UPM v Makana judgment a victory for the poor, should not be challenged

 

The Eastern Cape Provincial Executive has been ordered by the High Court in Makhanda to dissolve the Makana Municipality’s council for its constitutional failures. The responding papers filed by the government, for the purpose of appealing against the judgment, are such an inadequate basis for appeal that there are surely no reasonable grounds for the appeal to be considered.

The UPM v Makana judgment is significant and must be upheld. The judgment affirmed the principle that South Africa can hold the government to account for their failures through the justice system. This is an integral feature of a successful democracy.

Accountability appears to be a problem within the government when it comes to service delivery, as politicians appear to do as they please at the expense of the people. We need to see consequences for leaders who fail the people that South Africa’s Constitution obliges them to serve. A case in point is that of Zamuxolo Peter, who was mayor at Makana Municipality before being deployed as a Member of Parliament in 2019 to represent the African National Congress (ANC). In spite of allegations of corruption at a time when the municipality was already dysfunctional, he was conveniently redeployed by the ANC to the Sarah Baartman Municipality.

It is not acceptable for an official who has failed to deliver on their mayoral duties to be redeployed at a higher governance level than before. It is clear that politicians will continue to do as they please while there is no accountability for their actions. South Africans are tired of hearing that action will be taken against corrupt and incompetent politicians. The people want to see officials held accountable for their actions, not merely a talk show where politicians grandstand but protect each other behind the scenes.

Makana Council’s appeal statement from 22 January 2020 indicates clearly where their interests and priorities lie. The statement appears to boast that staff salaries, and benefits, have been paid “without fail” since 2015. Salaries for those meant to be providing services remain paid, yet the services are so inadequate as to have caused a public health crisis which has already led to deaths.

The council’s recovery plans noted in the 22 January statement are also especially well-timed for the next set of elections. Government’s habit of appearing busy at just the right time is an outright abuse of power.

Another key failure of the recovery plan is the municipality’s intention to source funds to cover its R121-million outstanding debts from households whose accounts are in deficit. Of the 22,700 households in the municipality, 6,085 are classified as poor. It is predominantly within this figure where households struggle to make payment.

The argument for enforcing the debt is undermined by abysmal service delivery, and these households remain poor because the municipality itself has failed in its constitutional obligations to ensure the socioeconomic development of these households. Indeed, the figure is up from 5,250 poor households in the previous year.

Under the recovery plan, which forms the basis of the government’s appeal argument, it is the above households which will shoulder a burden of just under R20,000 each for the municipality to raise the funds to cover its debts. This is senseless. These are the people who have already been most disadvantaged by the municipality’s failures. It is municipal maladministration which has caused the issues, not the poor.

Recently in the Northern Cape, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said Cogta (Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs) will intervene in that province. Why do we need to wait until the ANC’s January 8th Statement rally for the government to intervene where there are challenges at local government? A video clip has circulated on social media showing President Cyril Ramaphosa telling the Mayor of Sol Plaatjie, Patrick Mabilo, that what he was seeing was unacceptable. The president had seen that people in the Northern Cape are living under bad conditions, including poorly maintained roads and overflowing sewage. That the president is indeed aware of the day-to-day realities faced by South Africans is at least an acknowledgement from the government of the realities they need to address.

On the other hand, the Thabo Mofutsanyana District Municipality in Free State has serious ongoing problems of service delivery. Patients at the Mofumahadi Manapo Mopeli Regional Hospital have to source water themselves because the hospital does not have running water. There have also been reports of schools not having clean water in QwaQwa. Teachers from Letotolo Primary and Tsheseng primary schools have to take responsibility for making sure the scholars have access to clean water. This simply reinforces the feeling that the government is not serving the interests of the people.

The government’s intention to appeal also illustrates a weak strategy of merely trying to buy time, reflected in the current cases involving former president Jacob Zuma and that of former SAA Chair Dudu Myeni: In both of these cases, delaying tactics have now failed. It is unlikely that the Supreme Court of Appeal, or later the Constitutional Court, will disagree with the judgment of the High Court in UPM v Makana. The courts are placing strict emphasis on the laws in the Constitution, and it is undeniable that the Municipal Council’s maladministration in Makhanda has for years violated Sections 152 and 153. In fact, in the 22 January appeal statement, Makana Municipality has not even denied the Constitutional violations that led to the court’s decision.

The appeal by Makana Council is a clear sign that the ANC-led government is not self-correcting and does not learn from its past mistakes, as it is clear that the government’s basis for appeal is about saving face, rather than ensuring that the people of Makhanda receive the services they desperately need.

 

Originally published by the Daily Maverick.
Rebone Tau is political analyst and Graham Pote is programme manager for political affairs at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Regional Office Southern Africa. Thank you to Sue Maclennen / Grocott’s Mail for assistance with this article.
The opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.