No matter how bad things are in many parts of South Africa, the story of Kouga Municipality in the Eastern Cape shows us that things can turn around swiftly with the right leadership.
Kouga is home to some 200 000 people living in Jeffreys Bay, Humansdorp, St Francis Bay and the surrounding areas. When they gave the DA an outright majority in the 2016 local government elections, we inherited an indebted municipality collapsing under years of ANC neglect and corruption. To make matters worse, it was also the start of a prolonged drought.
Five years on, Kouga is a place of hope and progress, where the promise of “a better life for all” is real for people. The difference between 2016 and 2021 is striking. Consider the progress made in the following delivery areas.
Housing: The ANC-run council had neither built nor facilitated the building of a single house in Kouga since 2007. Since 2016, the DA-run council has completed 611 houses and another 3025 are in the pipeline while a further 2790 are being held up by land and infrastructure issues. This is against a backlog of about 15 000 houses needed, meaning that real progress is being made.
Fleet: In 2016, only 4% of Kouga’s vehicle fleet was operational. Today, 96% of the municipality’s vehicles are on the road every day to service communities, and 57 new vehicles have been added to the fleet.
Roads: From 2011 to 2016, the ANC-run municipality spent an average of R3.5 million per year on road maintenance. The DA-run municipality has tripled that delivery rate, spending on average over R10 million per year on repairing and upgrading roads in the past five years.
Public amenities: In 2016, public amenities were in a state of disrepair with little to no maintenance happening. Since 2016, the DA council has undertaken a massive maintenance drive and upgraded community halls, ablution facilities, sports facilities, parks, and campsites.
Investment: By 2016, investment in Kouga had all but dried up and local businesses did not want to take on contracts for the municipality because of its reputation for non-payment. Kouga is now an investment hub. A brand-new hospital is being built in Jeffreys Bay, while R4 billion has been invested in two housing developments, and several large companies have set up in Kouga.
But the municipality isn’t just content with getting these basics right. It is actively innovating, to take Kouga from good to great.
The municipality won gold at the Eco-Logic awards last year for the first plastic road in Africa, built in Jeffreys Bay using recycled plastic (equivalent to 1.8 million plastic bags per kilometre of road). This revolutionary new approach to tarring could increase the lifespan of roads while reducing maintenance costs and plastic pollution. If ever there was hard proof that the DA goes the extra mile, this is it.
Kouga has its sights on becoming the country’s leading Bioeconomy Zone. An SA subsidiary of Hive Energy is set to develop a waste-to-energy plant, a solar plant, and a biochar plant that turns invasive alien vegetation biomass into “green charcoal” which has several environmentally friendly applications. The first biochar units have been manufactured to kickstart the project.
The council has built a new state-of-the-art waste water treatment works and is upgrading its three other waste water treatments works, one of the many ways this municipality is fighting off Day Zero during a devastating drought which has brought the Kouga Dam level to below 5% this week.
Day Zero may be just weeks away but if it happens, Kouga residents will know their municipality pulled out all the stops to avoid it. It is aggressively pursuing water security by every means possible, including through groundwater supply and water conservation and demand management initiatives.
All this investment and innovation comes at a cost, and yet Kouga’s finances are in a much healthier state now than five years ago when the DA council took over. In 2016, Kouga was heavily indebted. Today, this debt has been paid off yet cash on hand is almost double what it was back then.
Kouga is a wonderful South African success story that needs to be replicated in municipalities across the country. What are the keys to its success?
First is meritocracy. People and service providers are appointed based on their ability to get the job done for the benefit of the public, rather than on political connections for the benefit of the party. This is why the people of Kouga are at the centre of everything council does.
Second is accountability. Before 2016, corruption was rife and went unchecked. Since 2016, the approach has been one of zero tolerance for corruption, driven by an anti-corruption unit which has seen two officials suspended for fraudulently issuing drivers licenses.
Third is decentralization. By collaborating with community groups and the business sector, they’ve managed to get much more done than would have been possible working in isolation. The trick to getting stuff done in government is to understand that government is not so much about doing stuff as about enabling stuff to get done. South Africans are super entrepreneurial and innovative. They just need a government that’s working for them rather than against them.
The story of Kouga shows that the first step to building a successful South Africa is to vote DA. In the local government elections on 27 October 2021, a vote for the DA will be a vote for success because the DA gets things done.