Children play in the gym and open-air park in Nduli commune, outside Ceres, which is vandalized and littered with rubbish and broken glass, while the streets and parks of the suburbs de Ceres are well maintained and litter free. (Photo: Steve Kretzmann)
Budget choices in Ceres favor the administrative center over neighboring towns littered with potholes and sewers.
On paper, the municipality of Witzenberg, with its administrative center in the fertile Ceres fruit export valley, looks like a model municipality led by a coalition of parties led by DA. However, this does not necessarily impress residents on the receiving side of the service delivery.
Amid widespread municipal financial failure, it is one of 27 out of 257 municipalities that received a no-fault audit for fiscal year 2019/20, the latest audited by the Auditor General.
With his pristine record dating back eight years, Witzenberg received praise at Auditor General Tsakani Maluleke’s conference Report at the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) of Parliament on 22 June.
“One of the municipalities that is inspiring is Witzenberg, in terms of how it achieves and maintains its track record of clean audit results,” said Maluleke.
She praised the “tone of leadership that has been set”, an effective internal audit function and the “role that council and MPAC (Municipal Public Accounts Committee) play in carrying out their responsibilities. monitoring “.
Witzenberg is led by the DA in coalition with COPE. The President of MPAC is Councilor EFF Mzwandile Jacobs.
On the ground
Tulbagh, with its blend of Cape Dutch and Karoo-Victorian architecture, has greater tourist appeal than the more agricultural utilitarian towns in the municipality. Yet its side roads are very rough and the verdant municipal campsite and seaside resort on the banks of the Klip River has become derelict and the river choked with reeds.
Local business owner Gloria Schulschenk said the town‘s municipal landfill did not comply with national regulations and a fire that broke out there in 2020 lasted almost a week. Schulschenk said the noxious smoke drifting through the city was so bad that she – along with others – chose to leave and stay with her family. Other residents we spoke to confirmed the fire and its impact. The landfill has since been closed, but appears to accept garden clippings. What appears to be rubble from illegally dumped buildings can be seen along the road leading to the landfill.
A number of residents of Tulbagh spoke of the cleanliness of Ceres, the administrative center of the municipality. While services to Tulbagh and surrounding towns came in second. This seemed to be true, at least for the large suburban area of Ceres, where there was no rubbish along its streets or wooded parks, and no potholes.
However, the commune of Nduli, 2 km from Ceres, had sewage overflowing into the street and mounds of garbage around its perimeter. Similar waste and sewerage issues were observed in the densely populated informal neighborhood of Tulbagh, but these were located in the city, just 600 meters from the main road and right next to the suburban area.
Here we met Yoliswa Ngamnca, 44, washing clothes at a communal tap. Coming from Queenstown in the Eastern Cape, Ngamnca said she had lived in a one-room cabin in Tulbagh for five years with four children aged 12 to 24 and a 20-month-old grandchild. They are all unemployed and do not receive social allowance.
Ngamnca said she was part of an influx of people from the Eastern Cape, Lesotho and Zimbabwe who migrated in search of agricultural work. With shared (but mostly functional) toilets accessible via a maze of shacks, many residents often used a bucket for their ablution, disposing of their waste and gray water on nearby vacant land.
About 500 m away, in the former colored township, around 200 children and around 20 adults have gathered to receive food from Evelyn Smit, who has been running a soup kitchen every Tuesday and Thursday since 2008.
Smit said hunger was widespread in Tulbagh, but received no funding from the municipality because it was not operating as a registered organization. However, she said she receives support and donations from local businesses and farmers.
While the rich and poor of Tulbagh live side by side, Ceres and neighboring Prince Alfred Hamlet appear to be governed by a more segregated agricultural hierarchy where societies such as the Roof Group control orchard operations on an industrial scale supervised by farm managers, with foremen, permanent staff and then seasonal workers in cascading conditions under increasingly vulnerable living conditions. During the minimum wage protests for agricultural workers that rocked the region in 2012, companies such as Du Toit Agri hired paramilitary guards to protect its premises. Barbed wire and closed entrances are now part of the landscape.
The management of waste facilities by the municipality seems to be a matter of chance. Data from the National Directorate of Water and Sanitation report that its wastewater treatment plants are among the best in the country, consistently meeting minimum effluent quality standards. Tulbagh wastewater treatment plant GroundUp visited was staffed and well maintained, with its effluent used to irrigate sports fields and other amenities.
City staff would not allow GroundUp to inspect the Tulbagh landfill, but the garbage trucks were directed to Prince Alfred Hamlet, just outside Ceres. The landfill there, although staffed at the entrance, was not fenced. Motor oil, a hazardous waste, appears to have been dumped in some places, and city workers and waste pickers said a fire had been burning for three months, burrowing underground and resisting attempts to do so. uncover it and extinguish it using a shovel. However, the municipality is in the process for reviewing and updating the integrated waste management plan to ensure that it complies with the national waste management law.
The abandonment of the municipal campsite and the seaside resort of Tulbagh in relation to the maintenance of the Holiday village of Cérès, as well as the absence of potholes in Ceres, indicate budgetary choices in favor of the administrative center.
Although the 2019/20 financial reports are not yet publicly available, the Analysis of the 2018/19 report reveals that beyond accounting for its income and expenses, the municipality had a relatively healthy cash balance of just over R94 million as of June 30, 2019, the equivalent of two months of expenses. This goes hand in hand with the recovery of 95% of debts owed for tariffs and the provision of services.
The expenditure of 96% of its capital budget demonstrates good budget management, although an 8.6% under-spending of its operating budget is less impressive.
Two points of concern in its 2018/19 financial report were that 5% of its operating expenses were classified as unauthorized, irregular or unsuccessful spending. The other was the very low expenses for repairs and maintenance. Ideally, it should be 8% of the tangible capital budget, but in Witzenberg’s case it was 1.9%, having also been low in the previous two years (2.1% in 2017/18 and 2.7 % in 2016/17).
The 2016 local elections saw the DA retain its position as the dominant party with 46.4% of the vote, while the ANC obtained 32.8%. This gave the DA 11 seats in the 23-seat council. Needing 12 seats to reign on the council, he formed a coalition with COPE, which had the only additional seat needed. In practice, this is played out through an executive mayor of DA and a COPE speaker.
The ANC, with its eight seats, formed a minority coalition with EFF, ICOSA and Witzenberg Aksie, each of which had one seat each.
The DA has not always dominated at Witzenberg. The ANC dominated from 2000, when the municipality was created, until 2011. It was a close race in 2000, with just 1.5 percentage points between parties.
The DA took a massive blow in 2006 with the entry of the Independent Democrats of Patricia de Lille, 15% of which came at the expense of the DA. The merger of the ID into the DA put the DA in the lead in 2011, but with De Lille returning to the fray with his new party, GOOD, the DA may well see a repeat of 2006.
If GOOD comes close to the 15% ID reached in 2006, they could be the kingmakers in Witzenberg, although Witzenberg Aksie, ICOSA and EFF are also vying for that position. DM