Bloemfontein councillors - Meetings after meetings

2015-07-02 14:05
People make their way to the Mangaung annual budget debate in Bloemfontein. (Dirk Lotriet, News24)

People make their way to the Mangaung annual budget debate in Bloemfontein. (Dirk Lotriet, News24)

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The SA Local Government Association, which represents thousands of councillors across the country, recently called for greater equality between the payment of municipal councillors, MPs and MPLs. This could mean that your local councillor could earn around R1.3m a year.

So News24 decided to find out what a typical day looks like in the life of a ward councillor. We randomly picked five councillors to follow around in five different cities - Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein and Pietermaritzburg.

This week, News24 will give you a glimpse into the lives of these councillors, representing various political parties.

This is what we found in Bloemfontein.

If you don’t like meetings, you’re not cut out to be a city councillor in Bloemfontein.

That is the only conclusion I could reach after studying the Mangaung Metro’s local politicians in action for a day on Thursday.

“Pick a councillor. Any councillor,” my news editor told me. “And shadow him or her for a day.”

I shadowed the lot of them.

No, not because I’m the hardest worker in the Free State, but because things simply turned out that way. Mangaung had its annual budget debate and the city’s 92 councillors were locked in a hot debate from early morning until the afternoon. And after the budget meeting, they had another special council meeting waiting for them. Followed by a candidate meeting for the DA councillors in the evening.

I selected to follow Councillor Shiwe Morutle, the ANC’s ward councillor for Ward 29, but my selection process of throwing a dart at a list of names was a waste of time. They all did the same thing on Thursday.

Boring stuff? Nope, not in the Free State! Bloemfontein loves its local politics. The city hall was packed. A huge tent was erected on the lawn in front of the city hall where probably a thousand people could follow proceedings on a big screen. There wasn’t an empty seat in the tent. And a couple of hundred other keen council observers gathered on the lawns, where vendors did business and a festive atmosphere prevailed.

It was impossible for latecomers to get a parking spot near the hall, as every little nook and cranny, legal and less legal, for blocks around was full. A lot of the parking in Nelson Mandela Drive was occupied by busses which brought supporters from outlying areas to the meeting.

People gather for the annual Mangaung budget debate. (Dirk Lotriet, News24)

‘Do you know your councillor?’

But, I wondered, do these people know who their councillors are? I asked a group of young women from Rocklands.

“Yes, we know exactly who he is. It is Sipho Kaliya. I see him often. The people know him well and he does a lot for the people,” Boitumelo Casane, a girl in an Adidas track suit and a pink hairdo tells me.

“Yes,” adds Pheliwe Titi. “He’s one of my favourite councillors.”

I never thought I would ever hear that sentence in my lifetime.

“One of your favourite councillors? Who are the others?”

She doesn’t hesitate. “Xolo Pongolo!”

Luckily I find a man who reaffirms my perception about the indifference of the voting public. He stands at the tent entrance and listens attentively.

“Do you know your councillor?” I ask.

“I don’t have the foggiest idea who any of them are,” he says. “But I know one thing. They’re talking about so many millions for this and so many millions for that. If this money was better spent, this city would be a wonderful place!”

“And how would you spend it if it was up to you?”

“I don’t know. But better.”

“Why don’t you stand in the next election and become a councillor?”

He scratches his head. “Hmmm. Maybe I should. It might be better than my present job.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m looking after the generator to make sure it doesn’t get stolen. These things are expensive.”

People gather for the annual Mangaung budget debate. (Dirk Lotriet, News24)

I don’t support councillors, I support my party

Anna Mohlabane starts talking to me. She’s from Botshabelo, a good 80km from central Bloemfontein, but she often attends council meetings. “I don’t know who my councillor is, but I didn’t come here to support a councillor. I support the ANC.”

 And why do so many people attend council meetings? “I’m here because I’m a proud Free State citizen. And I’m proud to live in the Mangaung Metro,” says Thandekile Phike.

The one councillor who did not attend the Budget Debate was Hardy Viviers, the DA’s caucus leader in Mangaung. He is a lawyer and was granted permission to be absent as he had to attend to an urgent application in court. I managed to get hold of him during a break.

“Yes, meetings are a big part of our job. But it is not all we are doing. We spend a lot of time to tend to complaints from the residents in our wards.”

Viviers is the ward councillor for Ward 21 (Hilton and a part of Waverley.) “I’ve received two calls from residents to complain about sewerage running down York Avenue in the last few minutes alone,” he says.

“We have 49 wards in Mangaung,” he explains. The ANC represents 38 of these and the DA has the other 11. Each of these wards has a ward councillor. The other 43 councillors are called proportional councillors.

Anna Mohlabane
Anna Mohlabane. (Dirk Lotriet, News24)

‘No joke being a councillor’

The ruling party appoints officials such as the mayor or deputy mayor from these proportional councillors. Some of the others are distributed throughout the wards to assist the official ward councillor.

“But also to make an impression on voters with hard work. This will hopefully help the proportional councillor to win that ward for his or her party in the next elections.”

It’s no joke being a councillor, he assures me.

“Councillors deserve every cent they get paid. Today is a particularly rough day with all the meetings, but every day demands a lot of work. It is particularly our fight for effective service delivery which makes this a huge challenge,” he says.

Read more on:    anc  |  bloemfontein  |  service delivery  |  local government

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