Last year in the middle of the Free State winter, 700 residents were evicted from Bokamoso informal settlement outside Qwaqwa. In Setswana, my home language, Bokamoso means “The Future”. But right then, on that cold June Wednesday, the future was looking particularly bleak for these 200 families.
Rejecting a request by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to postpone the eviction by two months in order for alternative arrangements to be made, the municipality gave them just two days to pack up their belongings and dismantle their shacks before sending in the bulldozers.
The Commission holds that the rights of the Bokamoso evictees have been violated in several ways. It had recommended that the residents be moved to a habitable area in close proximity to public amenities and job opportunities. Instead the municipality has moved them to isolated sites where there are no basic services such as electricity, water and sanitation. There are no schools nearby and it is difficult get transport to access town.
Dumped on land with no services, no access to transport and no hope of finding and keeping a job, these people have been abandoned by those who can and should look after them. This is a clear violation of human rights by a local government required to deliver basic services to its residents. The Maluti a Phofung municipality represents the worst of an increasing number of ANC municipalities who care little for their core mandate of service delivery to their residents.
Today, the DA in the Free State will request the SAHRC to subpoena the municipal leaders of the Maluti a Phofung municipality to explain why they failed to implement the remedial action set out by the Commission.
At the DA, we have a team of people whose only job is speak to people from every corner of South Africa to understand what it is that they care about. And we’ve learnt that basic services – access to water and sanitation (toilets), refuse removal, and electricity – is second only to jobs on their wish list.
Not only does bad service delivery frustrate the poor in these “forgotten communities” on a daily basis, but it has the knock-on effect of thwarting economic development, which means jobs don’t get created. It is important to understand the unavoidable connection between these two things that South Africans want most from their government: jobs and basic services.
South Africans are naturally entrepreneurial. Given half a chance, they will start a business and create jobs. But the basics have to be in place, and that’s where our municipalities come in. They have to ensure things work.
To quote a DA councilor in Buffalo City, where I visited on Sunday: “We will never attract any investment into the City with this level of dysfunctionality and lack of service provision. The municipality is willing but unable. They simply do not have the capacity. They see it as their job to provide jobs, rather than to create a functional environment in which small businesses can flourish.”
This is the core philosophy underpinning all the DA’s policies and programmes, and follows the approach taken by almost every country that has been successful in reducing mass poverty. The role of government is to create the environment and the opportunities that give citizens the chance and the wherewithal to improve their circumstances and become economically independent citizens.
This is evident in the Western Cape where a higher level of service delivery goes hand-in-hand with a higher level of economic activity. The province has the highest access to water (99%), flush toilets (90.5%) and electricity (93.4) in the country. According StatsSA’s most recent Labour Force Survey, the Western Cape also has the lowest level of unemployment at 25% compared to the other eight provinces, which range from Gauteng at 29% to the Eastern Cape at 44%.
And this is why the DA has prioritised service delivery to the poor in the Western Cape, with 76% of our provincial basic service delivery budget spent in poor communities.
The Indigent Policy (initiated nationally in 2000) aims to alleviate poverty in the most disadvantaged communities by providing free basic water (at least 6 kilolitres per month), free basic electricity (at least 50 kWh per month), and subsidised sewerage, sanitation and solid waste management to households with an income below a certain threshold.
StatsSA monitors the provision of these free basic services in all 278 municipalities in South Africa every year. Their latest census (called the Non-financial Census of Municipalities) was released last month. It shows that the Western Cape outperforms the other eight provinces by a clear margin when it comes to providing free water, free electricity, free sanitation and free refuse removal to the poor.
This is despite the fact that the Western Cape population has grown rapidly in the past decade due largely to people moving there from other provinces. These people are literally voting with their feet for a combination of economic opportunity and quality service delivery – the same quality service delivery which the DA wants to bring to more and more places across South Africa.
Service delivery across hundreds of municipalities is increasingly bogged down by the ANC’s policies of “jobs for pals” and contracts for insiders. ANC councilors and officials have taken their lead from the top. Companies with no know-how and no technical expertise are being awarded contracts to deliver the services that would literally change people’s lives.
About 2,6 million households, largely in the rural areas, still do not have access to basic sanitation services. Access to working toilets enhances human dignity, quality of life and living standards for South Africans living in rural communities. But delivery is greatly delayed – not only by irregular tenders but also by huge underspending of allocated funds, poor performance monitoring, and shoddy implementation.
We have a major water crisis in SA. About 37% of municipal water is lost, mostly due to broken pipes, dripping taps and a general lack of infrastructure maintenance. In many municipalities the loss is as much as 70%.
The DA inherited Drakenstein Municipality in 2000, with a water loss rate of 35%. By 2013 it had reduced that to 12%. This resulted in a saving of about 158 billion litres of water and R790m, money which is freed up to roll out more services.
In South Africa, our water crisis is coupled with a serious and growing under-capacity to deal with sewage. Most municipalities are unable to deal with demand with the result that sewage flows over into water courses.
The problem with water and sanitation is that engineering jobs are not a useful part of a political patronage network, as they require specialist skills that can’t easily be faked. The result is that there are too few engineers and too many administrative staff on ANC municipalities’ payrolls. So even municipalities that are genuinely willing to deliver services simply do not have the expertise to get the job done.
DA municipalities are delivering above and beyond because they hire people who can do the work, and because they are transparent, financially viable, and sustainable.
Clean, capable, credible government facilitates innovation. It facilitates collaboration between various groups in society – from different spheres of government to the private and NGO sectors. This is only possible when you have clean governance at a local level, because this builds credibility and trust which attracts funds, grants and project partners. There are many examples of these innovative projects in DA-run municipalities.
The Drakenstein Municipality has installed solar lighting to the Simondium and Brickfields informal settlements where it has not been possible to bring in electrical power cables because the water table is too high.
The Overstrand Municipality’s Kleinmond Housing project proves that ‘green’ housing is not only for the elite. Here, 410 low cost houses were built using durable materials and efficient energy technology, a collaboration between local, provincial and national government. All houses have solar-heated geysers, solar lighting and rainwater harvesting. Although they still draw on Eskom for energy, they use far less.
The Swartland Municipality is a role model in solid waste management. Its Malmesbury landfill operation is outsourced to a private operator, but unlike most such contracts, this service agreement is not based on permission to operate for a certain amount of years. Instead it is directly linked to the remaining “airspace” on the site. In other words, long as there is still space on this landfill the private operator is allowed to run it. This has provided a strong incentive to sort and compact waste efficiently. When the agreement was made, the landfill was expected to last not much longer than five years. Eleven years later it is still running and 33 jobs have been created in recycling.
The George Municipality’s upgrading of the Thembalethu Informal Settlement shows what quality of life is possible with a well-designed and implemented site-and-service scheme, while the municipality’s Go George rapid bus transit system is bringing the community closer to work and social opportunities.
At the DA, we know that service delivery in our metro and our municipalities is not perfect. Even without the massive rate of urbanisation, it is an incredibly complex task to provide basic services to millions of people. But we also know that the only way to reach as many people as possible is by ensuring that our local governments are clean, efficient and staffed by the right people. And this is why there is daylight between the DA-run City of Cape Town and the rest of the country when it comes to basic service delivery.
It is this approach to local government that delivers on the basic human rights enshrined in our Constitution. It is this approach that the resettled families from Bokamoso in the Free State deserve from their municipality. And, if their municipality can’t provide it, then it is their democratic responsibility to vote for a local government that will.