Is our city falling apart?

2008-11-03 00:00

At the meeting of the Executive Committee on October 16 claims were made that the city is falling apart. This received front-page and editorial exposure in The Witness. Clearly, as chief accounting officer and municipal manager, I must respond.

It is fundamental to accept that our city was designed to fall apart. The setting apart of the Zwartkop Location (now the Vulindlela Tribal Area) in 1848, the limiting of African freehold title to land in Georgetown and Edendale in the 1850s, the setting aside of Sobantu in the twenties, the banishment of black people to Ashdown and Imbali in the sixties, as well as the implementation of the Group Areas Act, post 1948, have all contributed to our city being fractured along racial, economic and geographic lines.

To this day our city consists of three distinct areas, each of which is home to about 200 000 people.

• The developed city in which maintenance of aged infrastructure, congestion and pollution are key challenges.

• The townships, in which infrastructure and services are limited, and in which the development of urban infrastructure, such as tarred roads, water-borne sewage, basic electricity — let alone streetlights — as well as the upgrading of the entire housing stock, is the primary challenge. Greater Edendale still does not have a single park or public swimming pool.

• The Vulindlela Tribal Area, which presents even bigger development challenges than the townships.

In financial terms our municipality’s revenues income is largely dependent, in terms of both rates and service tariffs, on the developed city.

It is important to understand that, as a municipality, we have to rely on our local revenue base, as grants from national government only subsidise basic services and infrastructure.

Currently, we can only afford to borrow R120 million per annum for capital funding purposes, i.e. for the creation of new and maintenance of existing assets. It is clearly not enough to meet our development and maintenance challenges. Additional revenue is vital and that can only be achieved by a bigger slice of the national pie coming to municipalities.

However, raising more revenue when our municipality has been unable, in recent years, to expend fully its capital budget, is the other side of the same coin. So, faced with enormous backlogs and challenges, and having limited financial resources as well as capacity to expend the budget, how is our municipality performing?

I want to enumerate the following achievements for the year ended June 30:

• 5 687 ventilation improved pit toilets were installed, mainly in Vulindlela;

• 1 762 new water connections;

• 700 new electricity connections;

• 4 336 households are receiving free basic electricity;

• 2 000 low-income houses were built;

• all of the above construction created more than 1 500 jobs, which included skills training;

• a new library was opened in Eastwood;

• Wadley Stadium was upgraded and an artificial turf installed;

• the upgrading of the Harry Gwala Stadium has commenced;

• the construction of a multi-purpose community centre at Taylor’s Halt, Vulindlela, has commenced;

• the construction of nine tarred roads in Vulindlela has commenced;

• a new bridge across the N3 at New England Road has been completed;

• 40 bursaries have been awarded to both internal and external people;

• 38 students have been placed in internship programmes;

• some 200 additional workers are permanently employed;

• some 99% of available municipal infrastructure grants funds was expended;

• we awarded some R53 million worth of contracts — 84% of which were to local companies with 74% being awarded to human development index firms;

• occupants of flood-prone informal housing were relocated into temporary housing;

• a food for waste programme was initiated; and

• significant further investment in the city, was facilitated.

All of the above speaks of a municipality at work, but none of the above should make us complacent. There is still a great need for improvement in virtually all areas of our municipal operation. One of our goals this year is to achieve full expenditure of our capital budget. I believe that developments in the next few years, particularly new nodes along the N3 and in Edendale, will increase revenue and provide more employment opportunities. Our city has outgrown its airport, its market, its sewerage system, its cemeteries and its road network and improved access to the northern areas is urgently needed. In 2009, Pietermaritzburg will become Bike Capital Africa, with world-class road, mountain bike and BMX cycling events taking place here, and then 2011 will usher in a metro era, so we have to start thinking beyond our current boundary for solutions.

Internally, we are streamlining and realigning our macrostructure, and putting our management team in place. We are determined to deliver on our mandate, especially by bringing all aspects of land development into a single business unit.

There are encouraging signs. Four of our city’s most historic buildings — the Colonial Building, Boys’ Model School, Publicity House and the High Court building on College Road — will be upgraded during the coming year.

Struggling — certainly. Facing great challenges — undoubtedly. Making steady progress in some areas — definitely. Falling apart — definitely not.

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