A crying shame

2012-07-21 18:26

Jewel of the former Transkei is now a shell of its former self and an embarrassment to residents

As the world honoured Nelson Mandela on his 94th birthday this week, residents of the OR Tambo District Municipality were a bit embarrassed.

Not because they weren’t proud of the elder statesman, who lives in the local village of Qunu, but because important visitors like Bill Clinton were around to see their neighbourhood falling apart.

The district municipality that Mthatha residents fall under was named in honour of Madiba’s friend, the ANC’s longest-serving president, Oliver Reginald Tambo.

It is also the worst provider of water and sanitation – only 30% of its more than 2 million residents have water and only 47% have toilets.

During the financial year that ended last month, the district municipality spent only half of its municipal infrastructure grant budget, which is money sent by the National Treasury for infrastructure, and they had to send R560 million back.

The local King Sabata Dalindyebo District (KSD) Municipality, named in honour of the struggle icon and former Tembu paramount chief, is plagued by frequent electricity and water outages, and is piled high with refuse.

The Ratepayers Association of Mthatha, comprising mainly of local businessmen, was the most vocal about the state of the town this week as politicians in the district council blamed “capacity problems”.

Association chairperson Graeme Alexander, who has lived in Mthatha since the late 1980s, said the town that was the jewel of the former Transkei “is now a shell of its former self and hardly inspires any pride”.

“We want to be proud of this town and be the best in the Eastern Cape and South Africa. We want to be proud and not criticise the municipality. But it becomes difficult when things are like this,” he said.

Alexander says journalists from foreign media organisations interviewed him about the state of the town.

“This is where Mandela comes from and they are interested in Mthatha,” he said.

“When Madiba passes, Mthatha will be the centre of attention. It will be bigger than the World Cup and (the death of) Princess Diana.
One question always asked by the foreign press is whether Mthatha is a representation of what would happen to South Africa. Is this the legacy that will be left behind?”

The KSD local municipality, which says it is battling “overpopulation” and service delivery backlogs, no longer enforces its bylaws.

In the central business district, pedestrians and motorists contend with leaking water and sewage pipes, exposed electrical wiring and mounds of festering refuse.

Water leaks have become a business advantage for Thulani Mananga (36), who washes cars at the Emajiteni Car Wash.

Situated less than 5km away from the crumbling city hall, the car wash consists of unmarked parking bays, and young men and women armed with buckets, soap and cloths.

They charge R35 per car washed with a mixture of leaked water and spilled sewage collected from the street.

“We don’t make much here, but at least we go to sleep having eaten something. People support us and we wash a mix of ordinary and expensive cars, but if we had proper space to work, this could grow,” Mananga said.

Across the road, the view of a shiny new office park is marred by the rickety caravans and shipping containers lined up outside.

These illegal businesses – makeshift restaurants, phones booths and hair salons – are not supposed to be there.

Informal restaurateur Sindiswa Mpendulo (26) sells home-cooked meals. Like those of his neighbours, his clientele are mainly state employees.

Each business owner pays a quarterly bribe of R50 to a “person” who “negotiates with the municipality on our behalf” to remain.

Nearby Owen Street is converted into a parking lot each weekday, making it impossible to navigate.

And across the town centre, broken electrical boxes with exposed wires dot the pavements, covered in adverts for everything from penis enlargements to funeral services and tent hire.

The KSD local municipality also has a failing road network and overloaded electricity grid, both of which are being revamped as part of a R5 billion presidential intervention. The municipality was still formulating responses to questions at the time of going to press.

OR Tambo District Municipality’s Mbuso Ncube, a director in the mayor’s office, said government as a whole was working with them to alleviate their problems.

Ncube said this was happening through a presidential intervention in the KSD local municipality.

“People must not lose hope because we do have programmes in place and within the next year there will be serious changes to the face of the district.”

Congress of the People councillor Mandla Gogo said the municipality had betrayed Madiba’s legacy.

“Our core business is water and sanitation, and currently we don’t meet the standards. The cause, I believe, is capacity. We don’t appoint on capability because of cadre deployment,” Gogo said.

“It’s a disgrace that we returned R500 million we couldn’t spend when people are poor and have no services. How are we able to celebrate Madiba’s name?”

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