Can this city be fixed?

2017-09-08 13:45
A city in decay. Pietermaritzburg residents avoid a large hole in the pavement near the City Hall.

A city in decay. Pietermaritzburg residents avoid a large hole in the pavement near the City Hall. (Ian Carbutt)

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Save our city now.

That’s the plea from Pietermaritzburg residents who are sceptical of the municipality’s promise to fix the city by 2022, fearing a total collapse of services could be on the horizon.

Msunduzi mayor Themba Njilo revealed part of the City’s turnaround plans at a press briefing at the Tourism Hub this week. But residents feel the plans are unachievable and are calling for the change to happen sooner.

They warned the services at the municipality could disintegrate if it does not act immediately to sort out the many problems the City is faced with.

Ageing infrastructure, prolonged power outages, inner city decay, a dis­illusioned and demotivated workforce, illegal dumping, staff shortages, no visible traffic officers and inefficient fire fighting services are just some of the problems faced by the municipality. Residents and ratepayers associations also believe that the City’s plans revealed this week will be difficult to implement.

Chairperson of the Scottsville Ratepayers Association Dr Peter Green said that the mayor delivered “all big plans, but it will be very difficult to implement”.

“There is nothing concrete in the mayor’s plans besides maybe the substation upgrades,” he said.

Green added that it would also be difficult for the City to execute their plans with limited staff.

“There is a huge staffing issue at the municipality and it has been covered extensively in the newspaper. The high vacancy rate means that there are no staff to actually implement and execute the plans,” he said.

Green said that should the municipality complete its plans in five years, it would be fruitless if it did not monitor its projects and ensure that bylaws are adhered to. “There needs to be intense monitoring from the very beginning. When issuing tenders for these plans to be executed, there must be strict monitoring by the municipality to make sure that the work provided is the work promised.”

Secretary for the Msunduzi Ratepayers Forum (MRF), Minnesh Parmanand, said it was “ridiculous” for the municipality to expect residents to wait five years. “That is five years too long. There will be nothing left in the city by then. People will move out and businesses will look elsewhere to invest,” said Parmanand.

He said mayor Njilo gave an “oversight view” on the problems in the city but failed to mention other issues, such as lack of space in cemeteries and problems with the cremators.

“More needs to be done. What is being told to the residents is just not enough,” he said.

City’s 5-year plan ‘to start immediately’ — Cogta

Cogta spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said it was a good thing that the municipality had acknowledged the problems it was facing. He said the five-year plan did not mean the City will only start acting on these problems in five years’ time.

“... When they said the problems will be fixed after five years, they meant that after five years there will be no more complaints about these problems.

“They will start work now. They will mark progress every month until they finish it after five years,” he said.

Mabaso said Msunduzi, alongside other municipalities that have not finalised the appointment of municipal managers, had been given a directive to advertise the posts immediately. He said the matter was receiving urgent attention.

                   A woman collects water from a communal tap for household use. Photo: Ian Carbutt

Six areas Pietermaritzburg needs to improve

“IT is no secret that the city’s infrastructure is as old as the city itself,” said general manager for economic development, Dr Ray Ngcobo at the recent press briefing. 

Infrastructure supporting electricity, water and roads is collapsing and this has been documented in a series of articles and letters from readers through the years. 

Power outages that gripped the city this year were attributed to sabotage by aggrieved municipal employees, but in the press briefing this week mayor Themba Njilo said ageing infrastructure also played a crucial role in the outages. 

The city announced a detailed and ambitious plan to upgrade substations, build new substations and upgrade security measures to put a stop to the theft of cables and transformers.

Responding to Njilo’s one year in office report, residents welcomed the plans to upgrade the electricity infrastructure. 

“This is probably the only aspect that the mayor covered in detail with some plans already in motion and dates of when it is expected to be completed,” said Peter Green of the Scottsville Ratepayers Association.

Residents also suffered a series of water outages when the province suffered one of the worst droughts in years. 

Acting general manager for Infrastructure Services Brenden Sivparsad said the city was still in a drought and water restrictions were still “very much active”, but added that the city was in a better place with water services to the communities. However, unscheduled water cuts still affect residents, as was the case this week when the reservoir feeding Hayfields, Scottsville and Pelham ran dry.

