Much attention was lavished this week by, among others, the African National Congress (ANC), the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on the eviction of a naked man from a shack in Cape Town. This tells you a lot about the real state of South Africa in 2020.
There were claims of unseemly conduct on the part of at least four city law enforcement officers in the handling of Bulelani Qolani, who was filmed being chased, naked, and tackled by officers during an eviction on Wednesday in eThembeni in Khayelitsha. The officers’ conduct was sufficient to convince the city authorities to suspend them within two-and-a-half hours of the incident coming to light. An investigation was launched.
Reports suggest that Qolani stripped deliberately, and, according to Cape Town’s Democratic Alliance (DA) mayor Dan Plato, ‘roamed in front of his structure, already naked’ before the law enforcement officers took any action. The various claims about the incident have yet to be established.
Also not insignificant is the context of the eviction itself: eThembeni is opposite the Zandvliet Waste Water works and the site is regarded by the City as being of paramount importance for the provision of bulk services to Khayelitsha.
You would have thought from the reaction that there had been a massacre which now confronted the country with a crisis of daunting proportions.
Indeed, former minister and now chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Faith Muthambi, was moved to declare of Qolani’s experience: ‘This is a matter of national importance. We can’t fold our arms.’
Though careful to say that the Committee did not endorse unlawful occupations, she went on to wonder how Wednesday’s eviction could be justified ‘in this dispensation that is premised on the values of human dignity?’ It was nothing but a ‘mockery of the democratic gains we’ve made as a country’.
Describing the incident as ‘unfortunate, disgraceful’, SAHRC commissioner Mohamed Ameermia observed: ‘The Human Rights Commission is extremely disturbed by what is going on out there.’
Tragically, of course, there is a crisis ‘going on out there’. It is also a ‘matter of national importance’ and a ‘mockery’ of democracy that cannot by any measure be squared with ‘human dignity’ – but neither Muthambi and her heated MP allies, nor the human rights crusaders of the SAHRC have shown the least concern about it.
That crisis is, of course, what can only be described as the radical transformation that has been occurring across South Africa at a rapid pace – unchecked, in fact – in local municipalities. The failures, waste and looting at local government level are occurring at enormous cost, not just to the state and the credibility of South Africa’s constitutional democracy, but to the well-being of millions.
Silence is violence
If ever silence was violence, the mute indifference of the most powerful in the face of this chronic state of affairs is it. First in line, here, is Muthambi. The crisis, with billions wasted, lost or stolen because of bad, ineffective or simply venal local governance falls squarely in her province as chairperson of the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Committee.
Yet, when the damning 2018/19 Auditor-General’s report on local government was released this week, Muthambi was too busy working up a head of steam on the Qolani affair to think of responding on this ‘matter of national importance’.
Perhaps no one in government, or in the ranks of peeved social justice warriors, cares, simply because it is now routine; we hear about it year after year.
One person who, to his great credit, does not regard it as acceptable is the Auditor-General himself, Kimi Makwetu, whose seven-year term in the post ends in November.
The title of his report, ‘Not much to go around, yet not the right hands at the till’, captures his biggest worry – though evidently not the government’s – and it is one captured in a bald observation in his media statement this week.
Having highlighted the successes of a tiny minority of municipalities in doing their job properly, he writes: ‘The 2018-19 report narrates a story of how the efforts of these diligent municipalities had been overshadowed by the overall regression in audit outcomes.’
This revelation on going backwards is borne out by Makwetu’s overarching observation: ‘There was again a regression in the audit outcomes under the current local government administration, now in its third year. Over the three-year period, the audit outcomes of 76 municipalities regressed, with those of only 31 improving.’
He noted that not only did unqualified opinions on the financial statements drop from 47% to only 43%, ‘but the quality of the financial statements provided to us for auditing showed no improvement from the previous year. Only 18% of the municipalities could give us financial statements without material misstatements’. On performance reports, he said that those of ‘67% of the municipalities that produced such reports had material flaws and were not credible enough for the council or the public to use’.
Many municipalities are crippled by debt and unable to pay for water and electricity, and only 8% received a clean audit. Municipalities took on average 180 days to pay creditors. Irregular expenditure exceeded R32 billion – up from R24 billion in the previous year.
The following provincial snapshots from Makwetu’s statement give a sense of the scale of this crisis:
- ‘Eastern Cape: The AG’s report tells a story of a widespread lack of financial controls and project monitoring, an ongoing culture of a lack of accountability as well as a tolerance of transgressions, which resulted in a further regression in audit outcomes in the province – improvements were rare and the general trend over the past three years remained negative.’
- ‘Free State: The audit outcomes in the province continued to regress for the third consecutive year. Ten municipalities did not submit financial statements on time…’
- ‘KwaZulu-Natal: There was little change in the audit outcomes of the province, accountability was not adequately practised and enforced by leadership, and the failure of key controls continued.’
- ‘Limpopo: Six municipalities in the province improved their audit outcomes and three regressed. The improvements were mostly consultant-driven, but despite the province having spent a total of R249 million on consultants for financial reporting purposes, many municipalities continued to receive qualified opinions.’
- ‘Mpumalanga: Deteriorating accountability and financial management coupled with weakened oversight is at the centre of the significant regressions in audit outcomes in the province – six municipalities regressed and only two improved.’
- ‘Northern Cape: The province is in a prolonged state of undesirable audit outcomes, with yet another overall regression – six municipalities regressed and only three improved.’
- ‘North West: The regression in audit outcomes completes a three-year downward trajectory in the province’.
On the brighter side:
- ‘Western Cape: The largest concentration of clean audits remained in the Western Cape (45%), with 93% of the province’s municipalities receiving unqualified opinions on their financial statements. Eight municipalities retained their clean audit status – six of which have maintained this status for the past five years or longer’ and
- ‘Gauteng: The picture in Gauteng held steady with all municipalities again maintaining their good audit outcomes. This was the only province in which all the municipalities had unqualified audit opinions, but as in prior years only Midvaal obtained a clean audit opinion.’
It is obvious – whatever you might make of this week’s eviction in Khayelitsha – that the DA (which dominates in the Western Cape, and runs Midvaal) has got its governance ducks in a row.
It’s not pretty elsewhere. If you have the stomach for it, read Business Insider’s pick of 18 of the worst municipal money horror stories in SA.
This bears out Makwetu’s warning: ‘Proper administration and superintendence over the financial affairs of local government were not exercised and were found, through this audit examination, to be seriously lacking with some devastating consequences already evident in certain identified areas.’
He prefaced this by noting: ‘When looking across the board and after carefully analysing the financial statements we audited, we can safely conclude that local government does have sufficient money and assets to fulfil most of the basic needs and aspirations of its citizens.’ A ‘lot of work’ would be needed to see this realised.
Could anything be of greater ‘national importance’, to borrow from Muthambi’s phrase, than a failure to ‘fulfil most of the basic needs and aspirations’ of South Africans? Or be more likely to rubbish ‘human dignity’ and more surely mock South Africa’s ‘democratic gains’?
‘In every society,’ Makwetu concludes pointedly, ‘some people do not want to work. Unfortunately, they have the upper hand in a society that lacks good leadership!’
It may be too much to expect Faith Muthambi or the SAHRC to let that sink in.