Coalition chaos: Are ratepayers feeling the pain from instability in Gauteng metros?

12 April 2023 - 07:41
By Phathu Luvhengo
A trail of damage was left behind by residents of Thembisa who torched the community centre and vehicles during a service delivery and electricity tariffs protest in Ekurhuleni last year. File image
Image: Ziphozonke Lushaba A trail of damage was left behind by residents of Thembisa who torched the community centre and vehicles during a service delivery and electricity tariffs protest in Ekurhuleni last year. File image

Ratepayers associations in Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Johannesburg are frustrated by worsening service delivery in their communities, partly attributed to a lack of impetus as politicians contest control of the three Gauteng metros.

Chairperson of the Sunninghill Community Ratepayers Association in Johannesburg Linda Gildenhuys said: “It is no longer an irritation, but one of the reasons for people to leave the area, either 'semi-grating' or emigrating. There has been a steady decline. This decline started before coalition governments in the municipalities came about, but yes, I think we can say coalition governments worsened the situation,” she said. 

When there is no dominant party in power, council meetings, where decisions should be taken or budgets approved, have become chaotic. 

“It’s no longer about the voters, the taxpayers, but about power or political parties' interests above those who pay their salaries or vote them into power.

“Though there are some wonderful people working in the entities, people we have come to know through dealing with them, people who try their best, their efforts are hampered and we have seen them become as demoralised as us, the residents, and this affects service delivery.”

Gildenhuys said a classic example was street lights in their suburb, which they report month after month, that have not worked for more than a year. “We have a never-ending number of potholes that cause accidents. Some of them we have fixed ourselves due to them being so dangerous. They have been there for months. The roads are old, they need to be resurfaced, but we have seen nothing of this in many years.”

She said water pipes burst frequently. When they burst so much water is lost as it takes so long for them to fix these. One goes and they do a patch job, then a few metres further on another one goes. Time after time. Again, with the water and sewerage leaks it's crisis management. The infrastructure, just as the road infrastructure, is old and falling apart.”

She believes coalitions can work, “but you do need ones that stick together as per agreements signed for the betterment of their residents”.

A lack of accountability from teams contracted by the metro to handle service delivery is a frustration for David Hutch Barr from the Primrose Ratepayers Association in the Ekurhuleni metro. 

Barr said it was only when their association was involved that complaints are attended to “a bit faster', but only if they keep following up. “Issues like power, water and dumping can take two weeks to get a contractor out.”  

He recalled they had to write and submit a memorandum to Rand Water after they spent about 10 days without water due to vandalism. “If it wasn't for that we would have just been told that 'we are working on it'. The calls are closed before the problems are solved and we don’t hear anything from them.”

Barr said they have had multiple meetings with the city manager's office and have submitted a referendum on community issues, including water, waste removal, power cuts and infrastructure vandalism. 

“We have done this with all the problems, including municipal infrastructure, and we have not received any feedback. We submitted our complaints as the community, not just ratepayers,” he said. 

“This coalition government is not working, I think they need to go back to the drawing board. They need to do something.”

Linda Tyrrell, chair of the Old Pretoria East Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Alliance, which represents about 12 ratepayers associations in the metro, said: “Certainly, the goings on at Tshwane have been of huge concern to residents and we are hopeful now that stability will return to the council.

The budget constraints also made life extremely difficult, as street lights are not being repaired. Water leaks have been another challenge, with water streaming down a street sometimes for months, with no action from the officials. Once the leak is repaired, the hole left behind cannot be repaired due to a lack of landfill.

The biggest challenge for residents is the lack of bylaw enforcement by council officials. The city officials do not do their jobs by acting against illegal land use. Law-abiding taxpaying residents are punished as they are tormented by neighbours who break the law with illegal activities in a residential property.”

Tyrrell said the response time was erratic. “Sometimes, the complaints are dealt with swiftly in certain areas and in other areas, not.”  

City of Ekurhuleni spokesperson Zweli Dlamini said coalitions were not hindering service delivery. He insisted the administration continues with its mandate despite who is in power.  

“The only thing that may change is priorities, to say maybe in a previous regime they were focusing on other issues and the incoming council changed the priorities.”

“The only time service delivery will be affected is maybe when you have a situation where you need to pass a budget and adjustment [and] they don’t agree and then you miss a deadline. You can't work because the money cannot be released because it is not budgeted for.  

“But the city manager and the collective continue to run the city because the core function of the municipality is the provision of basic services to our residents,” he said.  

City of Tshwane newly elected mayor Cilliers Brink said coalitions were less stable than a majority government.

“Coalitions take longer to make decisions and have to make compromises. They are also more unstable and prone to internal disagreement. But for decades in Gauteng our municipalities had ANC majorities who were responsible for cadre deployment, state capture, tenderpreneurs and the breakdown of service delivery.”

Brink said the city is experiencing financial difficulties.

“The city is still paying the price for irregular contracts concluded before 2016.  

“Revenue collection has never recovered to levels before the city being placed under administration in 2020. Load-shedding is doing serious damage to revenue as well as the state of the electricity network.”

City of Johannesburg spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said the city has vowed to put service delivery at the top of the agenda.  

“Work is ongoing to get the basics right. This includes work to stabilise the city’s finances, fix roads, potholes and traffic lights, cut grass along the roads and streets regularly and undertake maintenance of the infrastructure.”  

He added there was a project undertaken of the system maintenance on the city’s enterprise resource planning system which may have caused inconvenience for residents. 

“The system maintenance was necessary so that the city can improve service delivery.” 

He said on completion of the maintenance the city decided to waive the interest on late payments of municipal services for March and April 2023 to cushion residents from a huge financial burden.  

“The city strives to resolve complaints lodged within a reasonable time,” he said.


Support independent journalism by subscribing to the Sunday Times. Just R20 for the first month.