The lack of street lights, broken pavements and pothole-ridden roads in the city have also left residents frustrated. 

Prestbury resident Neville Fourie said that he had pages of reference numbers from the municipal call centre after he had been reporting faulty street lights for the last five years. 

“When I read the story on the municipality’s plans and that it would take five years, I checked the date because I thought it was an April Fool’s joke,” Fourie said, adding that reporting broken street lights was “a waste of my time” as the area was still in darkness five years later.

Most people said they had reported the potholes via the municipal call centre, but the potholes remain there, often growing in size. 

Some complaints date back to last year, with residents saying some potholes were either filled “haphazardly” or left to expand into large sinkholes on the roads.

Residents diagnosed City management with “Comrades Syndrome”, saying that potholes are repaired, roads are freshly painted and street lights are in full operation only before major events. 

Residents believe the city has become “an eyesore” with illegal dumping happening in most suburbs. The Witness, often under the banner of the Witness Warriors, has published numerous articles on illegal dumping happening in the Northern areas, Scottsville, Hayfields and Old Howick Road areas.  

The increase in the number of vagrants and whoonga addicts camping outside shops in Pietermaritzburg’s CBD is pushing businesses out of the city centre. Some local businesses blamed the municipality for allowing the situation to spiral out of control under their watch.

Business owners and residents living in the city centre have raised concerns that the once vibrant city centre has become aesthetically unappealing. 

Litter strewn on the streets and in the gutters, illegal street posters advertising abortions, and broken pavements are only some of the eyesores in the city centre.

Business owners have complained that illegal dumping and vagrants camping outside their stores have caused customers to avoid their shops. They said that the illegal dumping, lack of parking, increase in vagrants and unappealing look of the CBD has left many residents actively avoiding the city centre.

They also warned that this trend of businesses leaving the city centre will continue as long as the situation is ignored and this will have a negative impact on the municipality’s coffers, as the number of businesses contributing towards rates and services decreases.

Kerushun Pillay reports that Msunduzi Municipality representatives failed to turn up at a meeting on Thursday that sought to find solutions to the problems that have seen businesses vacate the Pieter­maritzburg CBD.

 A city official was invited to meet with members of the police, the CBD Community Policing Forum, Business Fighting Crime and the Msunduzi Economic Development Agency at the Jabu Ndlovu (Loop) Street station on Thursday to brainstorm solutions.

 The committee was not, however, able to establish a way forward when head of Environmental Health Clive Anthony allegedly failed to show up, after CPF members sent him “e-mails marked urgent” from last week.

City spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said Anthony had tendered an apology to the committee due to other commitments.

Police spokesperson, Captain Khosi Khonjelwayo said they had resolved to call another meeting, but could not say when that would be. 

The Witness has been inundated with calls and e-mails from frustrated residents in the last two weeks, asking when to expect their municipal bills, and what to do if they don’t get them on time.

The municipality was in the process of implementing a new financial system and the printing of statements was delayed by that. Some residents said they did try and call the municipal call centre to ask what their balances were but were told to wait for their posted statements.

Residents have repeatedly lambasted the call centre for being “inefficient and uninformed”. Corruption allegations, indefinite suspensions and questionable appointments have also forced residents to lose hope in the management team at Msunduzi.

Acting City manager Sizwe Hadebe continues in his position despite his contract allegedly having expired in December last year. The municipal manager’s position was advertised, but the selection panel has not been chosen yet, which has stalled the process. Some general managers also have been implicated in corruption allegations.

The municipality has offered no update on the pending disciplinary case against general manager for Economic Development, Ray Ngcobo. He faces two charges of gross misconduct, two of gross dishonesty and one of gross negligence.

Boniwe Zulu, the general manager for Community Services, has been criticised for allegedly overpaying a security company, and was recently suspended for short while, but has returned to work.

Many Msunduzi employees, including Msunduzi’s Internal Audit Unit head Petrus Mahlaba and Madeleine Jackson-Plaatjies, the manager in the office of the municipal manager, general manager for Infrastructure Sabatha Nomnganga and senior staffer Dr Julie Dyer remain suspended.

