Cry the beloved city

2019-03-04 16:59
 Looking at City hall on Chief Albert Luthuli Street.

Looking at City hall on Chief Albert Luthuli Street. (Jonathan Burton)

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City of rubbish. City of filth. City of sewage spills. City of electricity outages and no water.  City of broken hopes. City of despair. City of crisis. City of chaos.

Sometimes it’s hard to love our city as we watch her degrade to a point that both saddens and maddens us. It’s hard to be proud of her when she looks and feels this way.

Once again, people are saying our city is at one of her lowest points ever. Has she reached her nadir? Is there any lower she could go under the current woeful administration, that largely disengaged and disinterested bunch at City Hall?

Yesterday’s Witness headline shouted “FAILED CITY — Damning auditor general report warns Msunduzi of total collapse”.

It’s that bad.

I had a wry “Maritzburg moment” as I surveyed the area around the showgrounds this week for the opening of the provincial legislature. We had originally been told that the opening would be held at the legislature in Langalibalele Street as a cost-saving measure, but at the last moment we realised it was once again being staged at the showgrounds. Huh? How did that happen?

Rumours abounded that this was because the city was so filthy in the wake of the waste workers strike (good luck to them collecting Christmas bonuses from residents this year…) that it was felt it couldn’t be held in town. How could we showcase a prestigious event in a city that looked like a rubbish tip?

So, all of a sudden there was a flurry of activity around the showgrounds. We found smooth tar on the section of Hyslop Road we’ve been swerving around into oncoming traffic for the past few months as the authorities doggedly held off repairing the water leak and subsequent road damage there. The Chatterton Road traffic circle had been hastily mowed. To be honest, it still looked pretty dreadful — ragged at the edges with weeds arrogantly adorning the centre piece.

I wondered how proud the City authorities were when their various shortfalls were opened up to the scrutiny of dignitaries, VVIPs, and honoured guests for the opening of the provincial Legislature in the Capital city? How did the MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, feel about the state of her capital? Was she perhaps even slightly sad having to admit to herself that this all happened on her watch?

Empirical evidence — that which is based on or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic — shows there has been real neglect here and a mishandling of our municipality’s problems. We see the degradation of our city. We feel it and live it. This cannot be denied, glossed over or ignored. No PR pitch or person with a political spin PhD can pretend this is not happening.

Amidst these problems, the City’s audit results were presented on Thursday. They made for very depressing reading. Again. Where is the lasting, meaningful intervention, MEC Dube-Ncube? How can you still allow them to continue trashing our city with their lack of capacity or ineptitude?

What about you, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, our own Maritzburg-born man, Zweli Mkhize? Aren­’t you embarrassed of how your home town is being annihilated? Any serious interventions planned?

Then we heard the billing department went on strike. Again. So a chaotic billing system declined further and frustrated residents await the looming spectre of the electricity disconnection team emerging to darken their doorsteps because they haven’t paid. Oh, the City told us on Thursday they were not aware of this particular strike by the way.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the opening of the legislature on Wednesday, driving to work at 8 am, the traffic lights were out at the Willowton Road and Dr Chota Motala intersection. There had been a power outage affecting nearby industries since the previous night. Again.

And there, amidst the chaos, parked on opposite sides of the intersection, were two Msunduzi traffic vehicles. No one was helping direct the cars in the bedlam of the intersection. They were just parked off. A bit like the style of the rest of the municipality, it seems to many. 

(Incidentally, is anyone else struck by how much we see traffic officers standing around at robots and public places texting on their cellphones? A bit reminiscent of Home Affairs?)

The outage meant that while the provincial government was telling us how they had failed at the Sopa, factories and organisations in the heart of the city’s industrial hub — the employers of our people and drivers of our economy — stood still. Again. Promises were made to restore power by such and such a time, and were broken. Again.

Workers were sent home and production ceased. How does this all happen? And be allowed to continue happening?

As I write this, the lights at work are flickering. It’s ominous. It’s hard to have hope.

But let’s not heap our despair on Pieter­maritzburg itself. It’s the municipality that continues to mess with the sense of place and the spirit of our city. We can only cling to hope that she’ll arise again, that lovely old cliché, a phoenix out of the ashes.

Now if the MEC for Cogta will just use a fire extinguisher to quell the flames once and for all ...  And if she won’t (again), maybe Zweli Mkhize will care enough to bring in the big guns, those massive fire engines of administrators and corruption busters from national government, and address the critical crisis of chaos in our Capital. We deserve this.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  city of pietermaritzburg
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