MINDFUL of the chaotic state of local government in the Eastern Cape, President Jacob Zuma yesterday announced the government’s plans to rescue some of the province’s most troubled municipalities.
In his first public appearance since he was discharged from hospital and ordered to rest more than a week ago, a tired-looking Zuma delivered a speech described by some political analysts as lacklustre and flat, and one that failed to lift the spirits of South Africans.
With less than two years before the municipal elections in 2016, Zuma signalled his administration’s strategy to deal with what has been the ANC’s biggest headache in the last two decades – local government.
“In Amathole District Municipality in the Eastern Cape, our Development Bank of Southern Africa has approved funding to develop infrastructure,” Zuma said.
“Numerous projects, mainly in water and sanitation, will be started and the objective is to complete them over the next 12 months.
“In Alfred Nzo District Municipality in the Eastern Cape, funding will be provided for infrastructure development projects covering water provision, sanitation and electrification.”
Local municipalities involved include Mbizana and Ntabankulu, catering for a population of about one million people.
“We will support Lukhanji Local Municipality to reorganise its administration and implement support plans for the provision of water and electricity. We will assist OR Tambo District Municipality to stabilise the administration and organisational structure and fast-track the implementation of the Presidential Intervention Plans,” Zuma said.
OR Tambo, one of the province’s biggest municipalities, was rated last month by the SA Institute of Race Relations as the worst district municipality in the country, scoring just 2.56 points out of 10 for service delivery.
Amathole followed closely at 2.91, with Mbizana and Ntabankulu municipalities also scoring under three.
While the government has had its sights firmly set on stabilising Nelson Mandela Bay, the province’s biggest city did not feature on Zuma’s list.
Political analyst Xolela Mangcu said Zuma’s speech was painful to listen to.
“We deserve much better than this as a country. He was ill-prepared and there was no enthusiasm. The speech fell flat. The state of the nation address needs to lift the spirit of your people. This simply dampened our senses.
“For example, he said he would detail a plan for local government, but instead he went on to list what projects they would be doing in some municipalities,” Mangcu said.
Local Government and Traditional Affairs MEC Fikile Xasa was excited by the commitment from the government to deliver “a basket of services” to the people.
“This means we will be responding to a number of issues, such as water, electricity and refuse collection.
“Alfred Nzo, which has a number of rural municipalities, has a huge backlog of infrastructure services,” Xasa said.
“There is also a need, as part of our first 100 days in office, to immediately stabilise municipalities. Where there are no municipal managers, chief financial officers and [executive directors], we must appoint [them].
“We must create a strong base for the administration of municipalities.
“OR Tambo was part of the president’s intervention projects, but there is a list of municipalities where we need to stabilise governance.
“I think the mention of the municipalities in his speech was also to give a signal to municipalities to up their game and tell them what’s coming. This is a timely intervention for us,” Xasa said.
But the DA’s Eastern Cape leader, Athol Trollip, said he felt incredulous listening to Zuma’s promises to intervene. “I just shook my head thinking, who is going to deal with these interventions? Where are the human resources?
“Is Pravin Gordhan super minister? It was all thumb-sucking and promises for elections to come.
“I’ve looked at the interventions our government has done in the Eastern Cape and they have not helped. It’s all pie in the sky,” Trollip said.