Stability in Makana Municipality’s operations and management, along with urgent attention to failing services and infrastructure, were a common call by business and civic stakeholders to a senior delegation from national government in Grahamstown earlier this month.
Anyone brought to Makana to fix the municipality should remain in place for an extended period, and needs the power to make decisions, the Grahamstown Business Forum said in a presentation by business and civic stakeholders to the high-powered Cogta delegation led by Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Friday 4 May. The Grahamstown Residents Association and major local employer Carara Agro Processing contributed to the presentation led by the GBF. In an earlier meeting, Rhodes University Vice Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela had called for stability in Makana Municipality’s operations, with permanent staff employed in critical posts.
The GBF presented an inspiring picture of Grahamstown’s possibilities, a stark outline of the current situation and a stern prescription for the cure.
Financially viable, strategically positioned and definitely fixable, Makana was a prime candidate among the 55 dysfunctional municipalities being targeted for intervention by national government, GBF chairperson Richard Gaybba told Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Dr Zweli Mkhize in the Monument’s Olive Schreiner Hall on Friday 4 May. The media were excluded from an earlier meeting with Rhodes University and a subsequent one with the local and district municipalities.
The visit was part of Mkhize’s 20 March commitment to provide support to municipalities in distress and is linked to Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene statement last week regarding 15 Eastern Cape municipalities that have been targeted for intervention by National Treasury.
With only 7% of the country’s municipalities classified as well-functioning, the process began with the tabling of a report on forensic and other investigations to the CoGTA Parliamentary Portfolio Committee and has been followed with ministerial visits to municipalities across the country to undertake on-site inspections and consultations with municipal leadership.
In his 20 March media address, Mkhize said Cogta’s implementing agent, the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA), would intervene extensively and urgently in dysfunctional municipalities regarding the development and maintenance of infrastructure. Despite several technical capacity building initiatives implemented over the years, there were still many municipalities struggling to use funds allocated to build or maintain infrastructure. Financial management and governance and administration were also poor.
MISA routinely provides technical support in the roads and storm water drainage, energy, water and sanitation, solid waste, revenue enhancement and road construction. But more intensive and radical interventions were necessary for municipalities to manage Municipal Infrastructure Grant funds, Mkhize said earlier this year.
Divided and tired
Focusing on Grahamstown as the entrepreneurial hub of Makana, Gaybba last week emphasised the city’s current strengths and the business community’s belief that it could be financially viable.
“Grahamstown is home to Rhodes University, the National Arts Festival, the High Court, churches and some of the best public and private schools on the continent, if not the world,” he said. In addition it enjoyed a vibrant cultural history and was surrounded by rich natural resources.
“But this community is divided, and we’re tired.”
While the business community and civic organisations would willingly collaborate in solving the city’s problems, previous interventions had failed to deliver results, Gaybba said.
Gaybba said two previous interventions had yielded little. Consultant Pam Yako and Cogta EC’s Jongisizwe Gomomo were appointed as Makana’s administrators under Section 139 (1) (b) during successive terms, starting August 2014 and August 2015 respectively. Yako served in Makana for nine months and Gomomo for three.
“If we are going to have experts in Grahamstown, we need them here for at least 24 months, not three,” Gaybba said. “We need stability.”
Gaybba said for an effective turnaround, a competent team led by a turnaround specialist with the authority to make changes should remain for that period, supported by national, provincial and local government as well as Makana’s administrative staff.
“The team should be prepared to commit to making difficult decisions and act in the interest of the residents of Makana,” he said. Any new staff, including the soon-to-be appointed municipal manager, should agree to work with the team as a condition of employment.
Emergency funding for urgent repairs to roads and water leaks were essential to restore the hope and rebuild the trust of a jaded community.
“What certainly will not work are political instability, endless secondments of experts for short terms of office, and endless protests, violence and court applications,” Gaybba said.
Call for change
During a question and answer session afterwards, St Andrew’s College Principal Alan Thompson said failure to take action on the state of the city could put the sustainability of Grahamstown’s excellent public and private schools under threat. “Parents want assurance that their children are in a safe and healthy environment,” Thompson said.
National Arts Festival CEO Tony Lankester spoke of the frustration of tax-paying local businesses and institutions diverting resources to infrastructure and services legislated to be provided by the government. Shifting resources from these entities’ core functions had a ripple-down effect. According to 2016 research by Rhodes University economists, the Festival contributes R377 million to the annual GDP of the Eastern Cape.
Earlier, Mabizela had told Mkhize of previous efforts to strengthen the relationship between Rhodes University and Makana Municipality.
“Our plans have not always worked as intended,” Mabizela told Mkhize. “The Municipality needs to ensure stability in its operations. There should be permanent staff employed in critical posts. Revenue collection has to be a primary concern together with ongoing improvement of data quality. We need to have the competencies and technical skill required to run a thriving municipality.” These comments were reported in a media statement from the University.
Mkhize emphasised the need for co-operation at every turn. Rhodes University reported that during their session with him, Mkhize urged that a multi-stakeholder structure comprising national, provincial, local and university representatives be set up to develop a programme of action, as well as task teams for implementation and improving implementing capacity.
Mkhize had personally committed to taking charge of overseeing the implementing structure for the programme of action in co-operation with Dr Mabizela and Makana Executive Mayor Nomhle Gaga.