Tatane Project: Hope comes to delivery hell

2013-06-09 14:00

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Sizwe sama Yende’s trip to Balfour forms part of the fifth instalment in our Tatane Project to monitor progress in service delivery. Next week, we travel to Mawa Block 9 in Tzaneen

Johan Sibaya’s plight exemplifies what happens when things fall apart in government: residents are abandoned by the same politicians they voted into power.

It has been three years since City Press alerted the Dipaleseng municipal authorities in Balfour to this blind man’s struggle to reclaim his RDP home following a bungle that saw a house owed to him built on the wrong stand.

Sibaya still lives in the same shack in Siyathemba township and no official from the municipality has bothered to pay him a visit.

Before our visit in 2010, Sibaya had tried numerous times to persuade the municipality to resolve its shambolic beneficiary list. But after being sent from pillar to post, he gave up.

“They’ll knock at my door next year when they come to campaign for votes again. I’m done with these people,” Sibaya says hopelessly.

There have been no noticeable changes in service delivery to the township since residents vented their frustrations by staging violent protests in 2009 and 2010.

City Press’ sixth visit to the town was met with the same complaints of poor service delivery.

On our previous visit, in November last year, we found a few streets in Siyathemba and Balfour town had been tarred, but some parts had already been washed away by rain and other parts were potholed.

The appointment of Vusi Ngcobo as municipal manager in February was quite a big deal, and was hailed as the only major step in the right direction in recent times.

Residents and opposition political parties have blamed internal ANC squabbles for vacancies in key posts, leaving the municipality unable to act.

Ngcobo’s appointment, it is hoped, will spark the filling of all vacant department head positions, and the wheels of service delivery may finally start turning.

A chief financial officer has been found and, according to Ngcobo, all other managers will be appointed in the current financial year.

Ngcobo is the first prominent official from this municipality to agree to an interview.

On each of our previous four visits, Mayor Sarah Nhlapho refused and asked us for written questions, which she never responded to. Former city manager Patrick Malebye’s excuse was that he was “too busy”.

We begin by telling Ngcobo about Sibaya’s housing plight and he promises to act.

“I would like to meet that man. Honestly, no one has brought that case to my attention. Give me his contact details and I will attend to it,” he said. The appointment was set then and there.

Since his appointment, Ngcobo has, in just three months, been credited with increasing the municipality’s electricity revenue by billing companies that had not been billed for up to two years.

He has also ensured that problems in the billing system were fixed.

The rate of electricity revenue collection in Dipaleseng improved from 48% to 60%, which enabled the municipality to reduce its R11 million Eskom debt to R2?million.

“Most businesses want to pay, but they can’t, because our billing system is faulty. On the other hand, we’ve found big businesses that were using our electricity for free,” said Ngcobo.

Even opposition parties agree the municipality’s prospects look rosier under Ngcobo’s stewardship.

Socialist Civic Movement councillor Dumisani Zwane said: “Ngcobo appears to be hands-on and clued-up with municipal issues, but it’s too early to assess him. He’s done well on the electricity issue. We expect him to unlock the bottlenecks in service delivery.”

Democratic Alliance councillor Willem Dawel agreed, saying: “He’s the right guy for the job ... he knows what he’s doing.”

The municipality has had a frosty relationship with Siyathemba residents since the protests, and there has seemingly been little urgency to do things properly.

During the protests, residents burnt a public library in abid to force authorities to bring them water, electricity, jobs, a police station, skills-development programmes and have their municipality re-demarcated into Gauteng so that they can access a hospital in Heidelberg, 20km away.

President Jacob Zuma met residents at the local stadium and, soon thereafter, national and provincial departments promised to expedite services, but nothing much has happened since.

Ngcobo – a former legal adviser in the Gert Sibande district municipality in Ermelo, under which Dipaleseng falls – has his job cut out for him.

Erratic water supply, outdated sanitation infrastructure and electricity outages count among the immediate problems he must tackle.

Some of his newer problems fall outside the scope of his duties. They include the HIV/Aids prevalence rate, which stands at a staggering 60%.

The re-demarcation of Dipaleseng into Gauteng has still not been implemented, and Ngcobo said the service-level agreement between Mpumalanga and Gauteng, allowing Dipaleseng patients to be treated in Heidelberg, has since lapsed.

The nearest Mpumalanga hospital is in Standerton, 80km away.

“It’s impossible for me to influence that process and the demarcation board hasn’t said anything about this matter. It’s frustrating because patients do get turned away,” he said.

The municipality is now drawing up its integrated development programme in preparation for the 2013/14 fiscal year, and the Mpumalanga treasury will be sending a team to help.

But will Johan Sibaya finally get his house? We’ll keep you posted.

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