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ANC promises free refuse removal for poor people

The ANC's promise of free refuse removal for the poor is in line with the government's plan to create employment for South Africa's jobless. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi

The ANC's promise of free refuse removal for the poor is in line with the government's plan to create employment for South Africa's jobless. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi

Published May 12, 2011


Donwald Pressly

In a municipal election pledge the ANC committed itself to expanding free basic services, currently covering water and electricity to a specific threshold, to include the removal of waste to all poor households.

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The question is: can municipalities afford the extra cost of adding waste to these free services?

The local government research centre’s director, Clive Keegan, believes money should be found in municipal budgets for this function as it is an effective way to reduce poverty. Keegan noted that refuse removal tended to be a “fairly low cost and labour-intensive” activity and was in line with government’s rapid job creation aims.

Ahead of the elections next week, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa published a draft municipal waste sector plan for public comment, which included indicators and targets for addressing backlogs in waste service delivery.

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“Refuse collection lends itself perfectly to job creation at not very high costs,” said Keegan, noting that in large cities waste collection generally worked reasonably well even in informal settlements, meaning that the urban poor tended to have this service free already.

The problem arises mainly in the poorer, more rural and peri-urban municipalities. “It is really a rural problem as there is a lack of adequate disposal sites.”

He noted that in 2009 it was estimated that domestic and trade waste disposal at landfills amounted to 24 million tons a year. The six metropolitan municipalities – which include Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Metro, Cape Town and eThekwini (Durban) – disposed off about 9 million tons of municipal solid waste at last count, which was in 2005.

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Statistics SA’s general household survey has revealed that about 43 percent of households – and about half of the population – did not have a regular municipal waste collection service.

In terms of the vision for the sector, Molewa’s department aimed to regionalise waste landfill sites. In the vision document, the Environment Affairs Department said it could work in collaboration with provincial governments and district municipalities to do a census and determine the requirements for additional landfill space “and assist with the identification of potential sites for regional landfills”.

According to the local government research centre, there were about 2 000 waste management facilities including landfill sites, recycling facilities and transfer stations at last count four years ago.

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Only 530 were licensed at the time, pointing to the department’s inability to regulate the sector effectively.

Molewa’s sector plan noted that financing of waste management services was dependent on accurate cost of the required services.

“The full cost of waste service provision is seldom understood and therefore often under-budgeted,” the sector plan notes.

“Tariff collection has the potential to fully cover the cost of providing the services, but the charges are often set below actual costs.”

Interventions required for addressing financing and charging issues included the need to embark on a full cost-accounting exercise for waste management services, the plan noted.

It states: “Given the varied local conditions in municipalities, it is recommended, that the full cost-accounting exercise should be undertaken at local municipal level and must include aspects of collection, transportation, landfill, street cleansing, fee collection, debt payment and depreciation.”

The Black Sash’s review of political parties’ socioeconomic policies in the run-up to the elections argued that the current division of revenue between the three tiers of government and the model of local funds generation “needs urgent review”.

Black Sash took issue with the cost-recovery model that local governments “are forced to employ”. The organisation proposed a review of the policy, particularly when it came to basic services such as waste removal.

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