The Mossel Bay Municipality received sharp criticism since the outbreak of riots in the town on Sunday, 10 August 2014, supposedly because of service delivery issues. Many allegations have been made in the media, and incorrect information was published frequently in the mainstream media as well as in social media.
The Mossel Bay Advertiser in particular thought it good to publish an editorial (How can we afford it?) which is clearly biased, bordering onto the sanctimonious and displaying gross ignorance of the dynamics involving the uncontrollable in-migration of people and the Constitutionally-based roles of the different spheres of government in terms of the provision of housing as well as basic services.
Instead, and without having established the facts first, the newspaper suggests that “authoritarian systems,” the absence of “open platforms,” a “lack of negotiation and participation” and the lack of an “approachable attitude towards community concerns” were at the heart of the recent tragic events.
The following is therefore brought to the attention of readers:
1. The Municipality reiterates its stance that the riots were politically motivated to coincide with a municipal by-election in Mossel Bay during the week. Although political flags were present, the issue of illegal electrical connections was stated as the cause of the riots. Criminal elements were involved and incidents of xenophobia as well as looting on a large scale occurred. A school, a police station a Thusong multi-purpose centre, housing inter alia a new state-of-the art community library, and even streets were also targeted and damaged. An ABET centre in the municipal building in KwaNonqaba was destroyed as well.
2. The incident which allegedly caused the riots was a notice issued to approximately 300 illegal consumers of electricity to stop illegal connections, or face prosecution. The notice was issued in response to inter alia a petition by legally connected and paying residents in the area who are concerned about the very real safety risks posed by the illegal connections, especially for children, as well as in terms of the Municipality’s responsibility to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
No illegal connections were disconnected from the time that the notice was issued, and it is a blatant untruth that the Mayor had said that the power would be connected again. She merely undertook that the Municipality would not proceed with the aforementioned steps until such time as discussions had been held with the leaders of the rioters.
Discussions were in the meantime held under difficult circumstances. During discussions that took place under police protection on Thursday, 14 August 2014 a threat was received that the building would be burnt down with the Mayoral delegation inside. The Municipality would like to point out that discussions were complicated by the fact that new alleged leaders were pushed to the fore every time. They also refused to work through their democratically elected Ward Councillors and Ward Committee members.
Further discussions were held on Friday, 15 August 2014 and the delegates were informed as follows:
(a) that the Municipality already appointed a contractor for the electrification of 350 informal dwellings before the riots started and that the contractor will start within two weeks.
(b) that the Municipality applied in March 2014 to the Department of Energy for funding in the amount of R10 million for the electrification of formal houses as well as informal settlements. They were informed that the Municipality is dependent on the Department of Energy for the funding of the electrification of informal settlements and that the electrification has to comply with the Department’s policy requirements. The Municipality has also started with the expansion of its electricity bulk supply infrastructure to enable it to cope with the influx of people to Mossel Bay.
(c) that the Municipality will replace legal power boxes which may have been removed, provided that proof of this is submitted.
(d) that the Municipality will continue to remove illegal electricity connections, some of which have been laid over public roads, in the interest of public safety, especially those of children, and to comply with relevant legislation.
3. The Municipality can prove that it has replied to every petition received over the past five years within two weeks, but in most cases within a week. In the course of last week the Mayor, aided by Councillors and senior officials, addressed or met with the representatives of the protestors on Monday, 11 August 2014, Wednesday, 13 August 2014, Thursday, 14 August 2014 and again on Friday, 15 August 2014.
This refutes the suggestion in the abovementioned editorial that the Municipality “had refused to negotiate or even talk with the protestors,” or, as has also been alleged several times, that the Municipality had failed to give feedback to the community in the past.
It should be noted that the Municipality cannot negotiate any arrangement that is in contravention of an Act of Parliament or falls within the mandate of another sphere of Government.
The Municipality regularly communicates with residents on service delivery issues through platforms created for this purpose, such as its Integrated Development Planning and budgeting processes as well as through democratically elected Ward Councillors and the Ward Committee System as required in terms of the Municipal Systems Act. The Municipality’s community participation processes and structures have received recognition as “best practice” and it has been invited several times to do presentations on its practices to other municipalities at forums such as the SA Local Government Association (SALGA). The protestors indicated that they are not prepared to discuss any matters with their Ward councillors or Ward Committees.
It also interacts with the communities through several specialist forums which have been established and are administered by the Municipality to ensure that they remain functional.
4. Apart from the fact that the Municipality is one of the top performing municipalities in South Africa in terms of the delivery of basic services, namely electricity, water, sanitation and refuse removal, the Municipality provided the following services in the KwaNonqaba area in recent times:
- Potable water by way of pillar taps every 200 metres. This meets the standard set by the National Government.
- Completed 440 new houses in the 2013/2014 financial year, while another 220 are due for completion in March 2015.
- Serviced another 400 sites in 2013/2014 financial year, with another 250 due to be completed in March 2015.
- Built 441 Access to Basic Services units with flush toilets, basins and taps (one unit for every five households) for people who do not have a house or serviced site. Most of these structures have been vandalised in the meantime. Vandalism and theft continue to be a major problem
- Spent R10 million on roads and stormwater systems in 2012/2014. R6 million has been budgeted for this purpose in the current financial year.
- Weekly refuse removal services under difficult circumstances in all informal settlements.
The above facts are in stark contrast to the editorial which asks whether the privileged would accept no access to basic services. All informal settlements in Mossel Bay have access to basic services which comply with and in some instances are better than the standards as set by National Government.
5. There is a large uncontrolled influx of people to informal settlements in Mossel Bay. Informal settlements are mostly unplanned and often illegal. They tend to be located in inaccessible areas or too far away from existing infrastructure such as electricity, sanitation and water networks to be integrated without major and costly upgrading for the account of the town’s ratepayers. The Municipality is dependent on National departments to assist with funding
6. Human Settlement is a mandate of the National Government, which is responsible for the financing of top structures. The Municipality has a housing waiting list of 14 000 families, who must enjoy preference over the constant stream of new arrivals at informal settlements.
The Municipality would like to thank the law enforcement, traffic services and emergency services who kept the citizens of Mossel Bay safe.