All the municipalities in the province are run by the governing ANC party and they may only employ black staff due to Affirmative Action laws. The mismanagement of funds at a local governing level is rife and has been reported widely in the South African media.
“The Department of Water and Sanitation’s threat to cut off the water supply to the Free State municipalities that owe nearly R3 billion to water boards, is a slap in the face of paying residents,” says Jan van Niekerk, FF Plus provincial leader in the Free State.
The Department is threatening to cut off the water supply to seven Free State municipalities if they do not pay their outstanding water accounts by the 8th of December.
Opposition parties have asked the Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, to reconsider cutting off the water supply to the municipalities that have fallen behind with their payments.
“Tax payers in the Free State are already heavily burdened with constant water shortages and increased water tariffs that were implemented as protective measures in drought-stricken municipal regions.
“Not only is access to water a Constitutional right, but it would also be unfair to allow paying residents to be adversely affected due to the mismanagement of municipalities, water boards and water suppliers.
“It is the Department and municipalities’ duty to ensure that water accounts are paid.
“Paying residents should not have to suffer due to situations like the one in Mangaung, where there are disputes between the municipality and Bloem Water. It is not the residents’ problem to solve. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that debt does not escalate to a point where threats that the water supply will be cut off are made,” says Van Niekerk.
With a debt of just over R3.5-billion owed to power utility Eskom and the Sedibeng Water Board for basic services, Matjhabeng municipality in the Free State is, on paper, currently the worst-run municipality in South Africa.
The water waste is horrendous. The black township of Thabong‚ which forms part of the Matjhabeng Local Municipality‚ has gained a reputation for being one of the worst-run municipalities in the country, Timeslive reported.
In Thabong‚ outside the mining town of Welkom, water leaks even in affluent suburbs number around 400 on any given day. Raw sewage runs down several roads.
Crime too has increased because every single street lamp along its main road has been cut down and sold for scrap‚ leaving residents in darkness.
Since its inception in 2000‚ Matjhabeng has received qualified audit opinions consistently‚ confirming suspicions of corruption running rampant, according to Timeslive.
On Friday ANC municipal officials were informed of their second unqualified audit noted by the South African Auditor General in two years.
Minister of Water Affairs Nomvula Mokonyane last week had included Matjhabeng in a list of municipalities that have defaulted on their water bill.
The municipality faces challenges in terms of revenue collection despite a flourishing wealthy illegal mining sector. On average‚ revenue collection only just tops 35 percent with non-white wards collecting only 2 percent of actual billing. Residents owe the municipality around R2-billion.
One municipal official‚ who spoke on condition of anonymity‚ said there was evidence of the involvement of local police in illegal mining activity. “We believe gold is smuggled out through the private airport‚ to Dubai and other places‚” the official said.
Municipal spokesman Kgojane Matutle‚ blamed illegal mining for the water problems. He said that in several areas water pipes were tapped into to wash illegally mined gold. “It is a daily occurrence. We send someone to fix a pipe today‚ and tomorrow they break the pipe again‚” Matutle said.
But copper cable theft, not related to mining, is also costing the municipality some R2-million every month.
The debt crisis is not limited to only one mining municipality however. Free State municipalities’ outstanding debt to water boards presently amounts to:
Mangaung : R349,227,064.00
(Bloemfontein, Botshabelo, Dewetsdorp, Mangaung, Thaba Nchu, Van Stadensrus, Wepener)
Kopanong : R196,689,402.00
(Bethulie, Edenburg, Fauresmith, Gariep Dam, Jagersfontein, Philippolis, Reddersburg, Springfontein, Trompsburg, Waterkloof)
Ngwathe : R83,322,099.00
(Edenville, Heilbron, Koppies, Parys, Vredefort)
Mafube : R159,850,470.00
(Cornelia, Frankfort, Tweeling, Villiers)
Maluti-a-Phofung : R233,925,937.00
(Harrismith, Kestell, Phuthaditjhaba)
Mathjabeng : R1,849,226,784.00
(Allanridge, Hennenman, Odendaalsrus, Ventersburg, Virginia, Welkom)
Nala : R126,954,981.00
TOTAL : R2,999,196,737.00
Schalk van der Merwe‚ provincial chairman of the Small Business Institute‚ questioned the management of Matjhabeng’s debt book.
“For these guys to actually balance their books they must show that they have a huge amount of debt outstanding from the people that are supposed to buy from them. And we asked them for a list of businesses in the area who have outstanding debt‚ and we found some factories who have bills of R200-million. That is impossible‚ you can’t even use that amount of energy‚ never mind be in arrears to that amount‚” he said.