War over poor service takes hold
Will sitting around a table discussing service delivery problems ease tensions between government and unhappy ratepayers? Asks Lea Jacobs
NOT all South Africans are taking to the streets to voice their displeasure about the lack of service delivery. Many have chosen a quieter, more powerful route — withholding money due to local authorities by paying sums owed on rates accounts into trust accounts. It seems that actions speak louder than words and the practice is beginning to draw fire from the government.
In a recent report, finance minister Pravin Gordhan slammed the practice saying, “if you live in SA, you are using municipal services and you must pay for them. This kind of noncompliance with the law is not acceptable at all”.
Reading between the lines it appears that more ratepayers are no longer willing to sit back and listen to empty promises made by local authorities and are either putting the money owed in trust until the situation improves or
One would think that these issues would be fairly easy to resolve with a little government intervention
pooling the money and doing the job themselves.
Although the practice may be growing in intensity, this contentious issue is certainly not new. In 2009 the television programme Carte Blanche aired a report on the situation in Sannieshof, a rural town in North West province. Service delivery in the town had ground to a halt and while money was being spent, it allegedly wasn’t being used for service delivery.
Raw sewage was running in the streets, there was no water and the town was falling into disrepair. Residents decided to take matters into their own hands. They formed the Sannieshof Ratepayers’ Association and declared a dispute with the Tswaing municipality.
Realising that they could do the job better themselves, the association took over and paid for the day to day operations previously under the municipality’s control. At the time, they maintained that not only were they able to get the job done, they were able to do so at a fraction of the price the municipality was being charged by contractors.
Of course this is not the ideal situation. Municipalities are there to keep suburban houses in order and in an ideal world you would pay your rates and relax. Unfortunately, in SA many local government institutions are simply not up to the task and a growing number of ratepayers are voicing their objections through their wallets.
Gordhan believes the problem should be solved “the South African way.”
“We sit around the table, we say what the challenges are, and we find practical solutions to them. We are the greatest in the world at doing this. Tension and antagonism doesn’t help. You can’t just sit back and criticise.”
However, in many instances the South African way doesn’t appear to be working. You have to wonder whether the average South African ratepayer really has the time or inclination to concern himself with matters that others are paid a great deal of money to handle.
Are residents simply being arrogant, believing that they can do a better job themselves, or is the situation so out of control that they feel they are left with few options? The latter argument seems to hold water and the question that needs to be answered is: what does the government intend doing about it?
One would think that these issues would be fairly easy to resolve with a little government intervention. Instead of criticising those who refuse to pay, perhaps the government should be asking why ratepayers have taken such drastic action and whether the issues are affecting the daily lives of those involved, then intervene and try to resolve the problem.
We are not talking about the odd pothole here. In the case of Sannieshof, we are talking about a breakdown in services that could have affected the health of an entire town.
Gordhan is correct — ratepayers should pay for services. But what happens when those services don’t exist? The problem will not disappear overnight and unless municipalities take decisive action, the situation looks set to result in an untenable stalemate.
A broken sewerage pipe at the water treatment works in Sannieshof, a rural area in North West province.