A tale of three towns

2008-02-25 00:00

The relationship between the calibre of civic leadership and a town’s ambience is aptly illustrated by three towns in the eastern Free State.

While a flying visit exposed us to no more than cursory impressions of Ladybrand, Ficksburg and Clarens, it nevertheless left us under no illusions about the state of governance in these towns strung along the border with Lesotho.

This is sandstone country, defined most magnificently by the spectacular Golden Gate cliffs, and much of the region’s architecture is inspired by the beauty of its geology.

Little wonder then that the degradation of a town is so often reflected in the decay of its buildings, a truism many city residents in Pietermaritzburg will empathise with. Well, Ladybrand, or Masopa as it is called now, too is suffering the ravages of official neglect.

Its demise from a pretty town to one on the skids happened over a relatively short period, about five years, and the portents are not good. The streets are littered, the roads are potholed, the storm water drains are blocked, and a general air of decrepitude has settled on Ladybrand.

Ficksburg, about 40 km away, has retained its genteel charm. No doubt being the epicentre of the annual cherry festival gives it reason to retain its bucolic bonhomie, and here the signs of sound management and good governance are amply in evidence.

But the real surprise is Clarens, which is obviously booming. Clearly the preferred residence of a growing population of artists and the like, the town has developed a strong personality around the creative momentum of a new generation of residents.

It goes without saying that the new impetus would not have been possible without an empowering environment by its civic leadership. Perhaps for this reason we sensed a powerful unified purpose, of ensuring that Clarens retains its unique appeal and builds on its magnetism.

Even the ubiquitous township sprawl on the outskirts appears to be prettier and less poverty-stricken than in Ladybrand and Ficksburg. Our observation could have been coloured by our experience of Clarens, of course, but that is the power of perception for you.

As for the real question as to what determined the different courses of Clarens, Ficksburg and Ladybrand, me thinks the answer is in the people entrusted with running the show.

Budget joy

SMALL enterprises are jumping for joy now that Finance Minister Trevor Manuel has raised the bar for compulsory VAT registration to R1 million.

Given the admin and headaches associated with VAT compliance, it is little wonder that small businesses are lining up to deregister.

Double trouble

BUSINESS better have a clear head to deal with the unusual occurrence of two public holidays on one day on March 21.

This year, both Good Friday and Human Rights Day fall on March 21, but business owners need not worry that workers are to be remunerated twice if they work on that day, as legal opinion seems to suggest that one cannot be paid overtime twice for the same time worked.

The only snag is that according to the Public Holidays Act, there must be 12 public holidays per year, but this year there will only be 11. We’re keen to see how things pan out.

Scandalous council

THE latest wave of insider disclosures at the disgraced uMgungundlovu District Municipality has an air of the surreal about it.

We’re not talking about the R10 million from the provincial government to upgrade the Harry Gwala Stadium that has been siphoned off to fund the UMDM’s operational expenses, including salaries, or the flabbergasting insensitivity of Mayor Bongi Sithole and her consort Lucky Moloi — at the centre of the UMDM storm — swanning at the KZN parliament opening, or the litany of accounting irregularities.

We are talking about the volumes of copy dedicated to the scandalous excesses of UMDM officials and their cronies, and the deliberate ignorance and inexplicable inaction of the provincial government.

We can’t be sure, but according to our records, attention to the crookery at the UMDM dates back to 2001. Who said the provincial government was committed to rooting out corruption?

Surreal comedy

THE soap opera at the UMDM is making for good comedy material, though. Consider that one-day MBA wonder and former municipal manager Monica Mngadi is set to sue her former employers. The charge? Constructive dismissal! We laughed till we cried.

derekalberts@mweb.co.za

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