Max du Preez

Local elections a chance to draw a line in the sand

2016-01-05 09:43

Max du Preez

I never believed in the old cliché that a nation gets the government it deserves. But how does one explain that so many South Africans tolerate the blatant maladministration and incredible decay in most provinces and municipalities?

The explanation can’t be that people don’t know better. The residents of towns like Kroonstad and Brits must know how different and better towns like Malmesbury and Worcester are run.

The people of the decaying Free State and North West provinces must know that there was at least one province, the Western Cape, that is being managed properly and efficiently. The difference is like night and day.

Sure, there are demographical and historical differences between the Western Cape and the rest of the country, but it still doesn’t explain the contrast in the quality of service and management. It is hard to come to any other conclusion than that the biggest difference was between the different political cultures of the ANC and the DA.

How else does one explain that the Western Cape, the Cape Town metro and other DA-run councils get clean audits year after year and are virtually corruption free? Johannesburg is not badly run, but Cape Town is still way ahead in efficiency, accountability and planning. In fact, Cape Town is becoming a model city for the entire developing world through its innovation and vision.

The Western Cape ANC often states that the DA government in Cape Town only looks after the interests of middle class and white residents. I think the DA in the city can do a lot more to improve the lives of the poor and the working classes, and I have made some proposals to this end in some of my columns.

But the fact remains that the DA’s record of money spent on and services delivered to the poor is much better than any other metro or big town.

Why do residents of municipalities such as Breede River, Drakenstein and Swartland, all under DA control, believe they have the right to be livid when rubbish is removed a day late, potholes aren’t repaired as they appear and burst water pipes fixed immediately, while most residents elsewhere tolerate such tardiness?

Yes, there are weekly "service delivery" protests all over the country, but these are mostly around homelessness, lack of land to build on and very serious other problems. And in most of these areas, residents vote ANC again the next local election.

The reports of the last weeks and months of suburbs and townships going without water, without electricity, unusable streets, of criminal neglect of sewerage systems and the corruption, nepotism and theft of local politicians were absolutely shocking.

I have been to some of these places in the Free State, Northern Cape and Limpopo in recent months and it confirmed to me that most South Africans live in circumstances of general decay.

Right in the middle of all of this we got the news that the premier of one of the poorest and worst run provinces, Ace Magashule of the Free State, ordered a R2.3m Mercedes Benz to be bought for his use. It didn’t even register as a national scandal.

And as if the crisis in local government is not serious enough, president Jacob Zuma appointed the most junior minister, Des van Rooyen, as the political head of this department. His last leadership position was that of mayor of a corrupt, dysfunctional municipality.

I struggle to find any other explanation for this neglect and abuse than that the ANC had become a predatory elite that cares very little about the plight of ordinary people.

In fact, perhaps one can take it a step further and state that it appears that to many of these ANC functionaries in local and provincial government, black lives don’t matter all that much.

I don’t know what goes on in the hearts and minds of DA councilors and members of provincial legislatures. Perhaps they really care; perhaps they’re no better than their ANC counterparts. Perhaps they’re just not as arrogant as the ANC and believe that they will get more votes if they govern well.

I hope those angry people in movements like #WhitePrivilegeMustFall and those who love to quote old Black Consciousness thinkers once again will spend a wee bit of their energy to address this problem in 2016.

The big test comes later this year when we go to the polls to choose new local governments.

It is the best opportunity we’ll have in a long while to draw a line in the sand.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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