Rural SA falling apart: Case in point, endemic corruption paralyses Hoedspruit

JOHANNESBURG — A recent Bloomberg article shed light on how over 60% of SA municipalities are essentially dysfunctional, with rural towns the hardest hit. In the blurb to that piece, I wrote about how incompetence on the part of the ANC as well as rapid urbanisation are probably the chief factors of this decay. But we can throw in a third factor: that being endemic corruption. And here is a case in point. The Hoedspruit Chamber of Commerce has become so fed up with corruption in their town and the complete lack of service delivery, that they’re now desperately telling their story to the media. It’s a shocking read of how rural South Africa is completely falling apart. – Gareth van Zyl

By the Hoedspruit Chamber of Commerce

Residents and surrounding communities of Hoedspruit in Limpopo say “no more”.

It was the above Memo from the Acting Municipal Manager that finally tipped the scales and encouraged the Hoedspruit Chamber of Commerce to take the fast deteriorating state of affairs at the Municipality to National press.

Minister Pravin Gordhan’s statement on National TV that “Corruption and wasteful expenditure will be rooted out” also encouraged them to do so.

The Municipal Portfolio Committee had first approached President Ramaphosa’s office on 1st March 2018 requesting intervention in Hoedspruit. Presidential reference No. INC000018861163 – “Summary: Complaint about: Maruleng Local Municipality” followed. It was then directed to the Premier of Limpopo’s office. All supporting documentation was again submitted.

The Memo featured above prompted two representatives from the Chamber to meet with the Acting Municipal Manager. Her response was “what do you expect me to do, we have notified everyone” – and she promptly left town. No contingency plan. No suggestions. Just ‘maybe tankers must be brought in’.

Two weeks prior to this notice, the town had been without water going in to a third night. The Municipality claimed not to be able to take a decision as the pipes causing the problem fall under the Department of Public Works. With residents becoming desperate, and with permission from the Airforce base on whose land the pipes lay, the decision was taken to fix the pipe themselves. The Chamber had to deliver a letter reserving the rights of the good samaritans against the threat of litigation by the Municipality.

This is the tip of the iceberg or, as one may be tempted to say in the bushveld, “the tip of the termite mound”.

Residents and surrounding communities are proud of Hoedspruit. The whole area falls within the Kruger2Canyon Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO recognised initiative. Known for the large contribution that the town makes to both Tourism and Agriculture, the Chamber decided that the state of affairs must not deteriorate further. Where the Municipality had challenges, suggestions were made. Engineers had stepped up and offered free advice. The growing squatter problem in town was not addressed two years ago due to upcoming elections. It grows daily. A survey initiated by a Ward Committee showed that people living there had homes of their own out of town. Suggestions were made to provide late night transport.

The SBI (Small Business Initiative) is presenting our case at National level.

Some local communities have approached the Public Protector and also initiated various investigations of their own.

At their own expense, a few of the communities even went as far as to obtain an interdict against the Municipality in respect of the appointment of questionable candidates for senior positions. The appointees were forced to leave. Now the Municipality is counter-interdicting the Communities to allow the appointments. One needs to ask why there is this absolute determination to appoint unsuitable and questionable candidates?

The communities are also requesting the removal of the Mayor. A 31 year old female who has no experience whatsoever having coming from a background of waitressing.

During IDP (Integrated Development Plan) consultations, clarity was sought on some large budget items. Clear answers are never given. R285m already allocated since 2008 just to one community. What is there to show? Some dysfunctional infrastructure and piping that does not meet up. Another R30m just allocated to the same project. Another R35m allocated to another community for a hall and tourism resort. A hall already exists, built about 7 years ago and in total disrepair. An existing tourism resort has stood unused for 6 years. A suggestion for the IDP process, nationwide, is that instead of throwing millions at a budget, a needs analysis should be done first and then money allocated. That way it is also easier to control the allocated expenditure.     

Hoedspruit has a number of local communities. They are angry. They openly state that the Municipality is putting large sums into the IDP so that ‘they can just steal more of our money’. Behind the scenes meetings are taking place and reports are being written, all in an effort to try and normalise the situation and stop further destruction. No one is sure how long this can be sustained.

The communities are also requesting the removal of the Mayor.

What will help resolve Hoedspruit’s problems? The Chamber believes it will be with the appointment of a permanent Municipal Manager. One that honours commitments made. One who can resolve long outstanding issues. A person not scared to take decisions and re-allocate budgets where needed. That refuse is dealt with properly and recycling takes place. Who will ensure the upkeep and appearance of the Municipal Buildings. One who will curb wasteful expenditure and hold staff accountable. Who will accept the hand of friendship when people offer assistance. Who will understand the risk of a growing squatter problem both to the town as a whole and from a health risk perspective and deal with it. Who will ensure that when senior staff attend a high cost National Tourism Expo in Cape Town, where a stand costs a lot of money, that they will at least be in attendance. That would be a great start.

Chamber was not sure whether it was a joke when an email was received on the 30th May stating:

We are pleased to inform you that your reported Incident has been resolved.

Reference No.: INC000018861163

Summary: Complaint about Maruleng Local Municipality

Your reported incident has been resolved with the following resolution: a meeting was held on the 14 May 2018 were all parties agreed on all issues raised.