Stutterheim teenager Lelethu Mabona thinks she lives in the worst municipality “ever”. She is not far off.
While the “ever” reference may be an exaggeration typical of a 15-year-old, within the context of SA she is spot on.
Registering a pitiful 11 out of a maximum 100 points, Amahlathi municipality scored the lowest in the country on the Municipal Financial Sustainability Index, released this week by ratings agency Ratings Afrika.
The municipality shares the dubious honour with Victor Khanye municipality in Mpumalanga and Madibeng municipality in North West, which also only scored 11 on the index.
The index shows that Amahlathi is woeful when it comes to financial stability, debt governance, deteriorating infrastructure and how the authority manages its budget.
Lelethu, a Grade 8 pupil at Stutterheim High School, calls it as she sees it.
“Our municipality is dead.”
The broke municipality had been placed under administration until Cogta administrator Sindisile Maclean left on December 4 2019 because his term had ended.
In Stutterheim, the poorest of the poor have been seen to compete with pigs for scraps at the sprawling public dump, while water and electricity outages have become the norm.
The centre of town still tells the sorry tale of violent protests in 2018. The shells of the razed municipal offices and clinic blight the main business district.
Zoleka Sahluko, a street vendor next to one of the destroyed buildings, told the Dispatch this week the national lockdown had only highlighted the town’s shortcomings.
“We can’t even get the services we need to stay operational. We don’t know where to go for help. When you go for a permit, you are sent in many directions,” she said.
“That is killing our business. When I did get a permit from the municipality, it was the wrong one. Their permit only allowed me to sell vegetables, but I sell clothes and other things, not veg.
“Now they won’t assist me to get another permit. They claim I can only get one at the King William’s Town police station. What is that?”
Nicole Bulu, 27, said she had to pay municipal bills at retail shops “because we don’t have any municipal offices”.
“People burnt down the offices because of the corruption which is in front of you. Nothing is ever done right in this municipality.”
For Vusumzi “Thangana” Hlanganisa, who lives in an RDP house in Xholora township, municipal officials are doing “as they pleased”.
“The municipality recently sent me a huge bill but I have been staying in my house since 2005 and no-one has ever come to take a meter reading at my house,” Hlanganisa said.
The Municipal Financial Sustainability Index, which ranked 100 municipalities across SA, comes only weeks after an auditor-general report showed that 13 Eastern Cape municipalities’ financial standing had deteriorated compared with the previous year.
Of Amahlati and other low-scoring municipalities, the index report said: “A common feature of the municipalities with the lowest scores is that their liquidity positions are extremely weak.
“Their operating revenue and expenditures are not evenly matched, resulting in relatively large operating deficits, and the quality of their infrastructure is deteriorating, caused by low spending on repairs and maintenance which could threaten long-term service delivery and sustainability.”
The municipality’s desperate state is putting one of Stutterheim’s biggest employer, Anca Foods, on shaky ground.
MD Tony Isemonger was trying to remain optimistic about the future, but said should things continue to spiral he would be forced to retrench more than 600 employees.
“For us it’s crucial that we have stability in the supply of electricity and water, and we’ve taken a quite a few positive steps in assisting the municipality in getting that sorted out.
“We spend additional finances on putting in pumps and assisting in electricity spares installation,” Isemonger said.
“We have looked at moving our operations out of the Amahlathi area. We are patiently waiting for them [municipality] to improve. [If that does not happen] it will be necessary for us to look at alternatives, but the costs of moving the processing plant — to the staff, the people living in the area and to us — will be immense.
“But we have got good communications with the [Amahlathi] Crisis Committee and they are co-operating with us and we think that they can bring about change,” he said.
The crisis committee has been established to hold the municipality to account.
Spokesperson Luxolo Manyela was bitterly dry in his assessment.
“We are disappointed with the rating — it was supposed to be minus-11 out of 100. This municipality has no offices to run its administration duties.
“As we speak, the municipality has given us a portfolio head of corporate services who was implicated in the Cogta reports, SIU reports and other reports.
“Employees at this municipality are not sure if they will get their salaries at the end of the month, which has been the case in previous months,” said Manyela.
Amahlathi mayor Agnes Hobo failed to respond to the Dispatch’s phone calls. The Dispatch then sent her a text message on Whats App which she did read but later replied: “I’m in the workshop now.”
DA MPL Vicky Knoetze described the findings as the “true horror story of the collapse” of the Eastern Cape.
The report says the Eastern Cape government only has a measly R21m for operating surpluses, compared with the Western Cape’s R405m and KwaZulu-Natal’s R203m.
In 2019, the Eastern Cape recorded revenue collection of 84,5%, compared with the Western Cape’s 94%, the Northern Cape’s 92.9% and KwaZulu-Natal’s 90.9%.
Knoetze said: “Local municipalities in the Eastern Cape are on the verge of total collapse. Service delivery is deteriorating rapidly, and the effects are disastrous for the quality of life of South Africans and for economic activity at local government level.”
Knoetze said she would be writing to Cogta MEC Xolile Nqatha to request a progress update on the redetermination of Eastern Cape municipalities.
– Daily Dispatch