Wild Coast jewel loses shine

2014-01-05 14:00

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Drawn-out political disputes and poor financial controls have crippled Port St Johns.

A tattered banner advertising an October cultural festival hangs across the main street of Port St Johns outside the town’s Pondoland Museum.

It’s December 19.

The street is riddled with potholes. It’s filthy. When it rains, commuters from the adjacent taxi rank walk through stinking mud.

When it’s dry, a mix of food wrappers, dust and dead vegetation blows along the rutted surface.

Carry on along the drag towards Second Beach and you’ll find a series of broken streetlights.

They bear testimony to the violent two-week-long municipal strike and taxi boycott that crippled Port St Johns?–?one of Eastern Cape’s key tourist towns.

Municipal workers, now back at work after acting municipal manager Ngamela Pakade was appointed by the provincial government to replace Fundisile Guleni, are busy repairing some of the lights that members of the South African Municipal Workers’ Union smashed during the strike.

Businesses were forced to close by toyi-toyiing workers and angry residents of Mtumbane, Tembo and other villages that fall under the municipality’s jurisdiction.

The strike and boycott, in which a bodyguard of Mayor Mnyamezeli Mangqo was stabbed, followed earlier protests over service delivery and corruption.

Guleni’s predecessor, Ncedile Jakuja, was the subject of a series of court cases after his appointment was declared invalid by the Mthatha High Court.

The drawn-out disputes, coupled with poor financial controls, nepotism and corruption have all but crippled service delivery in the municipality.

Businesspeople and residents say internal tensions in the ANC’s OR Tambo region have also fuelled the breakdown in governance.

This prompted Pakade’s appointment by the cooperative governance and traditional affairs department’s MEC, Mlibo Qoboshiyane, at the height of the strike.

The strikers agreed to return to work after talks were called by the ANC in the region.

Last weekThe council recently met representatives of civil society, businesses, taxi organisations and police to try and work out a programme to turn around Port St Johns?(the town has an unemployment rate of 50%).

They set up a multiparty management committee to deal with a list of problems identified at the meeting including crime, the state of roads and failed local economic development initiatives.

“The strike and the stayaway really affected us,” said Mangqo.

“Now we at least have some negotiations with the workers and they are back at work. It’s calm now and we have had the meeting to identify the issues we need to work on now.

“We’ve also spoken about the issues of rebranding Port St Johns so that it remains an attractive place for domestic and foreign tourists.

“We concede that the state of the infrastructure is very bad.

“We believe that we have to look after what we have, with cooperation from the entire community, if we are to turn Port St Johns into an attractive place. We can get there and we have already started,” he said.

He added that the municipality was working with the army, the OR Tambo district municipality and the province to try and relocate squatters living in the old army base to new low-cost housing projects being planned in cooperation with the human settlements department.

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