Thembi Nkadimeng, the president of the SA Local Government Association (Salga), has urged communities to continue paying for services during lockdown as doing so would allow municipalities to provide these services.
The leadership of Salga, which represents mayors and councillors countrywide, met with President Cyril Ramaphosa as part of the presidential coordinating council to discuss their role during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
At the meeting, Ramaphosa urged the country’s premiers and mayors to be on high alert and to prepare to accelerate service delivery “like we are coming out of a war” when the country exits the national lockdown period.
This is according to Nkadimeng, who is also the mayor of Polokwane in Limpopo.
Speaking to City Press last week, she said: “I got the sense that he was instructing us to be ready to face the situation as if we are coming out of a war.”
Nkadimeng said the emphasis in the presentations made at the virtual meeting was on both improving pressing issues such as water provision, human settlements, sanitation and waste collection, as well as on building on the momentum created during the current national state of disaster.
The council also grappled with the apparent lack of consultation regarding the way regulations were determined at national level and thereafter passed down to provinces and municipalities for implementation.
“There is an understanding that we are having a lockdown for the first time, so there will be teething problems and, as a result, difficulty in how we interpret and understand what would be the meaning of what we are trying to achieve,” said Nkadimeng.
Of course, she said, “that has led to many regulations being reviewed and reissued, which has caused some confusion”.
“But overall, everyone at the meeting understood that we are in a lockdown and we all need to stay home to make sure that the virus does not spread, she said.
Nkadimeng said Salga had also made submissions on how best to subsidise and assist municipalities with regard to granting relief to communities regarding the payment of rates and taxes.
“So far, the submissions are still at discussion level; they are not yet concrete. In the meantime, we are encouraging our people to pay their rates and taxes. We request of our communities that, just as they pay for DStv, they also pay municipalities to ensure that essential services are offered. Allow us to assist you by enabling us to continue to provide essential services,” she said.
“Maybe for the month of April we could go back to the president and confidently say: ‘Look, your children have been paying, but they are having difficulties in paying now. Please assist with some form of relief.’
“But we need to be able to put a story that is convincing to the president.”
She said municipalities needed the help of provincial and national government to deliver services promptly, particularly in smaller and rural municipalities with limited resources, which were already struggling to provide services effectively.
“Our message is very clear: Every cloud has a silver lining. You see this through the help rendered by the department of water and sanitation regarding its rollout of water tankers and JoJo tanks to rural areas, ensuring our communities have easy access to water,” she said.
“Ordinarily, this is what these municipalities should be doing on a day-to-day basis. But the silver lining is that we have been able to up our stake as government to make sure that we reach those areas.”
Nkadimeng said refuse collection should be carried out in rural villages just like in townships and cities, and the disaster period had enabled government to think of new strategies to accomplish such services.
She said the new, collective approach from government had also seen even homeless people being accommodated.
Government had been able to help the poor with some form of housing through the land parcels available through the public works department, she added.
“Who wants to be called a homeless child on African soil? It is only now that, as municipalities, we have the facilities to deal with the homeless. Why has this not been happening before? The coronavirus disaster has given us this silver lining, so we now say that, as municipalities, it is best for us to care for such people. We are now placing them temporarily in halls.”
She said the outbreak of the pandemic had taught government not to work in isolation.
“We have never had ministers talking collectively about one issue in one day, but Covid-19 has forced us to think that way,” she said.