Newcastle raises the bar

2015-10-19 10:14
Electrical department head of planning Ajith Harilal (left), control officer Sizwe Gumbi and Newcastle Mayor Afzul Rehman stand next to new panels to be installed in a substation for a new housing project.

Electrical department head of planning Ajith Harilal (left), control officer Sizwe Gumbi and Newcastle Mayor Afzul Rehman stand next to new panels to be installed in a substation for a new housing project. (Chelsea Pieterse, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - Without any external loans taken this year to fund Newcastle Municipality’s many innovative projects, the growing town may well be one of the most well-oiled municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal.

The ANC-led council under the mayorship of Afzul Rehman has poured billions into upgrading the town’s infrastructure and deep rural areas, and still ensures the verges are kept clean and the street lights are working.

Newcastle made news in The Witness last year when it became the first “paperless” municipality in the country.

Rehman said officials received a R300 data allowance every month from the government, so the municipality decided to take the R300 and take out a contract for each of their councillors and officials for laptops or iPads.

“Every Friday we were printing out a 150-page agenda for 100 people and we realised we were spending money that could be saved and used for our other projects.”

He said they trained the councillors and in six months — the whole municipality had been digitalised.

“We found that we are saving R8 million a year in not printing anything. Everything is completely digitalised,” he said.

In the early 1990s, the municipality started planning for the possibility of blackouts and in doing so, have saved the town from loadshedding completely.

The municipality installed a sophisticated operating system to manage the town’s electricity usage a few years ago and recently upgraded it to the Supivisory Control and Advisory system (Scada).

Using Scada, operators are able to shed large portions of the town’s electricity usage by switching off the public’s geysers for two hours at a time.

This management of their electricity means they never experience loadshedding and businesses and homes are never without power.

Rehman said the municipality was run like a business and it was always important to keep their customers happy.

The Newcastle Municipality is currently moving most of its departments into one seven-storey building.

Rehman said this would save the municipality and would turn a profit for projects in the town once they begin renting out the previously occupied department buildings.

Rehman said their biggest project at the moment was the Intensive Capital Development Programme, which is focused on developing rural areas around Newcastle.

“We [the municipality] inherited some of the worst rural areas in the country and we have invested R2,5 billion on these communities, which is a lot of money for such a small town.

“It is all about balance and changing people’s lives. We are trying to make Newcastle a model city. We are building community halls in rural areas and state-of-the-art play parks.”

He said they discovered in 2009 that they were losing 40% of their water to pipe leaks and started a campaign that saw small businesses and students contracted to fix pipes for residents.

“We went into their homes and did a full repair and gave small businesses and college students the opportunity to work on this. We spent R25 million on this.”

However, the city is not without problems.

The auditor-general’s report for 2014 said the Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department had conducted an investigation into the municipality and found irregularities.

“Cogta conducted investigations regarding procurement irregularities which relates to cellphone contracts and public viewing screens entered into in the year under review.

“The investigations were finalised in July 2014. Irregularities were discovered and disciplinary action was recommended against the relevant officials.”

Recent highlights for Newcastle:

• KWAZULU-NATAL’S “Best Performing Mayor” of the year prize from the Department of Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs in 2014 — for the second year running;

• Has established a hospital and police station at its Madadeni township; attracted a R1,2 billion investment for the Vulintaba Golf Estate; and opened the Newcastle Mall, which was voted South Africa’s best retail centre in 2014;

• Has seen its new Asiphephe Bridge used by SARS as the subject of its national thank-you campaign to national taxpayers. The bridge has cut commuting time by almost 30 minutes for Madadeni township residents;

• Won the 2013 “most innovative infrastructure”, award by becoming the first paperless government in South Africa;

• Was voted the country’s third best town in water conservation;

• Increased its budget for infrastructure to R406 million, from a low of just R68 million in 2009;

• Has converted over 150 km of dirt roads in the city’s townships to tarred roads in three years;

• Was identified in July as KwaZulu-Natal’s “greenest municipality” by the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, and the second cleanest in South Africa, after Tzaneen;

• Has electrified 96% of its entire town; and

• Built Madadeni’s first public pool earlier this year

Read more on:    newcastle  |  kwazulu-natal  |  electricity  |  housing

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