DURBAN - When Sibusiso Sithole, the last administrator of Msunduzi Municipality, left the city at the end of his tenure there was renewed optimism that good things were in store for the KwaZulu-Natal capital.
By the time Sithole, who was appointed by the provincial government to fix the city’s finances, left in 2011, the municipality’s finances had moved out of the red and were showing a steady improvement.
Instead of the expected upward trajectory, what followed was a series of political scandals and a total collapse of service delivery due to alleged bad appointments. Today, Pietermaritzburg is in a sorry state.
The Msunduzi Ratepayers Forum, an umbrella body of all ratepayers associations in the city, is hopeful that the recent intervention by Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube to place the municipality under administration, will turn the city around.
The forum’s Minnesh Parmanand said the issues plaguing the city ranged from uncollected rubbish to a dysfunctional billing system and a spike in criminal activities.
Dube-Ncube, who spoke about the state of the municipality last week, lambasted managers for “not doing what they are supposed to do”.
Even Cogta Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, who calls Pietermaritzburg home, said at a recent event that the city was filthy.
“It stinks. It brings shame to us who come from the area when our cabinet colleagues tell of having passed through Pietermaritzburg because they often highlight how dirty the city is.”
During a whistle-stop visit to the city in January, ahead of the ANC’s birthday celebrations and manifesto launch, President Cyril Ramaphosa remarked about the filth levels that he had observed in the KZN capital, saying it left him depressed.
Parmanand said that while rubbish was collected on some days, most often it was left on the roadside.
“Vagrants and animals tear into the bags of rubbish and leave the filth strewn on the floor.
“There is a stench in the air in some parts of Pietermaritzburg and it is the rubbish that you are smelling.”
Dube-Ncube said the municipality was owed about R3 billion in rates and services, attributing the lion’s share of the debt to the failing billing system.
“There have been billing challenges and the cash coverage has weakened. It is actually lower than expected”
Last year, after months of not e-mailing statements to its customers, the municipality resumed the programme.
However, in many instances accounts did not reach the rightful owners, as they were sent to wrong addresses.
Residents complained that they had not received their monthly accounts and struggled to get printouts at the municipal offices.
Parmanand said often residents were disconnected on a Friday afternoon.
One resident, Clive Benson said his home was disconnected despite his account being up to date.
“I showed the municipal workers my receipt that proved my account was up to date, but no one listened because once you are on the disconnection list, they have to disconnect you.”
Benson said he was forced to pay a reconnection fee.
Those who received incorrect bills and were overcharged were forced to follow the “pay first, query later” rule that the municipality started.
The failure of service delivery even extended to the city’s crematorium.
Described as “inhumane” and “undignified”, the Mountain Rise Crematorium has been the subject of many news articles recently.
Last month, three families were outraged after the crematorium broke down for seven hours, leaving one body partially burnt and two others decomposing, while loved ones waited in the cemetery.
Local funeral undertakers said since that incident they had noticed more families were requesting to have cremations done at Clare Estate Crematorium or other crematoriums in Durban.
Parmanand said the forum handed over a dossier to MEC for Human Settlements Ravi Pillay, which contained “horrific” experiences families had gone through at the crematorium.
“It is a total disaster.
“The crematorium has no generator and it takes about five to six hours to cremate a body.
“The burials are just as bad. There is no more burial space and I have now noticed that burials are taking place near a stream on the property.”
The Midlands Hindu Society Seva Committee also met with the municipality about their concerns about the state of the crematorium.
A range of issues that has plagued the city in the past year or more, have resulted in government intervention at the municipality.
The intervention was widely welcomed by political parties, residents and ratepayers associations, the business sector and other stakeholders.
Dube-Ncube announced that although the municipality’s council would not be dissolved, a ministerial team would reign over the municipality and implement a turn-around strategy.
“It is time for a fresh start in this municipality.
“After a long period of instability and poor results, the people of Pietermaritzburg deserve that we give them a municipality they can be proud of through our hard work and flawless performance.
“The challenge for us here is to make sure that this municipality will soon live up to its promise of maintaining infrastructure, including roads, managing waste and delivering basic services to its communities.”
The ministerial representative, who is yet to be confirmed, would be based at the municipality and would prepare and implement a comprehensive recovery plan.
Dube-Ncube said that the team would ensure the implementation of financial systems, policies and procedures, including preparation and implementation of cost-cutting measures, as well as implement governance systems and procedures.