/ 28 June 2024

Section 154 intervention team back in place for eThekwini as KwaZulu-Natal unity government moves to ‘support’ city

Michael Sutcliffe
Michael Sutcliffe/ LinkedIn

The new KwaZulu-Natal provincial government has placed the embattled eThekwini under section 154 administration, just weeks after mayor Mxolisi Kaunda was recalled by the ANC and redeployed to the National Council of Provinces.

Former city manager Michael Sutcliffe and former director general in the presidency Cassius Lubisi will head the intervention team appointed by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) MEC Thulasizwe Buthelezi this week.

The move, which has been welcomed by opposition parties — and noted by the city — will see the Cogta team “support and assist” the municipality’s administration in trying to turn around eThekwini.

Maladministration, collapsing municipal services and the poor state of the city’s finances are among the issues to be addressed by the intervention team, which was introduced to councillors in the city by Buthelezi on Thursday.

Sutcliffe and Lubisi were appointed in a similar intervention last year by then Cogta MEC Bongi Sithole-Moloi but they were unable to make progress because of resistance from councillors deployed by the ANC’s eThekwini region.

But, this time around, the intervention is more likely to take hold, given the shift in the balance of political power in the province, with the ANC having lost its ability to resist from within party structures as Buthelezi is part of the Inkatha Freedom Party contingent in the KwaZulu-Natal cabinet.

On Friday, former Agriculture MEC Cyril Xaba, who was moved from the National Assembly to replace Kaunda on the ANC’s eThekwini list, was sworn in as a city councillor, the next step in replacing Kaunda as mayor.

The party had planned to elect Xaba as mayor on Monday but the ongoing coalition talks between the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA) at national level delayed this and the election is now expected to take place before the end of July.

The intervention, made in terms of section 154 of the Constitution, allows the team to make an assessment of the challenges the city faces and to develop a turnaround plan to address them.

It is also empowered to assist the city in implementing the findings of a number of investigations eThekwini has commissioned, but not acted upon, and assist with building capacity to provide services.

The team will address issues relating to the city’s inability to spend on human settlements and infrastructure grants from the central government. eThekwini was forced to return a R1.5 billion grant for housing provision to the treasury last year after it failed to come up with a plan to make use of the funding.

The team will stay in place for 12 months and will report back to Buthelezi on progress — and obstacles it faces — regularly.

The combination of a shift in voting alliances at city level, the new mayoral appointment and the section 154 intervention could collectively assist in dealing with the service delivery collapse faced by residents of eThekwini.

DA caucus leader Thabani Mthethwa welcomed the intervention and said it was “long overdue” as Durban had been in a “constant downward spiral” with out-of-control debt, erratic service delivery and water and sewerage issues.

Mthethwa said that a section 139 intervention, which would have seen the city being placed under administration, would have been more appropriate, given the extent of the collapse of services.

The ability of the province to provide assistance in the running of the city and to guide key decisions would hopefully mean that the intervention would be “the start of a turning point for the fate of the city”.

Mthethwa said Sutcliffe and Lubisi’s team was already at work and that the intervention “marks a promising start by the government of provincial unity”.

A city spokesperson said that the council “notes” the intervention, which had followed on “support” it had received from treasury since 2015 and from the presidential eThekwini working group.

“The city always welcomes support by other spheres of government as long as the support is for the benefit of the people of eThekwini,” the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson said the municipality would “engage further with Cogta” to ensure alignment between the intervention and existing support programmes.