Closing of pools in Nelson Mandela Bay beyond misgovernance

The once vibrant Motherwell swimming pool at the Raymond Mhlaba Sports Centre is yet to recover from wanton vandalism during the Covid-19 national shutdown
SHOCKING STATE: The once vibrant Motherwell swimming pool at the Raymond Mhlaba Sports Centre is yet to recover from wanton vandalism during the Covid-19 national shutdown

Between 2019 and 2023, I worked as a senior researcher at the City of Ekurhuleni metropolitan municipality in Gauteng.

One of the projects I was extremely passionate about was the building of swimming pools in townships.

When this project was announced, many in opposition benches and some commentators made a lot of noise about the decision by the mayor, in whose office I worked, to prioritise swimming pools over other issues that were seen as “more pressing”.

These included dealing with the high level of unemployment, the load-shedding crisis, the collection of waste and other problems that residents of the municipality are confronted with on a daily basis.

And while I understood this perspective, I deemed it extremely short-sighted, mainly because while it focused on some critical issues, it disregarded others.

Yes, unemployment was and remains a big problem in the municipality, but people’s entire lives can’t be reduced to jobs.

There are other areas that matter just as much, including their health and social relations.

Furthermore, swimming could be an avenue that provided employment too.

For these reasons, I was adamant that swimming pools should be build in townships across Ekurhuleni.

Publicly and privately, I stood firm in my defence of the mayor’s plans.

Even when some sought to trivialise the issue, I remained committed to my position.

 The main reason I was firm in my conviction about the issue is that to me, swimming pools in townships represent spatial justice.

I grew up in Soweto, a township in Johannesburg that neighbours Ekurhuleni.

As with most townships in SA, Soweto was established during the colonial and apartheid dispensation as a reserve for cheap black labour.

Draconian laws of that time, which were grounded in a policy of segregation and separate development, meant that areas where black people lived were systematically underdeveloped.

As such, while white neighbourhoods had advanced infrastructure, townships were denied the most basic amenities such as water and sanitation services.

Thus, above all, the system of apartheid functioned spatially.

The democratic dispensation offered our country a promise of a new reality — a new SA in which the children of the poor in townships could have a fighting chance at experiencing a life with resources that their parents were previously denied.

Swimming pools rank high on that list to me, not only because I regard swimming as a critical life skill, but because I see it as an avenue for bringing communities together socially, and improving health outcomes that have historically been lower among the poorer classes.

I have a swimming pool in my own house and its value goes beyond leisure.

It is a tool for good health and safety in a Johannesburg where jogging on the streets is extremely unsafe.

It’s something I want everyone to have access to, regardless of their geography.

 The Nelson Mandela Bay municipality’s misgovernance that has led to the closing of swimming pools during this spring season is unconscionable.

Public swimming pools across NMB, owned and managed by the municipality, have remained closed owing to facilities being dilapidated and some being in a state of complete disrepair.

The implication is that residents of the municipality, as well as tourists who are visiting, will have to endure the sweltering summer heat.

Furthermore, seasonal workers who could be employed at these pools have lost their capacity for livelihood generation.

NMB has had almost a year to develop a plan to rehabilitate swimming infrastructure in the municipality, but has failed to do this due to its perennial incompetence and maladministration.

Communities across the municipality, who have had to endure many other failures of the local government, must now endure yet another problem that has been manufactured by politicians and officials.

To me, this is not just failing to provide a decent life for residents, it’s about failing to redress spatial injustices of the past.

And if a government, in the democratic dispensation, is failing at facilitating redress, then it has failed its constitutional mandate and right to exist.



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