How an ANC-led coalition has destroyed Knysna in 18 months – Ivo Vegter

Knysna, once a picturesque town, now grapples with disastrous service delivery due to an ANC-led coalition’s mismanagement. Political betrayals, exorbitant appointments, water shortages, and collapsed waste collection have left residents desperate. The municipality, riddled with financial errors and corruption allegations, prioritises dubious contracts and salary raises over essential services. Western Cape Premier Alan Winde urges intervention, showcasing Knysna as a cautionary tale of a once-thriving town brought to ruin by self-serving governance.

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By Ivo Vegter*

Knysna demonstrates how an alliance led by the ANC can ruin basic service delivery.

Knysna has a history of fractious party politics. Its municipal council hasn’t been stable for years, and its municipality has a spotty record on service delivery, with frequent allegations of maladministration and corruption being reported in the media.

Frankly, no party has served the town particularly well in the last 15 years. By comparison with its beautiful neighbour to the east, Plettenberg Bay, Knysna has long been noticeably run-down and unattractive.

There have always been plenty reasons to complain, but the town did function, more or less. The ANC always seems to be able to make things worse, though.

Betrayal

In mid-2022, the town council’s two Patriotic Alliance (PA) councillors defected from the DA-led coalition that had a 12 to 9 majority, creating a new ruling coalition led by the ANC, including one EFF councillor and one councillor from a small local party.

Although the DA held one more seat than the ANC, this new coalition controlled 11 of the 21 available seats.

As soon as that coalition took power, they took it upon themselves to appoint no fewer than seven so-called ‘support staff’ for the three most senior political office-bearers of the council, namely the mayor, the deputy mayor, and the speaker.

Given that the PA seemed very concerned with who exactly the council appointed to various positions, one can surmise that their betrayal was paid for by promises of lucrative sinecures for friends and supporters.

These appointments would cost the town several million rand, which it didn’t have lying around. They remain the subject of legal challenges.

The coalition also jacked up rates and taxes, in many cases by double-digit percentages.

Instead of using the increased revenue to fix some of the town’s problems, however, the ANC-led coalition let everything slide, to the point where the town is now critically dysfunctional.

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Thirst

Frequent water interruptions have plagued parts of the town for months. Ironically, the worst affected wards are the very same wards represented by ANC councillors, demonstrating that the ANC doesn’t care even about its own voter base.

Late last year, a body was found in one of the water reservoirs, in an advanced state of decomposition. When the water flowed, this is the water Knysna residents were drinking. The body was never identified. It was just another nameless victim of a town going to the dogs.

These water interruptions have now escalated to the point where one community has been without drinking water for three weeks. They have no water to wash themselves or their clothes, no water to cook, no water to flush their toilets, and no water to drink.

Under normal circumstances, when water infrastructure breaks, a municipality rolls out the water tankers, and initially, it did. Until the tanker trucks began to break down, and the budget for diesel ran out. Then the trucks stopped coming.

Suddenly, a large number of people became dependent on the charity of residents in parts of Knysna that still had water, who organised a collection drive to deliver five-litre water bottles to the thirsty communities.

Protest

It took days, and half a dozen calls, for the municipality to even authorise a major charity to bring in their own water tankers.

As I write this, some residents – presumably the ones who aren’t working and can afford transport – are protesting in front of the municipality building, chanting, ‘Where’s the mayor?’

The placards say it all, really.

Another placard read: ‘Put this failed municipality under administration. SOS!’

The municipality was so scared of this small protest group that it called out a large police contingent, complete with two public order policing (riot squad) vehicles all the way from George. They spent the day doing nothing.

Refuse pile

The town’s refuse collection service has also collapsed, completely. Out of 12 refuse trucks, only three are in running condition. This, to service a town of some 80 000 people spread over 11 wards and far-lying rural areas.

A brand-new refuse collection schedule was announced late last year, but lasted a week. The trucks now come occasionally, unannounced, when available.

Since the train service that used to carry solid waste to the regional landfill outside Mossel Bay, 120km away, was closed in 2006, these same three trucks not only have to collect the waste, but also spend four hours per trip taking it to Mossel Bay.

This is, of course, impossible, so instead they dump the waste at the old waste transfer station at the railhead near the centre of town, close to the Knysna Waterfront, a popular tourist destination.

In December, after intervention by the Provincial government, that mountain of refuse was cleared with the help of the DA-run George municipality, but it has rapidly grown back.

There’s a great little fish restaurant right next door, but the entire area stinks to high heaven. If you’re visiting, try the gym on the other side of the refuse pile, when it’s 36°C out and the wind is west-south-westerly.