Msunduzi fire services have never been compliant with the SA National Standard on community protection against fire.

 The standard outlines a system of determining the requirements for the operational and fire safety functions of emergency services rendered to communities.

Fire department services personnel are overworked due to staff shortages. A recent Msunduzi report revealed the department needed to double the number of firefighters it has to provide efficient services. The department needs five more fire stations to accommodate the Northdale/Eastwood areas and the extended Vulindlela/Incwadi, Imbali and Ashburton areas. The city will need R80 million to achieve this.

Msunduzi has raised concerns about flight safety standards at the Pietermaritzburg Airport.

The city said overall flight safety at the airport had been compromised by the infrastructure collapse and the use of non-aviation trained and inexperienced contractors. 

The city said the use of inferior quality materials and lack of understanding of the specifications had compromised the entire airfield lighting system.

Currently the City has no 24-hour traffic service. A recent Msunduzi report revealed the department was under staffed and did not have enough budget. 
Other issues highlighted by the report include:
• Inability to fill critical management posts;
• High vacancy rate at operational level; 
• Insufficient resources to cater for all zones;
• Lack of 100% radio communication coverage;
• Highly politicised labour force;
• Absenteeism; and
• Old/obsolete tools of trade.

Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha was quoted in Maritzburg Fever this week saying the traffic department is experiencing a challenge as 15 of their 20 traffic wardens are undergoing a traffic officer’s course at the Department of Transport. 

“Of the five who are left, one has resigned. 

“[It is] agreed that with the four at our disposal we are not ‘touching sides’,” said Mafumbatha. 

'We are in crisis as we speak'

Political parties said the city’s problems needed urgent attention and could not wait for five years to be fixed.

DA caucus leader Sibongiseni Majola said the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) was already on the City’s back due to power outages, saying the City needed to sort out electricity infrastructure and staffing now.

“The more we prolong this, the more Nersa have problems with us. We need to resolve it now, as in yesterday. It is not only about the revenue that we will lose if our license is taken away, but these outages are unfair to the residents of Msunduzi,” he said.

Majola said the city’s fire department which remains non compliant with the SA National Standard on community protection against fire, was putting more lives and properties at risk.

The Witness recently reported the City would need R80 million to move a step closer to be compliant.

IFP caucus leader Thinasonke Ntombela warned the City might find itself under administration if it did not solve its problems urgently.

“We are in crisis as we speak. The City should have budgeted for these things because they are urgent. Residents of Msunduzi will suffer because water and electricity are basic needs. The auditor general and the National Treasury will also be on our backs.”

Ntombela said many of the City’s problems stemmed from poor planning.

“There are so many unspent grants meant for infrastructure upgrades where funds are surrendered back because of poor planning.”

Ntombela said the city needed to deal with urban decay urgently.

“They took the initiative by removing vagrants from the Ematsheni beer hall but did not have a plan on where they will accommodate them. Shops are moving out of town because they cannot wait for five years.”

The Witness phoned ANC regional secretary Mzi Zuma on Wednesday. When asked about problems facing the city, Zuma asked the journalist to rephrase the question but then cut the call.

He did not answer his phone when he was phoned again on Wednesday and Thursday.

'Msunduzi funds are being misused by officials'

Cosatu Pietermaritzburg treasury Themba Magwaza said many of the city’s problems were as a result of poor decision making by management.

“They should not have fired the approximately 950 workers last year if they do not have enough staff. Msunduzi does have the funds to solve its problems but those funds are being misused by officials. This is a city that is being run by an acting municipal manager whose acting contract ended in December yet he is still taking decisions without having a contract with the municipality.”

SA Municipal Workers Union regional secretary Sbu Molefe said municipal employees were finding it difficult to cope with work due to staffing problems.

He said he did not know if the workers would be able to hold on for five years working under these conditions.

“The situation is further exacerbated by numerous indefinite suspensions. If you do not have enough employees, then you cannot afford to have workers on suspension for over a year.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  msunduzi municipality

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