Small town judgment has big constitutional implications for service delivery – will NDZ take note?

The Democratic Alliance (DA) takes note of yesterday’s judgment of the North West High Court that contemplates the transfer of government power from an inept municipality to an association of concerned residents.

In short, if the Kgetlengrivier Local Municipality in the North West fails to supply potable water to the towns of Koster and Swartruggens within 10 weekdays of the order, then the Kgetlengrivier Residents Association is authorised to take control of the municipal water works.

A similar order will apply if the Municipality fails to take steps to prevent raw sewage from flowing into and contaminating the Koster and Elands rivers.

The Residents Association will then be authorised to appoint or employ suitable qualified people to operate the water works at Koster and Swartruggens, while the costs will be paid by the municipality and the North West provincial government.

Whether or not the judgment is overturned by a higher court, it sounds a serious warning about the constitutional implication of years of corruption and mismanagement in local government.

The Kgentlenrivier Local Municipality is part of a larger group of rural, ANC-controlled local authorities that are nearing complete financial and institutional collapse.

As inept leaders and officials have been returned to office in one election after the other, High Court judges have now had to step into the breach to protect the rights of residents to water and electricity.

In the past two years unprecedented orders have been handed down to prevent Eskom from cutting bulk power to delinquent municipalities as well as ordering these municipalities to take specific steps to better manage their debt.

In these cases SA’s independent judiciary have offered local communities their last hope of influencing the actions of inept and indifferent mayors, municipal managers and provincial governments.

But the Kgentlerivier judgement ups the ante, because it contemplates an entity other than the state assuming responsibility for service delivery.

If an elected mayor and local municipal officials are no longer capable of taking responsibility for government, what is their legitimacy?

Residents are also bound to ask themselves why they should pay over rates and tariffs in return for services that are no longer provided.

Whatever the eventual outcome of the Kgentlerivier-judgment, the DA sees it as a serious warning signal for SA’s democratic constitutional order.

We hope that it will end the silence of the minister responsible for local government, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, about the failure of ANC-controlled municipalities.