Makana grinds to a halt as workers march over pay

USE IT SPARINGLY: Former Rhodes University vice-chancellor Dr Saleem Badat speaks to students about water problems
USE IT SPARINGLY: Former Rhodes University vice-chancellor Dr Saleem Badat speaks to students about water problems

SERVICES ground to a halt in Grahamstown yesterday morning as Makana municipal workers stormed the City Hall demanding to know why their salaries had not been paid.

The financial crisis in the beleaguered municipality was exacerbated at the weekend by a burst water pipe which caused a water outage in almost the entire town, starting on Saturday.

By yesterday afternoon, large parts of the town were still without water. However, the municipal workers’ salaries had been paid.

The whole Rhodes University campus has been affected by the water crisis. The university had to provide bottled drinking water and water for flushing toilets at affected residences, university spokesman Zamuxolo Matiwana said.

Last year, the town’s water supply was suspended for about three weeks due to a burst water pipe and a broken pump, and was only restored after intervention by President Jacob Zuma’s office.

Residents complained yesterday that refuse collection did not take place.

Makana municipal spokeswoman Yoliswa Ramokolo said the municipal bank account had been attached on Friday by a service provider, WK Constructions. Municipal management only noticed the problem yesterday morning, but Ramakolo said the workers were paid by 9.15am.

The municipality is said to be relying on national Treasury grants to pay its workers and creditors.

Yesterday morning, municipal workers demanded answers from acting municipal manager Themba Mnguni and mayor Zamuxolo Peter.

SA Municipal Workers’ Union Cacadu regional chairman Clifton Booysen said: “This is the third time the workers are not paid on time … they were at the City Hall [yesterday] morning to find out why they were not paid.

“[Municipal bosses] say it’s the bank’s fault, but we believe there’s a cash-flow problem. Earlier this year we discovered that money was not being paid to third parties, like our insurers, and we went on strike for nine days.”

Booysen believes the poor revenue collection rate was behind the financial crisis.

The 27000 ratepayers from Grahamstown, Alicedale, Riebeeck East and Salem owe the municipality more than R190- million.

In April, the Eastern Cape Local Government Department seconded Mnguni as acting municipal manager and Busisiwe Khumalo as acting chief financial officer to take over temporarily and fix the rot in the institution.

The Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) is planning a mass march through the town tomorrow in a bid to get Local Government MEC Fikile Xasa to place the municipality under administration.

UPM chairman Ayanda Kota said: “Our town is broken. We go days without water. The system to buy pre-paid electricity is always down. The roads are falling apart. Today [yesterday] the municipal workers had not been paid. Grahamstown has become a national scandal. It affects the poor, the workers and the middle classes.”

He called on Grahamstown residents, academics, students, trade unions and churches to join the march.

DA constituency leader Andrew Whitfield has echoed the call for the municipality to be putunder administration. “The current measures have [not resulted in] improving service delivery to residents.

“The only solution is for the MEC to place the municipality under administration and ensure the administrators are given the space to clean up the rot left by the ANC.”

Local Government superintendent-general Stanley Khanyile said although Bhisho was very concerned about the municipality’s persistent problems, it was not yet at the point of taking it over.

“We are saying get your house in order or we will have to consider other options.

“There are persistent problems involving water, financial mismanagement and infrastructure.”

Of the late payment of salaries, Khanyile said: “We were informed that the bank account was attached by a company owed money on Friday, but it has been resolved. But we cannot keep taking interim measures.”

ANC Sarah Baartman regional secretary Scara Njadayi believes the situation is not as bad as it is portrayed.

“Yes, there are issues in Makana, such as the water problems and payment of creditors, but the ANC has managed to intervene through Section 154 [of the constitution].

“I have been informed by the political leadership that there was a problem with the transition of [banking] to Standard Bank. That’s why workers [were not paid].

“Those who bank with Standard Bank would have received their salaries on time,” Njadayi said. – Rochelle de Kock

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