The putrid stench emitted from rancid bucket toilets elicits anger from the people of Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan municipality, one of the country’s most dysfunctional local governments.
Nelson Mandela Bay, in the Eastern Cape, has the ignominy of having 6 010 bucket toilets in the metro, the second-highest number after the Setsoto local municipality in the Free State, which has 7 006, according to a non-financial census of municipalities conducted by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) in 2019.
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Dogs rummaging through a pile of rubbish where kids play and which adults walk past on their way home from work is the scene that greets the visit to most of Nelson Mandela Bay’s townships and informal settlements.
The spotlight on the Eastern Cape metro follows a report by the co-operative governance and traditional affairs department (Cogta) as well as the treasury, which found the country had 64 dysfunctional municipalities, 111 that were medium risk, 66 low risk and only 16 that were stable.
The State of Local Government report focused on the political, governance, administrative, financial management and service delivery issues in South Africa’s municipalities. It was tabled at the co-operative governance parliamentary portfolio committee in August.
The Eastern Cape was one of four provinces that could not boast a single stable municipality. About 30% of the municipalities in the province are dysfunctional with the remainder being medium or low risk. Nelson Mandela Bay municipality is classed as dysfunctional.
Nelson Mandela Bay’s woes were highlighted by the lack of financial controls uncovered by the auditor general’s office, which found that, in the last two reporting periods of 2018-19 and 2019-20, the municipality incurred a combined R17.8-billion in irregular expenditure.
Irregular expenditure describes spending that flouts financial legislation, such as the Municipal Finance Management Act, when government structures and departments undertake procurement.
The treasury announced last November that it would withhold more than R1-billion in grants meant for the municipality, because of its failure to heed recommendations regarding its weak financial controls.
According to the acting municipal manager Xolile Nqatha, R753.8-million of the money was meant to be allocated in the last quarter of the 2019-20 financial year, and R498-million was for the first quarter of the 2020-21 reporting period. The municipal financial year begins in July.
The Mail & Guardian sent questions to Mandela Bay spokesperson Mthubanzi Mniki, who said he would respond, but failed to do so by the time of publication.
The governance of the metro has not been helped by the lack of leadership continuity: Nelson Mandela Bay has had six different mayors from three political parties since the 2011 local government elections. In that time, the metro has also had more than five officials occupy the crucial municipal manager position.
This unstable rotation of leadership was highlighted by the August report, which confirmed failures in governance and political oversight as the primary causes underpinning the increase in the number of dysfunctional municipalities.
“Dysfunctional municipalities are characterised by in-fighting in councils, intra-political party divisions in council, divisions in caucuses and external political interference, and the persistent dissolution of councils,” the report said.
It said councillors unduly interfered in local government administrations and there was no consequence management for corruption, maladministration, nepotism and poor performance.
In dysfunctional municipalities there were also excessive salary bills; poor revenue collection and high basic service backlogs; a high number of informal settlements; no maintenance of infrastructure, resulting in water and electricity supply interruptions and poor water quality; and glaring service-delivery issues
But it is the human toll on people living in squalid conditions that highlights the effects such dysfunctionality has on the residents of Nelson Mandela Bay.
When the M&G visited informal settlements around the municipality, the stomach-churning smell from the bucket toilets, which flood the community with human waste that seeps into a bigger stream, was what drew the community’s ire.
Up to 10 families, averaging about six per household, have to share one bucket toilet, regardless of age, physical and mental ability, or gender.
“It is painful to be sharing these plastic toilets among so many of us, because we are not all the same. We have different illnesses that are often exacerbated by the germs that we share as a community,” said 59-year-old Nancy Swaarbooi, a community leader in the Govan Mbeki village, a settlement just outside KwaDwesi township.
Families in the settlement said they had been living there since about 1993, and there is a scattering of government-subsidised local houses and ablution facilities in the area.
“We have been promised by successive councillors and local governments that there would be more development, which has not happened,” Swaartbooi said.
About 10 minutes from Govan Mbeki stands another settlement, Bayland, where about 3 900 households in Ward 52 have to share 21water taps. Bayland community leader Nomonde Jawa-Soga said the taps had been dry for four weeks when the M&G visited in late September.
“In Bayland, you feel like you don’t stay in South Africa — that you don’t have rights. We’re in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic and we have gone four weeks without water,” Jawa-Soga said.
“There is only one truck that delivers water to the community. If the truck arrives at one home today, don’t expect it to come to your house the next day, because there are about 3 900 houses,” she continued.
“When it comes to electricity, there is no electricity, only izinyoka [illegal connections]. When it comes to [flushing] toilets, there are none. You only find pit latrines and bucket toilets.
“So there are no services that you could say that we have enjoyed here in ward 52,” a sombre Jawa-Soga added.
Local power struggle
The ANC was in charge of Nelson Mandela Bay from the municipality’s establishment in December 2000 until it was voted out in favour of a Democratic Alliance-led coalition after the August 2016 local government elections.
Since then, a power struggle has raged in the municipality’s council between the DA and its coalition partners, most notably the United Democratic Movement, which had its councillor, the late Mongameli Bobani, as deputy mayor to the DA’s Athol Trollip.
Bobani succeeded Trollip as mayor in August 2018, until the former died in December last year. In January, the DA again had a mayor when council voted for the party’s Nqaba Bhanga to lead the metro.
Asked who they would vote for at the upcoming local elections, considering what they said were years of poverty and underdevelopment, the majority of the Govan Mbeki and Bayland residents who spoke to the M&G either said they would not vote, or would vote for ANC candidates.
Jawa-Soga is herself an ANC activist and was proudly touting her party’s credentials when the M&G visited. Her views were echoed by Swaartbooi in Govan Mbeki.
“Yes, I will vote [for the ANC], because they said they will come fix our problems. But we know we will be voting for the biggest liars in the world, because we know they will forget about us after November,” Swaartbooi said.
However, another community leader, Misiwe Twane, said it was not worth her time to cast her ballot.
“They [the election candidates] will promise you heaven and earth, only to forget you the next day. So I don’t think I will vote,” she said.
“Who can I vote for, because the other parties are the same: all of them are in it for the money and power,” Twane, 53, who also lives in Govan Mbeki, told the M&G as she stood next to one of the foul-smelling toilets her family shares with about nine others.
It was a stark visual representation of the dire need for formal ablution facilities in the municipality.
According to data provided to Stats SA by the municipality, Nelson Mandela Bay services about 241 000 consumer units connected to different types of toilet facilities, including septic and flush toilets.
Nelson Mandela Bay also has the fifth-highest number of indigent households in the country, with more than 90 000 of its homes living below the R3 200 a month threshold, as defined by Stats SA’s non-financial census report.
The other municipalities with a high number of indigent households are eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal with more than 600 000, Cape Town in the Western Cape with more than 220 000, Ekurhuleni in Gauteng with more than 138 000, and the Eastern Cape’s Buffalo City with more than 125 000.