/ 3 April 2011

Midvaal prepares for bitter election battle

The ANC is vowing to do all it can to win back Gauteng’s top performing Democratic Alliance run Midvaal municipality, but the party faces a tough task as it tries to convince voters that it can improve their quality of life.

Outside the town of Meyerton at Sicelo, the largest township in the Midvaal municipality, 29-year-old Democratic Alliance mayor Timothy Nast watches boys playing soccer on the sports field of a newly-built recreation centre.

“The municipality had this land available so we turned it into recreation area,” he says.

“It’s important for kids to have a safe place where they can play.”

At 29, Nast is not what many might consider to be mayoral material.

There’s no gold chain around his neck and he’s young enough to be the grandson of many of his councillors.

Yet, despite his youth, Nast and his councillors have turned the 2 000 square kilometre Midvaal into what they believe is Gauteng’s model local government.

‘Getting the basics right’
The Gauteng planning commission’s quality of life survey rates Midvaal as the province’s top municipality and, according to the Provincial Gazette of March 2, Midvaal’s finances — 20,25% of its bills are unpaid compared to 42,5% in Johannesburg — are in better order than its sister municipalities.

“We’ve focused on getting the basics right,” Nast says.

“We make sure the rubbish is collected, we make sure we collect our rates and when residents have a problem we go out and listen and we try to help.

“We do what a municipality should do.”

However, the local ANC argues that one of the main reasons the DA has performed well in Midvaal is that many of the poor live on farms in the area and are unable to make it to voting stations on election days as they do not have easy access to public transport.

The DA believes that it’s not only basic municipal services that Midvaal is delivering.

It has built fully-equipped creches for pre-schoolers, it recently built a library at the Sicelo recreation centre with full internet access and study cubicles for students. The librarian on duty claims it is the best stocked library in Midvaal.

One of the first tasks the municipality undertook when it came to power in 2000 was to plant fruit trees on the streets of Sicelo.

“Some people said we were mad, but the plan was for it to be a source of nourishment for the people,” Nast says.

“Now the trees are nearly ready to bear fruit.”

In Meyerton, outside the civic centre, the municipality has built a clinic which, with its freshly-painted walls, spotless floors and short waiting times, could be mistaken for a private healthcare facility.

Not only does the clinic have doctors on duty, but a psychiatrist is available on most days too.

Nast says the clinic has been one of the municipality’s major successes.

“The average waiting time for a consultation is around two hours,” he says. “That’s far below the average for public clinics.

“The problem is people from outside of Midvaal are coming in to use the clinic. They say they’d rather use this facility than the government ones, because the treatment is better and the waiting times are far shorter.”

Chocolate company Ferrero-Rocher and brewer Heineken have both invested heavily in the area and created hundreds of jobs.

The Oprah Winfrey School is also located in Midvaal, as is the Eye of Africa Golfing Estate development, which boast Australian golfer Greg Norman as an investor.

“When the municipality was negotiating with Heineken, I made sure my phone was switched on and if they needed a quick answer, I made sure they got it as quickly as possible,” says Nast.

Midvaal may seem the model municipality, but the ANC believes otherwise and it is vowing to do all it can to win it back in the May 18 local government elections. – Sapa