The imminent local government elections have seen a quick rise in community engagements, street-side consultations and parking lot canvassing.
An election date announcement is expected soon. Banter and rhetoric between political glitterati will increase while, on the ground, potholes continue to spread at virus pace, power cuts from ailing infrastructure defeat business owners and ratepayers throw up their arms in disbelief that another five-year term of decay has passed.
The 2018-19 Auditor-General’s report on municipalities showed R32 billion of irregular expenditure, of which more than R11 billion was payment for goods and services not received.
Citizens have, in many instances, taken it upon themselves to start fixing stuff.
In Boksburg, Hansie Myburgh roams the streets with sacks of tarmac, fixing potholes. The Sunninghill residents’ association repairs its own “baby dongas” when financially possible and takes care of open spaces. In Mayfair, there is a six-year effluent leak that still needs to be repaired.
And residents are gatvol.
A fortnight ago The Citizen reported on Sunninghill residents’ battle with Democratic Alliance (DA) City of Joburg ward councillor Candice James.
Since then, residents from Lonehill, Mayfair and Kyalami have joined the fray.
A petition in Lonehill and Kyalami demanded the removal of its councillor, David Foley, from office.
Residents blamed him for the installation of a sewage pipeline across a wetland without a water licence; the safety of a dangerous intersection and a host of other service delivery failures.
Whereas James seemed to have ignored her constituents and is yet to respond to The Citizen’s queries, Foley replied quickly, saying he became a councillor to make a difference.
“We all try our best to add value to the community,” he said. He added he sacrificed weekends and after-hours time for his ward. He had a full-time job, too.
He offered to compile a report on achievements and work done in the ward and was clearly passionate about his community. Foley planned to stand for re-election this year, but said all the criticism levelled at him did make him wonder about reconsidering.
‘Out of our hands’
Frustrated residents, he suspected, were directing their anger at him due to sustained service delivery issues from council. Johannesburg DA caucus leader Leah Knott said there were about 100 signatures on the petition.
The DA was “currently engaging with the community in terms of where they have identified issues”.
“The DA caucus is always available to engage with communities around service delivery matters as we strive to work with residents, regardless of our limitations in terms of not being in government and in line with legislation and roles.
“Councillors are required to be available to their communities and councillor Foley is accessible to his community via phone and e-mail, among others.”
Knott said the DA’s councillors were all expected to be active in their wards, as well as being reasonably available to residents. Their performance was assessed on a regular basis. In many instances opposition ward councillors’ hands were tied.
“Councillors by law cannot interfere in the management or administration of any department of the municipal council unless mandated by council itself,” she said. “Involving themselves in operational functions outside of their oversight role is a serious breach of the code of conduct and subject to investigation and action.”
Council and committees were the official forums for councillors to raise issues.
Former DA member of parliament Mike Waters, who beat the streets as a ward councillor early on in his political
career, said it was not easy being an opposition ward councillor.
“Councillors’ powers are very limited, and I can attest from personal experience that sometimes it feels like banging your head against a brick wall when trying to deal with service delivery matters.”
Waters no longer fulfilled a public role but remained political head of the party on the East Rand. He has taken up a crusade against infrastructure decay in Ekurhuleni.
“How can the mayor claim it is a world-class city when he simply needs to step out of his office and see the seriousness of the situation,” he asked in a statement.
DA councillor Alex Christians was the subject of a 2018 internal and council forensic investigation into irregularities surrounding the illegal occupation and use of the Mayfair Bowling Club. He was accused of influence
peddling and an R800 000 bribe, but no evidence was discovered.
He said the charges were brought against him initially by the parties that lost a tender for use of the premises.
“When they failed to get the premises, they came out with these allegations without proof, which the forensic report confirmed.
“This issue still has to appear before the ethics committee and the integrity officer has done his report for the committee to bring to council.”
Christians said he looked forward to his name being cleared. He added the “Mayfair Bowling Club has now been completely hijacked, with even the recreation centre that has been divided into illegal rooms rented out by Sanco
[South African National Civic Organisation].
“The grounds are now a complete car park. The school that was once there cleaning it up is now no longer doing so after more than 25 years of service.”
Yet residents that spoke to The Citizen believed it was his role as ward councillor to address this issue.
Christians said he was aware of a list of almost 2 000 issues in the community which required some form of address from council. He had logged these with council.
In his response to The Citizen, Christians also listed an impressive array of initiatives aimed at resolving some of the issues.