Killing off support

2011-03-28 00:00

BEING a journalist has all sorts of advantages, as I mentioned in a previous column. The one I really enjoy is getting to know communities well and being able to call on friends from across the city, from Edendale to Northdale, Montrose to Asburton, in Jika Joe, Tembalihle and Tamboville.

This is how I got to know Mary* (not her real name). I first met her while covering the 2000 local government election. She was an enthusiastic campaigner for the ANC. A single mother, she canvassed every day and was at all the campaign meetings over weekends. What I liked about Mary was that she never expected anything in return from the party. There was a level of contentment with her life, especially as she had finally divorced her drunken husband. She was extremely grateful for her council house and the government grant that she got for her children. Most of all she had hope for the future.

During the 2006 local government election Mary was still an active campaigner for the ANC.

However, she was nowhere to be seen during the 2009 national election campaign. I heard that she had grown disillusioned. Her lights had been cut off and water was a trickle because she could not afford the tariffs. She had got on to the council’s indigent list, but the policy said tht if you go over what is meant for the poor then you get punished and revert to paying normal rates. If you default then you are also taken off the list. With additional reconnection fees that she could not afford, Mary would never be able to afford electricity.

What hurts her most is how she is treated in the lights account office. There is no mercy, she says, you are a day late and they cut off your electricity. Copesville residents constantly complain about the disconnection teams swooping on the area a day after the month ends.

A friend tells about visiting a housing project where the community were proudly told that they were getting flush toilets.

However, a short while later the new homeowners either wrapped up their toilets in cloth or placed doilies and large pot-plants over them. The reason? No one had warned them about how much water is used to flush toilets and the additional cost on their utility bills.

If latest reports are to be believed we are heading towards paying a lot more for municipal services. South Africans apparently paid nearly 46% more for municipal services last year than they did the year before. Business Day reports that Johannesburg residents will have to brace themselves for a 36% electricity tariff increase. uMngeni ratepayers are preparing for a battle over rates.

What of us Maritzburgers? The city’s budget, which had to go back to the drawing board several times, has only just been finalised and will be passed this week.

Since this is an election year, the tariff increases may be kept low. Don’t be deceived: we have learnt from past experience this does not prevent the municipality from finding all sorts of charges after the election, such as what we were hit with this year — the R600 reconnection fee and the extra R3 000 deposit if you defaulted in the past.

Residents also complain of paying for services they don’t receive — refuse is often not collected in most suburbs. These spiralling costs have other repercussions.

This week the Financial Mail interviewed KZN entrepreneur Gloria Memela of Bulwer who won the Department of Trade and Industry Technology for Women in Business Award. Memela told the financial weekly that her company is growing well, but “the thing that is now killing us is electricity”. She said they are paying an electricity bill of R20 000 a month and are considering installing a solar power system.

In Kokstad the Chamber of Business is embroiled in a fight with the municipality over exorbitant costs for the installation of three-phase electricity. The chamber accuses the municipality of chasing away business.

Given this bleak picture, coupled with the fighting among ANC members over the nomination process and — even more worrying — the calibre of councillors we are going to get, it is hard to get excited over the forthcoming election. However, if we are going to ensure that our hard-earned money does not end up going on ever-increasing municipal costs we need to go to party election meetings and question the candidates. They need to realise that there is going to be no easy ride on a gravy train.

The electorate are going to ask tough questions and they better do their homework. Getting on to the list was the easy part!



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