GRAAFF-REINET NEWS - Rome wasn't built in a day.
This was the overall response by Deon de Vos, mayor of the Dr Beyers Naudé Local Municipality (BNLM), about recent reports of a lack of service delivery in Graaff-Reinet. De Vos stated that he and his municipality have done the best they can with the resources available to them.
The Graaff-Reinet Advertiser previously reported on these municipal issues, which include illegal dumping, water interruptions, the blocking of electricity and the overall lack of communication from the municipality to its residents.
BNLM recently gained national attention, with a series launched by the Daily Maverick about the failure of local government in several municipalities, starting with BNLM. "These failures have brought several communities to their knees," the first article read, with a specific focus on the poor living conditions in informal settlements such as Riemvasmaak, Blikkiesdorp and Vrygrond.
De Vos responded to these issues in an interview with the Advertiser:
The state of informal settlements
MP Samantha Graham-Maré told the Advertiser recently that oversight of Vrygrond and Riemvasmaak showed poor living conditions, with little to no running water, a shortage of public toilets and uncollected refuse. De Vos said that the Department of Human Settlements is busy identifying informal settlements in Graaff-Reinet, to see what can be done to improve locals' living conditions and whether they can be accommodated in a housing scheme.
Housing, according to De Vos, is the responsibility of the provincial and national government. Locally, the municipality says they are focused on identifying and applying for basic services for these areas.
"Riemvasmaak, [for example], currently has eight toilets, of which three are broken. Teams are working to repair the rest, there are water points, and a few months ago we cleaned the rubbish," said De Vos.
According to him, litter in this area has once again accumulated, but the municipality cannot address this daily. "We need to educate people that they have a responsibility to look after their surroundings." Acting Municipal Spokesperson, Edwardine Abader, said that large-scale clean-ups and awareness campaigns have been rolled out across the municipal district.
The lack of running water
Areas across Graaff-Reinet are often left with little to no running water, and the Advertiser regularly receives complaints of water outages in areas such as Umasizakhe, Kroonvale and Bergendal. "Due to apartheid spatial planning, communities such as Umasizakhe are high-lying," said De Vos. "Because we have a shortage of water in our reservoirs, and due to the vandalism of pumps, these areas will always be the last to receive water."
"We are in a drought and water sources such as boreholes are not inexhaustible," De Vos said in a response to why low-lying areas, such as Horseshoe, are also often without water. According to him, repairs are currently being made to vandalised pumps at Nqweba Dam, which he believes will improve the water supply to all areas. "We cannot place a security guard at each pump. Perpetrators must realise what effect their actions have on their communities."
It was previously reported that BNLM has a shortage of water tankers to transport water to communities during outages, which De Vos said is also being addressed.
"BNLM has been identified as an area that needs further assistance, and the rapid response task team will give 100 water tanks to the municipality to keep, and five water trucks for two months." De Vos said BNLM is busy identifying ways to address the water issue across the municipal district.
"The ideal solution would be good rain to fill the Nqweba Dam, but we have to make do with what we have." De Vos urged locals to report leakages and vandalism.
Coinciding with a threat by Eskom to cut the power supply to BNLM towns, due to a debt of R59-million owed to the supplier by the municipality, many locals' prepaid meters were blocked in March due to owed municipal rates.
The Advertiser reported at the time that around 400 residents marched to the municipal offices in Graaff-Reinet to demand their power be restored. Subsequently, the meters were unblocked.
Meters were again blocked in September, but De Vos said this was "a technical glitch." Under the credit-control policy, we blocked the meters of people who did not pay [their municipal accounts]," said De Vos. However, De Vos said this policy was suspended due to the negative financial impact on locals due to Covid-19.
Instead, the "60:40" principal has been implemented, meaning that those in debt with the municipality will receive 60% of the electricity paid and the rest will go to arrears. De Vos added that the government subsidises those who cannot pay municipal accounts, but anything above that must be paid.
On the debt owed to Eskom, De Vos stated that the municipality is continuously engaging with the supplier, but he did not specify whether an agreement has been reached. "For now, no blackouts will happen," he said, adding that further details will be released once finalised.
Graham-Maré recently stated that the municipality has failed to honour its recent payment plans to Eskom, and that residents are paying their accounts, but that this is not being used to settle the debt. Graham-Maré said that she has written to the Eastern Cape MEC and the minister of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, to request their intervention.
*Since this article appeared in print, the municipality has since announced that it will impose disconnections or restrictions on electricity meters. “This will be imposed as per the Council approved credit-control debt-collection policy for all arrear debt owed to the municipality,” the statement by the municipality read.
Tariff and salary increase
In June, Graaff-Reinet locals launched an online petition against the BNLM's proposed tariff and salary increases. The municipality proposed an 8% tariff increase for the 2020/2021 financial year and applied for a 4% increase in councillors' salaries. Over 3500 residents signed the petition, but De Vos said the decision to implement increases does not lie with the municipality.
"We are in a three-year agreement with unions. Municipalities don't just decide for themselves to give an increase," said De Vos. He said that the matter has been taken to the employer representatives, but "an agreement is an agreement until renegotiated between the parties who have agreed to it."
Call for his removal
"Anyone who thinks they are capable of doing better must stand [in the 2021 municipal elections] and let the people elect them," De Vos said about those within the community calling for his removal as mayor.
De Vos said that he and the municipality have tried to do the best with the "limited sources to [their] availability." De Vos referred to himself as the "mayor of graves," trying to get life out of the things to his availability.
"This is a new municipality that we had to grow from scratch, and we cannot create miracles," De Vos said, adding that he is proud of the foundation that the municipality has laid.
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