Destined for ruins: Rural SA towns collapse as 60% of municipalities dysfunctional

JOHANNESBURG — There’s a sense of sadness and realism to this story from Bloomberg on rural South African towns. It’s sad because millions of South Africans still live in rural towns and the ANC government has, quite frankly, been a disastrous failure for these people as they lack even the most basic municipal services in the year 2018. Furthermore, if you’ve ever driven through rural South African towns, you probably would also have seen the decay in many of them – potholes aplenty (if they have roads), decaying buildings as well as striking poverty and unemployment. However, in reality, rapid urbanisation is a global trend – and South Africa is no exception. According to data from, 65.8% of the total South African population lived in urban areas in 2017. This is up from just over 60% in 2006. This means that dwellers in rural SA are migrating to the cities en masse in search of a better life. This trend will only continue and, in turn, put more pressure on our cities. The converse is that rural towns in SA are at risk of becoming ruins in 50-100 years time unless a responsible government steps in to protect their heritage. – Gareth van Zyl

By Amogelang Mbatha

(Bloomberg) – Trash heaps line the potholed streets of Edenville in central South Africa, where residents complain that municipal services have ground to a near halt, crime is rampant and jobs are scarce.

It’s a familiar story in scores of other rural towns driven to a state of near collapse by years of mismanagement, graft and declining revenue as companies gravitate toward cities with better services and transportation links. The meltdown has put the nation’s finances at risk, as the National Treasury faces increasing demands to bail out broke councils.

Trash heaps line the potholed streets of Edenville in central South Africa, where residents complain that municipal services have ground to a near halt, crime is rampant and jobs are scarce.

It can take weeks for the Edenville municipality to unblock sewage pipes or collect the garbage, and the local economy has ground to a near halt, according to Miriam Matsuso, who lives in the town of about 6,200 people in the Free State province, about 180 kilometers (113 miles) south of Johannesburg.

“Sometimes it does feel as though we as the people living in small towns are forgotten by the government,” Matsuso, 70, who supports her unemployed daughter and two grandchildren on her monthly state pension of R1,695 ($128), said outside a grocery store. “Our children have to move to bigger towns just to try and look for jobs.”

“I have lost hope for this town. It is too far gone”.

More than 60 percent of the 257 municipalities are categorised as dysfunctional or almost dysfunctional, according to the Co-operative Governance Ministry. The parlous state of their finances was laid bare last month in an Auditor-General’s report, which showed just 33 got clean audits in the year through March last year and spending that contravened regulations surged 75 percent to a record R28.4 billion ($2.2 billion).

Read also: SA cities on the brink of collapse – Nene’s dire warning

“Across the country, smaller municipalities are under significant pressure,” Kevin Allan, the managing director of Johannesburg-based Municipal IQ, which monitors local government, said by phone. “It is difficult to sustain a local economy where there isn’t a lot going on.”

Dalene van Stryp, who’s lived in Edenville for 26 years, has seen her own fortunes decline along with the town’s. While customers used to line up outside the door of her butchery, she’s now down to a few clients a day, and her once-full shelves are sparsely stocked.

“A lot of people are leaving to seek a better life,” she said. “The facilities haven’t been maintained in years, the roads are still mainly gravel roads, and I cannot tell you how many times in a week I call the municipality asking for the streets to be cleaned or any other services that we need, and there’s no response.”

Read also: Ed Herbst: Dysfunctional ANC municipalities yet protests target efficient DA-run metros

The decay is equally evident in Jagersfontein, about 500 kilometers southeast of Johannesburg, where many buildings have been abandoned and stripped of their windows and doors and the disintegrating roads are strewn with trash. The town hasn’t had running water since November, according to Nthabeleng Olyn, an attendant at the only gas station.

“It’s almost as though small towns like this one don’t matter or even exist in South Africa because no matter how many times the communities protest or complain to the municipality, there’s no change or development,” 32-year-old Olyn said. “This town is basically dead.”

Insignia of the ruling African National Congress (ANC)

Fixing the municipalities will require more active intervention by provincial authorities, and the government and ruling African National Congress to ensure officials are held accountable, according to Municipal IQ’s Allan.

The government has set up teams to ensure municipalities put proper governance structures in place, fill their vacancies, do proper budgeting, collect revenue that is owed to them and spend their infrastructure budgets, according to Co-operative Governance Minister Zweli Mkhize.

“Right now we think there is enough political will to actually get the matters resolved,” he said in Cape Town on Thursday.

Matsuso, the Edenville grandmother, isn’t optimistic that will happen.

“I have lost hope for this town,” she said. “It is too far gone.”

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