Broken city

2020-02-03 12:59

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Oh dear.

Our city is in a big mess, isn’t it?

The doomsday clock for Msunduzi is ticking away, heading ever closer to midnight and I find I’m profoundly worried. And I reckon by now you are too.

I think it’s time to start getting prepared for midnight. I don’t want to seem alarmist, but seriously, I’d rather be prepared to some extent, than have blind faith in the city’s ability to provide faultless services going forward.

Faith in the municipality by residents is at a nadir right now; just take a look at the Witness and Msunduzi Facebook pages if you don’t believe me.

And if I had a business of my own, I’d make sure I was prepared.

Many of us worry for a time when services come to a standstill. Not forever, but certainly for an extended period. Msunduzi can’t manage its current infrastructure demands and maintenance so it’s probable that little pragmatic planning is being done for the future, over and above wishlists on IDP documents. Let’s face it, our infrastructure is old and we all know it hasn’t been maintained properly. It’s not going to last forever and we’re already on borrowed time.

We’ve been in a state of decline for so many years now that we’re going backwards. There’s certainly no progress and we’ve all seen the degradation.

Going backwards means that parts of our road infrastructure, especially those in the suburbs, will decline to a point where it’s just dirt roads as potholes widen and deepen and the tar roads break down and no one fixes them. (Ever taken a drive around Ladybrand? Jeez, it’s a nightmare and a good example of the above. Best you avoid that Free State town.) And there are already roads like that around our city.

Going backwards could also mean protracted periods without running water in our taps, already a weekly occurrence in many neighbourhoods and a semi-permanent feature in others. It means electricity supplies are erratic.

It leaves me worrying about the City’s long-term ability to pay creditors like Umgeni Water and Eskom.

We’re also hearing that municipal workers don’t have the tools they need to do a job when they pitch up to do repairs. Workers say their municipal stores are empty of many supplies, which have either been stolen or there’s no money to order more. Or perhaps the suppliers won’t supply because they haven’t been paid for the last lot.

Take the weedeater example we highlighted recently. There aren’t enough to trim  the city because they’re broken or have been stolen, even when a guard was guarding them. True story!

In a recent report we ran about a lack of services and a leaky pipe, we quoted an Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson saying: “We appeal for a little patience from the residents.”

She was referring to grass cutting in this instance and said there is an “ongoing grass cutting programme which is moving swiftly since it began two weeks ago”. Erm. Only two weeks ago? Anyone noticed how high the grass is around suburbs?

I wanted to tear my hair out at that point. We have been so patient. We were patient five years ago when we started to see some progress. We’ve been patient every single time a new city manager starts or a new political head takes over. But now, our patience has run out and now we’re beginning to get a little scared.

And our fear is grounded in fact and in the gasp-worthy figures that are bandied about in the council chamber like the massive amount owed to the city, which they’ve not managed to collect.

Or all the money that Msunduzi was given to develop our city, but failed to spend so we had to return it.

Or the senseless waste of money they’ve been paying to staff who abuse overtime. Or the shocking waste of resources like unattended water leaks.

We read with trepidation that one small TLB services the chaotic landfill site. This in the wake of a series of serious dump fires that blanketed the bowl of Pietermaritzburg in a fug of toxic smoke. And our rubbish is seldom collected on time anymore, sitting outside for days on end to be ripped apart by wandering dogs.

We fear living in a city no one wants to come to because it’s unkempt and neglected. We fear not getting the returns on our properties when we want to sell them one day because our town is a ghost town, an ugly blight on the record of the ruling party who couldn’t get its act together to govern properly.

We fear what the future holds here. Should we plan to retire in the town we grew up in? Or do we head for cities which are better managed, those that have taken the trouble to plan for the future of their residents and do what our municipality should be doing. That seems like a better option right now.

There’s a sense of gloom and doom here again. The call for a rates boycott is growing. Residents who pay their bills faithfully are asking what the quid pro quo is. They’re tired of being the cash cow for a City that fails to service their neighbourhoods. They’re tired of the earnest promises for action that never comes. And once again communication from the City on the queries we send them about stories we’re writing is seriously lacking. Speak to us please!

Defend yourself Msunduzi. Not with false promises and calls for us to be patient. Say something we’ll believe.

If you’re able to.


• Stephanie Saville is the deputy editor of The Witness.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  opinion and analysis

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