No issues for content Durbanites but golden age of service delivery won’t recur soon

On promenade: Durban's beachfront has received a facelift, but the number of customers to the informal stalls has dropped. (Photo: Marianne Schwankhart, The Times)

On promenade: Durban's beachfront has received a facelift, but the number of customers to the informal stalls has dropped. (Photo: Marianne Schwankhart, The Times)

As Ethekwini residents prepare to elect a new mayor and ward councillors next week, many admit that topping the quality of life created by the post-2010 World Cup euphoria is not something they expect the government to achieve. And with the outgoing mayor presenting the municipality’s R41.6-billion budget this year, the biggest for any metro in the country, the same residents are far from unhappy.

Since President Jacob Zuma won the ANC presidency in 2007 and his regime took charge of the country in 2009, the Ethekwini municipality has hosted some of the most important events, including the 2013 Brics (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) Summit and, last week, the International Aids Conference.

When South Africans went to the local polls in 2011, the city had opened the King Shaka International Airport a year earlier, unveiling arguably the country’s most popular venue, the Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Five years later, with the benefit of hindsight, the city’s residents now look back to that time as the “golden age” of service delivery — followed by broken promises and deteriorating relationships with local government.

The beachfront

“Life was easy at that time; we were friends with the cops. They were nice to us and we had no complaints. But after the tourists left, things changed,” says Rasta Ntate, whose clothes and crafts stall has been a permanent feature on the Durban beachfront for the past decade.

He says there has been a decline in the number of people buying from his stall even though more people appear to be visiting the beachfront.

The stalls along the Durban promenade have been upgraded, and the beachfront itself is dotted with dozens of municipal workers conducting daily maintenance.

Pointing to a group of surfers near his stall, Ntate jokingly remarks: “They take better care of the beach than us.”

Umlazi

In Ethekwini’s ward 85, which includes the township of Umlazi, a third of about 33 000 residents are unemployed and the area is still notorious for political killings and crime.

Bongumusa Hlungwana is the only person in his family who has been able to find work in five years.

He claims some of his friends have turned to crime to make a living because “finding a job or doing crime are the two options in my area”.

Hlungwana, now employed as a general worker at one of the universities in the city, said the spike in the cost of living has made it exceptionally difficult to continue providing for his mother and two siblings.

“The price of bread is so high [compared with 2011] and it’s so hard to find work. The crime makes it hard because you can’t just walk freely at night or in the early mornings,” the 35-year-old says as he walks off campus to catch a taxi home.

Umlazi is one of the townships where the municipality plans to roll out free wi-fi this year. But there’s a battle between the council and residents over the nonpayment of rates.

Hlungwana says one of the reasons he is happy in Umlazi with his family is that he does not pay rates. The promise of free wi-fi is also enticing.

“It really makes a difference [not to pay rates] because many are not working. But with this internet, maybe my sister can find a job.”

City centre

In the central business district, at a taxi rank near the Durban International Conference Centre (ICC), taxi driver Baba Mahlangu says business has never been better, but he complains that the roads are too congested.

“In 2010 we made so much money because of [the] World Cup. Now, [for] the short trips around here you don’t make so much, but [for trips] to the airport and Umhlanga, the money is good,” he says.

The city centre is a hive of activity; most of the roads leading towards the ICC are clogged with taxis, all hooting to find passengers. In 2011, with a budget of R28.6-billion, the city allocated R703-million to upgrading its roads and described the task as a “huge challenge”.

Five years later, the quality and congestion of roads remain among the most frequent concerns submitted to the municipality.

Students

At least five students at Howard College remember life in Ethekwini as a dream — five years ago.

“It was so chilled, hey. The World Cup was over but people were still partying with foreigners. It was like the golden age. But I couldn’t vote then,” says 20-year-old Mbali Ngcobo. Now, as a first-time voter and resident in the city centre, she has a different view.

“It might be easier to get around but it’s not safe. There are break-ins close to our place so I will consider that when voting. The violence towards foreigners here also shows me we have a long way to go,” she says.

The increasing crime influences 19-year-old Kesh Cullen’s assessment of life in the city: it’s deteriorating.

“I see more homeless people on the streets and middle-class people caring less. There’s less humanity but I definitely think different races on campus get along better than in our neighbourhoods,” he says.

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