Planning for a better city

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The Mayor is abandoning a statutory Advisory Council established earlier this year in favour of “citizen-driven initiatives”. Makana’s Executive Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa announced this during his address at the start of the first full Council meeting since the National Arts Festival.

The Internal Audit and Risk Committee started the business of the meeting on a relatively positive note, saying in their presentation that there had been significant improvement in both financial and performance information reporting. Compliance with the Act that is supposed to keep municipal finances on the straight and narrow – the MFMA – had also improved.

The first part of Council agendas comprises minutes from previous Council meetings. This time, they also included minutes from Mayoral Committee meetings – some as far back as February. It’s in these executive “Cabinet” meetings that much of the portfolio committee discussions are concentrated for decisions and rulings.

Mayoral Committee minutes sparked a number of discussions in Council. The most vigorous was about the intervention of the Gift of the Givers in Makhanda earlier this year and the national outcry about funds being made available for other entities for work GoG said they’d done. Councillors questioned their continued presence in Makhanda.

Speaker Yandiswa Vara confirmed she’d initially approached them. “The community had been without water for a long time,” Vara said. “We appreciate and treasure their support.

“I have no relationship with Gift of the Givers,” Vara emphasised. “I just appreciate their spirit of ubuntu.”

“When it comes to payment, we’re entering an administrative space that’s not ours. We are not part of those discussions.”

Vara then confirmed that their return was on the basis of an MOU signed with the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, for Gift of the Givers to provide support in all areas affected by drought. “I will still call them sometimes and ask them to take water to the farms,” Vara said. “We cannot reject their support.

“What is wrong is the communication – we need to see the MOU with the Minister so there can be a proper understanding of their presence here.”

Municipal Manager Moppo Mene then clarified that a final report was imminent. It would detail decisions between the Department of Water and Sanitation and Gift of the Givers about proportional payments to be made to them.

The indigent register, staff using vehicles and proof-of-address services were discussed extensively.

Three councillors stood up and, outraged, pointed out certain names on the list of people who’d registered as indigent (ie eligible for free basic services), saying they definitely weren’t.

Ward 10 councillor Luyanda Sakata said, “Some of the people whose names I see here are people who have left Makana Municipality for greener pastures. Some of the people on this list are teachers!”

DA Whip Brian Fargher said a lot of education was needed around the indigent register – including that your indigent status must be renewed every year.

Councillors questioned what verification methods were being used to confirm people’s status.

Chief Financial Officer Gerard Goliath responded, saying that through special software being used by Kagiso Trust, Makana’s indigent list had been reduced  from more than 2000 to between 400 and 600. In addition, another 1000 households had been newly identified as qualifying.

Four times a year, local municipalities receive from National Treasury an equitable share allocation for free basic services, proportional to the number of residents registered as indigent.

The Mayor said a concerned member of the public had described to him (and shown the photographs to prove it) how certain staff in the Parks Department arrived at work after 8am and returned home after 9, less than an hour later.

Official vehicles being used to transport staff to and from work at the municipality was raised as a strong concern, particularly since in many cases the vehicles were being parked at staff members’ homes overnight. This meant they weren’t covered by insurance.

There was discussion, too, about two municipal bakkies that have gone missing without trace.

Cary Clark raised the issue of a service councillors should routinely provide to residents, namely signing proof of address forms. “A lot of people get sent to the DA offices because they can’t find their councillors, or don’t know who their councillors are,” Clark said. “We would love to help them but we can’t when we don’t know them because we’re not the councillors for their areas.”

It emerged that councillors in some wards were leaving signed forms with ward committee members – a practice the Speaker vigorously defended. “A councillor can’t be everywhere at once,” Vara said. “And our people need that service.”

Fargher pointed out this was a risk, saying Makana would be held liable for any FICA non-compliance this practice might result in.

Siyamthanda Dyantyie said, “It is a disgrace that community members who come to the municipal offices requesting proof of address, when they are asked why they did approach their Ward Councillors, they say they don’t know them. It’s very wrong that we have councillors who are not known in their wards. It’s those little aspects of service delivery that matter the most to the people. Calling public meetings in your wards is also key.”

“Fighter!” someone called out, and the room applauded as the EFF councillor sat down.

Ramie Xonxa raised his frustration at wanting to provide the service and requesting the necessary official stamp in vain. In the end he’d had the stamp made and paid R575 for it himself.

It reminded him of R379 he was still owed for a lock he’d had to pay for out of his own pocket during his first stint as a councillor in what was then the Rhini Town Council.

“I handed in my R379 invoice in 1976 for that door at BAAB and I still haven’t been reimbursed!” Xonxa said, with poker-faced irony.

Most residents and Makana employees and councillors still refer to Town Planning on the corner of Ncame and Nompondo streets in Joza, where the Ward 2 councillor has his office, as “BAAB”. Not out of any nostalgia for the apartheid-era Bantu Affairs Administration Board, but out of habit – and just sometimes in irony.

“Paying R575 for that stamp won’t make me poor nor rich,” Xonxa said. And turning to the CFO, he said, to more laughter in the Chamber, “Meneer, jy moet n plan maak om hierdie moeilikheid reg to maak!.

The other light moment was at the start of proceedings, when the PA system in the Council Chamber started playing music from Radio Grahamstown. The radio station recently moved into the adjacent Local Economic Development building.

“This has got to be sorted out,” said the Speaker.

Fargher said, “I think we should at least be able to dictate what music they play.”

This week’s Council meeting took place against the backdrop of two public forums that Mpahlwa has engaged in over the past month. The latest, this week, was hosted by Rhodes University.

Announcing he was abandoning the statutory advisory body in favour of these “citizen-driven forums”, he said, “I have discovered that they have the same objectives that I do.”

Alongside the Mayor, speakers at the Rhodes-hosted meeting included Vice Chancellor Sizwe Mabizela, Mpumulelo Ncwadi, MD of the organisation Foregone Conclusions, Richard Gaybba from the Grahamstown Business Forum, Ayanda Kota of the Unemployed People’s Movement, Development Researcher Phenyo Nonqane-Lekoma, National Arts Festival Council and Grahamstown Foundation member Harry Dugmore and Dumile Monakali, of the Ministers Fraternal of Grahamstown East.

Speaking in an interview at the Rhodes meeting this week, Mpahlwa welcomed the initiative by the University to invite Makhanda stakeholders “to come and dream about the future of this city”.

“I think it’s going to be a very useful engagement and I hope it will come with… concrete steps to add to what the municipality is currently doing.”

There are so many challenges we face, but we have it within us to chart a different and better future

Mabizela said the discussion on what the future of Makhanda could look like was exciting.

“What I’m hoping will come out of today’s discussion is a sense of ownership by the various stakeholders – taking charge of the future of the city,” Mabizela said.

“And making sure we work together to build a better, more sustainable future for this town. There are so many challenges we face, but we have it within us to chart a different and better future. I’m hoping we come up with a shared vision of where this city could be in the next 30 to 50 years.

“But more than that, to agree on a plan of action to lift it out of its current morass.”

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