The Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM), a grassroots activist organisation in Makhanda in the Eastern Cape, has filed a court application where it argues that the governing municipal council should be dissolved.
Ayanda Kota, the founder and chairperson of the UPM, has said in a lengthy affidavit filed in the Makhanda high court that the ANC-led Makana Municipality, which governs the town, has violated the Constitution and has left the municipality in a financial quagmire. The application comes as Makhanda (previously known as Grahamstown) is also facing a severe drought which has led to water cuts and restrictions of 50l per person per day.
“I respectfully submit that every aspect of running a municipality is wanting and that the municipality has now reached a state of disaster. The Council, in particular, is responsible for the present state of affairs,” Kota said in his founding affidavit.
The UPM has asked the court to direct the provincial government in the Eastern Cape to appoint an administrator to govern the municipality. It has also asked the court to declare that the Makana Municipality has violated Section152(1) of the Constitution, which states the obligations of local government.
According to this section, local government is mandated to provide services in a “sustainable manner”, and to ensure there is a “democratic and accountable government” for the communities it governs.
The solution Kota provides is that the municipality should be dissolved “in the best interests” of its residents. In this event, the provincial government would have to intervene to select an administrator, and the entire Council — including Makana’s new mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa — would be forced to leave office. A fresh election would have to take place with the Independent Electoral Commission overseeing the process.
The move comes after years of strife that has led to basic services being stalled in the municipality.
At the end of January 2019, Mpahlwa admitted to the Mail & Guardian in an interview that the municipality is underperforming.
Despite severe water shortages, and a dwindling Settlers Dam (which supplies the Makhanda central town and nearby suburbs), pipes around Makhanda continue to leak water. Potholes damage the surface of all roads, and rubbish piles along the pavements.
Mpahlwa knows the reasons why some of these basic services have been neglected: the normal spending on municipal staff in South Africa is 35% of the budget, he said in January. In the Makana municipality, where the mayor’s office is in the Makhanda town centre, the expenditure on staff is 43%.Added to that, revenue collection is low. Most municipalities’ collection rate is 95% but Mpahlwa said Makana’s is 76%. He admitted his predecessors have done the municipality a disservice but he would not say who exactly should be held accountable.
The mayor came into office in mid-January after protests from residents culminated in a signed petition with 22 000 signatures that demanded that former mayor Nomhle Gaga step down. At the end of last year, she left office.
The municipality is currently in debt, owing R168.9-million. Some of this debt is owed to Eskom, which has resulted in power cuts.
Kota says the lack of clean water is among the biggest frustrations for residents in Makhanda. Regular water outages have been ongoing since 2012, and are believed to stem — in part — from poor infrastructure which the municipality has failed to maintain.
Included in this infrastructure is the James Kleynhans water treatment plant, that purifies water from the Orange River, which is then delivered to residents on the east side of Makhanda — the majority of them in townships. The plant was meant to be upgraded to increase its capacity to supply more clean water, but the upgrades were never completed.
In mid-February, with Settlers Dam at 13% and only 3% usable water, some residents in the town made an appeal for help from aid organisation Gift of the Givers. They had been without water for days and said they had regularly experienced water outages where the taps would be dry for a week.
Gift of the Givers sent five truckloads of bottled water to assist the 88 000 residents in February. They have since found clean water underground to supplement the town’s supply.
The UPM has said in its court papers that it is now incumbent on the municipality to be placed under administration until a competent government is in place.
The municipality has yet to file its response to the papers.