For the moment, the law seems to be on the side of Sannieshof ratepayers who have decided to supply the North West Province town with services its municipality isn’t providing.
Since November 2007, most Sannieshof residents have withheld rates from the municipality because of a lack of service delivery. Instead they paid the rates into a trust account. Designated ratepayers then draw funds to carry out municipal services themselves.
According to Jaap Kelder of the National Tax Payers’ Union (NTU), an umbrella body for about 270 municipal ratepayers’ unions, a summary judgement sought by the Sannieshof Municipality against two of the defaulting ratepayers has been dismissed.
“The court found the ratepayers had a valid defence,” said Kelder. “The case will now have to play itself out along a normal legal route. This should happen over the next few weeks.”
Karin Visser, chairperson of the Sannieshof Ratepayers’ Union, has also had charges of trespassing and malicious damage to property against her dropped.
The charges were brought after she and a group of contractors employed by her union went to the town’s sewage treatment facility to replace broken and missing equipment, so the facility could once again effectively treat Sannieshof’s sewage. For some time Sannieshof residents had complained of raw sewage running down the town’s streets and overflowing into the area’s freshwater bodies.
“It was only through the efforts of Visser and her colleagues that the Sannieshof sewage treatment facility was fixed,” explained Kelder.
“The raw sewage was a danger to people and the environment, but the town’s municipality had done nothing about it for years. Instead it gave residents empty promises that it would quickly sort out the problem.”
According to the NTU, the Sannieshof Rate Payers’ Union (SRPU) has now initiated a court case against the town’s municipality to compel it to stop sabotaging ratepayers’ efforts to carry out service delivery.
Collaboration on the cards?
Kelder said if the Mbatho High Court approves the SRPU’s application, the Sannieshof Municipality would be compelled to work with the SRPU to bring proper service delivery back to the town.
Unconfirmed reports indicate the SRPU might legally be able to establish itself as an external service provider to the Sannieshof Municipality. The NTU said the SRPU has made this proposal to the town’s municipality, and the municipality has yet to dispute it.
“Sannieshof’s ratepayers have not been doing anything illegal by withholding their rates and paying them into a trust account,” explained Kelder. “These people have been forced into making arrangements for their own service delivery because the town’s municipality has not seen fit to do so.” – Lloyd Phillips