/ 8 February 2020

Editorial: Promises are on tap, but not water

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South Africans are intimately familiar with corruption and poor governance. They see it when they walk down our potholed streets or when they’re left fumbling for their cellphones to light the way through another bout of all too familiar load-shedding. It is worrying that these failures have become so commonplace, so ingrained in our daily reality that they are increasingly being regarded as “normal”.

This week the Mail & Guardian visited several parts of the country where governance has entirely failed. In the Free State, QwaQwa residents have been without regular access to clean drinking and potable water since 2016. When they’ve successfully drawn attention to their plight, national ministers have promised much but delivered little. In Sekhukhune in Limpopo, an NGO has taken the municipality to court to try and compel it to comply with an earlier court order: to do its job and ensure a basic human right — access to water.

In both these cases the failure of the local government to supply water stems from some corrupt activity with some garden-variety mismanagement thrown in. In Sekhukhune the municipal manager is implicated in a dodgy R67-million scandal. She’s been suspended on full pay with the municipality now edging towards a settlement.

In QwaQwa, the local government has been mired in scandal. When ANC councillor Vusumuzi Tshabalala became mayor, corruption is alleged to have become rampant.

Then, in June 2018, in the face of mounting protests, a motion of no confidence was tabled before the council to remove him. Tshabalala was set for a forced exit. But minutes before the vote, he resigned.

His future job prospects were already secured — he was redeployed as ANC chief whip in the provincial legislature.

But it doesn’t end there.

This is the same municipality — Maluti-a-Phofung — that employed more than 200 people days ahead of the ANC’s Nasrec conference, even as it was placed under administration. We reported in 2018 that a worker at the municipality, who asked not to be named for fear of being victimised, said: “The job was part of a deal that I would go to the conference and vote for NDZ [Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma]. We were paid before we even started working.”

And herein lies the rub.

Two years ago, much of the country was enthused by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “Thuma Mina” promise. Many were ready to do what was necessary to help steer the country out of the morass that had accelerated during the Jacob Zuma presidency.

There were repeated promises that government employees who were guilty of wrongdoing would be brought to book. There was the expectation that repeated campaigns of misgovernance would not be tolerated.

A year ago the president held out even more hope by proposing the construction of new cities — a real life Wakanda. Not as many people were enthused.

And on the evidence collected thus far, these promises are much the same as those made to the people of QwaQwa. It is the promise of hope, of a better tomorrow just waiting over the next horizon. But it all comes to naught.

This is the state of South Africa today — our country and her people deserve better than this.

Promises are not enough.