Municipal audits: The good and the bad

2013-08-18 14:00

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The consolidated general report on the local government audit outcomes is a weighty tome that makes for almost entirely depressing reading.

Outgoing Auditor-General Terence Nombembe released the report this week – and reminded South Africans of the mess the nation’s municipalities are in.

City Press visited one of the nation’s best performers, Darling, and one of its worst, Mthatha. What emerged was a real tale of two cities.

The good

A view from the top of Darling, one of the 12 towns and villages in the Swartland municipality. Picture: West Cape News

Bordered by the Atlantic coast on the west and the Cederberg mountain range to the east, the 12 towns and villages in the Swartland municipality are surrounded by vineyards, wheat fields and olive groves cultivated on rolling hills.

Dry and hot in summer, the landscape changes drastically between seasons and by August the roads are bordered with arum lilies. In September, wild flowers coat the fields in patchworks of orange, white, yellow and blue.

It’s close enough to Cape Town so many residents travel daily to work there, but the towns of the Swartland municipality – which received a clean bill of health this week from the Auditor-General – remain rural and rustic.

In Darling, in the heart of the municipal area, children walk to their friends’ houses. On summer weekends, the smell of braai wafts down the streets, replaced in winter by the aromatic smell of wood burning in the hearths.

On Sunday mornings, burly farmers and their families attend the NG Kerk.

The smaller English-speaking population chat in groups as they stroll home from the Presbyterian Church, which holds a much less prominent space in the town, while in the township, hymns are belted out by evangelical gospel choirs.

Life in the old “whites-only” side of town, west of the railway line that separates it from the township, is one of small-town comfort. East of the railway line, where more than two-thirds of the town’s 10?000 residents live, poverty, unemployment and domestic violence make life less idyllic.

But it is still much safer than Cape Town’s urban townships and is home to a number of artisans who have moved there to escape the violence of places like Manenberg.

Sophia Mkwambi, who works in the kitchen of a health food restaurant

in Darling and has lived on the east side for 18 years, says: “There is crime, but it’s not very high. Everyone knows everyone, problems are shared, neighbours help each other.”

Mkwambi, who lives in a newly built state-subsidised house with her husband and three children, believes the town is well run. “We used to complain about the lack of tarred roads and potholes, but they’ve been improving the roads.”

There is also no informal settlement in Darling.

In the old part of the township, Mkwambi explains, shacks sometimes pop up in the back yard of new state-subsidised houses, but as soon as they do and a neighbour complains, an inspector comes around and the shack is demolished.

The streets of the township are “always clean”, she says. Residents are employed as cleaners on three-month contracts as a way of spreading jobs around among families.

Mkwambi even approves of the municipality’s tough stance on rates. If you don’t pay by the due date, your power is immediately cut off.

There are subsidies available for indigent households.

Mkwambi knows of households earning less than R1?100 a month that get water for free and can buy electricity units at a subsidised rate.

“I really enjoy Darling. I won’t move,” she says.

The bad

Residents say Mthatha is dirty, crowded, poorly serviced and badly managed. The Auditor-General agrees. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Foto24

In the days after the King Sabata Dalindyebo municipality received a disclaimer of opinion from the Auditor-General, it was business as usual in the streets of Mthatha.

Which is to say the rubbish went uncollected, robots weren’t working, large sections of the town were without power from Thursday afternoon until Saturday and the number of streets riddled with potholes far outweighed those that were pothole-free.

Mthatha, the former capital of the Transkei homeland, is the seat of the municipality that received its second disclaimer in as many years.

The poor audit result came as no surprise to Mthatha’s residents.

Mcebisi Mqikela is scathing: “Nothing works in this town. There are constant electric outages and water pipes burst every day. It’s unsavoury to live in this town – so unfortunate because it has so much potential.”

Nelson Mavuma (65) has lived in Mthatha since 1981 and the changes he’s seen over the years have been for the worse, he says. “The people of this town have been reduced to squatters. If you have a property in Mthatha there is no difference between you and a person in a squatter camp. It’s all a mess,” says the father of five.

The town’s decaying infrastructure simply can’t support Mthatha’s ever-growing population. The crown jewel of the hated homeland system has lost its shine. “In all the years I have lived in this town, at the moment it is at its worst state ever and there is no hope in sight,” adds Mavuma.

“We pay rates, but are getting nothing in return. It’s daylight robbery. It makes me very angry.”

Graham Alexander, the chairman of the Mthatha Ratepayers’ Association, agrees with this assessment. “It’s very difficult to get rate statements. We don’t know what is happening to the budget and politics interferes with the day-to-day running of the municipality.”

On the streets are filth and dissent. In council chambers it’s chaos.

On Thursday, a special council meeting was called in a bid to remove speaker Funeke Dondashe. It was adjourned without a decision because it was declared unconstitutional.

Chief financial officer Nomthandazo Ntshanga is embroiled in a battle with opposition parties that want a court to rule she doesn’t meet the minimum requirements to hold her position.

Money is a big worry for the municipality. The audit team found it racked up R179.8?million in unauthorised expenditure and R119.4?million in irregular expenditure.

Mayor Nonkoliso Ngqongwa referred questions to municipal spokesperson Sonwabo Mampoza. “All I can say is the municipality is working on a plan,” said Ngqongwa.

Mampoza said: “We are working on an improvement programme. We want to do better than in previous audit outcomes, where we got a disclaimer, and bring services to our people.”

King Sabata Dalindyebo is not the only municipality in the Eastern Cape to earn an appalling audit this week.

The province’s local government and traditional affairs MEC, Mlibo Qoboshiyane, instructed his superintendent-general, Stanley Khanyile, to call an extraordinary meeting with all Eastern Cape mayors, municipal managers, financial officers and supply chain managers who received adverse findings from the Auditor-General.

Municipal audits at a glance

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