Municipal mess

Countrywide, municipal employees are insisting on big salary increases, yet delivering less and less.

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For the past few weeks, municipal workers have been on strike, demanding a wage increase of 8% – down from an initial 10%. Year after year, these employees go on strike for higher salaries. Yet year after year, service delivery seems to stagnate or get worse, with more and more municipalities becoming plainly dysfunctional.

Last year, when municipal workers took to the streets on their annual wage strike, it was estimated that the increase from 6,08% to 7,5% would cost the City of Johannesburg an additional R97 million per annum and the City of Cape Town an extra R96 million. One can only imagine what it would have cost if the workers had received the 18% that they had originally demanded.

At the time, I was amazed to read that some municipal managers were earning more than President Jacob Zuma. It boggles the mind that salaries like these can be justified, considering the lack of service delivery – a lack that has brought ordinary people out in their thousands to protest, often violently.

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Recently, employees at the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality were up in arms after hearing that their municipal manager, Themba Hani, was earning nearly R2 million a year. Moreover, he received a 13,5% increase while theirs was 6%. According to some reports, Hani’s salary nearly matches that of Zuma, while municipal managers of the Tshwane and Johannesburg metros earn over R3,2 million per annum each – almost R1 million more than Zuma is earning a year.

It’s difficult to believe that the workload or responsibilites of these managers match those of the president. As for performance, the Tshwane Municipality recently admitted that it was responsible for the pollution of the Apies River because it was unable to maintain its sewage plant properly. Farmers in Rooiwal cannot use the water anymore as it is not fit for human or animal consumption, or for vegetable irrigation.

The Apies River is not alone in having this problem. Recently, sewage from the Klipgat sewage plant in North West began seeping into the Toloane River, a vital waterway for many villagers who depend on it for irrigation and to provide water for their livestock. Sewage affluent remains one of South Africa’s biggest threats to water quality. It’s incomprehensible that managers are earning salaries like these when they cannot even keep sewage plants operating properly.

Equally worrying is the fact that the provincial departments of agriculture are willing to trust municipalities to roll out the provincial mechanisation programme. Some departments have even handed over tractors to municipalities to distribute. In some Mpumalanga municipalities, this has led to tractors simply standing in warehouses, where they are being stripped for spare parts.

The Nala local municipality in the Free State recently admitted that two municipal Ford tractors and a Nissan bakkie were still in the mechanics’ workshops after three years, while another four tractors used for refuse removal had been declared unroadworthy. Would you trust people like these to handle a mechanisation roll-out programme?

I would like to second the proposal made by former North West MEC for local government, Paul Sebegoe, that municipal employees’ salaries should be paid based on their performance.