyism. Municipal employees are paid a market-related wage and are expected to perform according to their contracts without additional monetary incentives.

It is policies such as these that give the impression that the Swartland Municipality is run as a tight ship and that employees take pride in a job well done.

Although it could be argued it has a favourable base off which to work — such as a relatively small population of about 80 000 citizens who share, to a large extent, a common language and culture (93% of Swartlanders speak Afrikaans) and a relatively small housing backlog of 15 000 — it requires good management to put such assets to good use.

As a result the region has enjoyed economic growth of between 5% and 7% a year since 2000, with about 60% of its budget allocated to businesses run by previously disadvantaged owners.

Should management continue in the same vein, Swartland Municipality is likely to continue featuring high on the list of Vuna Award winners. — West Cape News