As the first metro in the country faces impeding water and power cuts, the time has come for the Minister of Cooperative Governance, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to stop wringing her hands.
Eskom has announced scheduled power cuts in the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality from 6h00 to 23h00 as from 3 December 2019. The consequences for businesses and residents will be devastating, and they will not be limited to Mangaung. The metro is the economic heartland of the Free State.
Centlec, a municipal entity responsible for electricity reticulation in Mangaung and surrounding areas, owes Eskom about R100 million. Both Mangaung and Centlec received qualified audit opinions for the 2017/18 financial year, and there are also strong indications that Mangaung has misappropriated R349 million worth of conditional grants received from national government.
In addition Mangaung owes its bulk water supplier Bloemwater about R776 million. Bloemwater has started restricted water supply to Mangaung’s reservoirs, and there are strong indications that taps in Bloemfontein’s northern suburbs might run dry by the weekend.
On Wednesday, the Democratic Alliance (DA) wrote to Minister Dlamini-Zuma to bring these facts to her attention. In July last year her predecessor , Zweli Mkhize, visited Manguang. He promised to report back within three months on national government support and intervention, but never did.
During question time in Parliament, the DA also reminded the Minister of her obligations in terms of Section 139(7) of the Constitution – if the Free State Provincial Government does not remedy the breakdown of services in its municipalities, this task falls to National Government.
The Minister knows that the pPovincial Government in Bloemfontein, the fiefdom of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, is even more dysfunctional than Mangaung. It does not have the financial and institutional resources to place Manguang under administration and solve its cashflow problem.
The least the Minister can do is to demonstrate a sense of urgency, fly to Bloemfontein, meet with the municipality and the Provincial Government, and insist that a set of arrangements be put in place to increase Mangaung’s cash flow. She should also broker a new payment arrangement between Mangaung and its water and electricity providers.
The DA is willing to meet with Dr Dlamini-Zuma to discuss a clear, coherent, and consistent approach to tackling the problem of municipal debts to Eskom and water boards. This requires her to show some urgency and resolve in doing her job.