Neighbouring Sedgefield, which falls under the Knysna municipality, has exactly the same problem, with refuse piling up at the old railway transfer station.

Garbage in the streets

As a consequence of all this, the streets are lined with garbage. Some just sits there for days waiting to be collected. Other piles just seem to accrete over time, and never get removed.

All this refuse is ripped into and spread around by baboons, dogs, pigs, and the birds formerly known as sacred ibis, but now more commonly referred to as bin chickens.

This pile, for example, has been there for weeks.

The town is overrun with a plague of rats, who can often be found running around your feet at the outdoor eating areas of restaurants in Knysna central.

Every few weeks, sewerage backs up somewhere or other and flows through the streets, straight into the lagoon.

Between the refuse pile, the sewerage in the streets, the rats, and the lack of drinking water, it is a wonder Knysna isn’t yet riddled with typhoid fever, cholera, giardia, and dysentery – although the local hospital is reporting a sharp rise in cases of diarrhoea.

The locals have given up on getting their roads fixed and are now patching potholes themselves. The money that was once budgeted to relay a major thoroughfare seems to have been mislaid.

Clerical error

On 2 February 2024, the municipality notified residents that a supposed clerical error led to debit orders for rates and taxes to be run twice. It apologised for the inconvenience.

Of course, ‘inconvenience’ is an understatement. Such an error causes great financial hardship. Few people have the spare cash floating around to pay for unbudgeted double debits, and many probably had other payment orders bounce as a result, with all the concomitant damage that causes in terms of penalties and credit reports.

On 6 February, the municipal manager let it be known that he will ‘look into the double debiting and the refunds thereof during the course of this week’.

At the time of writing, nine days later and halfway through the month, this matter has not yet been resolved, and locals widely speculate that the municipality simply used the windfall to plug the obvious cash-flow holes in their own budget.

Agenda items

Many allegations of financial mismanagement do the rounds in Knysna, the latest of which – a case which has been referred to the Public Protector – involves a property management company from which the municipality has proposed to lease office space, for reasons that allegedly involve ANC connections.

The municipal council, not to be distracted by trivialities such as the total collapse of service delivery and the recovery plan that the Western Cape Provincial Government has demanded of it, has been discussing this company and two related companies, because it allegedly owes the municipality a fortune.

Collectively, these companies owe the municipality tens of millions for municipal services provided to their tenants. The monies have been collected from the tenants but have not been paid to the municipality.

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Now one might expect that a municipal council would want to discuss the affairs of a delinquent debtor, in order to recover the missing funds. The amounts involved are substantial, for a small town. Instead, it is discussing simply writing off more than half of the outstanding debt.

It doesn’t want to liquidate the companies. It doesn’t want to sue them. It doesn’t want to lay criminal charges of theft and fraud. No, it wants to write off half their debt and then give them a juicy new contract worth many more millions.

How shameless can they get?

Salary increases

It doesn’t end there. Another item on the council’s agenda this week is salary increases. For themselves.

Presumably they’re sore that the mayor doesn’t yet earn in the R1 million-plus bracket (he reportedly languishes on a paltry R920 379 per annum), so the majority in the council reportedly believe that he deserves a R100 000 a year raise, and that the rest of the council merits commensurate pay increases.

Because they’re working so hard and doing such an outstanding job, of course.

Captured town

Western Cape premier Alan Winde raised Knysna as an example of a captured town during Wednesday’s State of the Nation Address debate in Parliament. He asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to help him put the town under administration.

I’m not sure why he needs the president’s cooperation, but I am certain that Knysna needs to be rescued from its current governing coalition. It has become a matter of life and death for some of its residents.

I’m under no illusion that a DA-led council will be a panacea. No matter who is in charge of municipal government, we must remain vigilant against mismanagement, maladministration, and corruption.

But nobody could do worse than the present ANC/PA/EFF coalition, who are in it only for self-enrichment and crony-advancement and are criminally negligent in the duties for which the people of Knysna employed them.

My dogs and cats could do a better job of running Knysna.

Plettenberg Bay

This is what happens when you vote for the ANC, PA, or EFF. They’ll take a functioning town, bleed it dry, and deprive it of even the most basic municipal services.

Two weeks ago, the same thing happened in Plettenberg Bay (Bitou). A rats-and-mice party was convinced to jump ship, thereby ousting the DA-led coalition in favour of an ANC-dominated majority.

The single-seat party received the mayoral chain for betraying its former coalition partners in the DA, as promised by Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton Mackenzie, who was in town a week earlier.

People are so easily bought.

One can’t help but feel that Plettenberg Bay’s days as the best-governed town on the Garden Route are also numbered, and it is headed for the same fate as Knysna.

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*Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets.

This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission

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