Nelson Mandela Bay’s 5-year roller coaster ride – a cautionary tale

No metric says more about the state of our nation than the unemployment rate, which has hit an all-time high of 44.4% of South Africa’s labour force including those who’ve given up looking for work.

For the youngest age group, 15-24, that number is 74.8%. These figures are for the second quarter of 2021, so don’t include the impact of the July insurrection, meaning we can expect things to get even worse.

These numbers are devastating and damning. Unemployment is the main driver of poverty and inequality in SA. As a nation, we are failing the poorest and most vulnerable, because we are failing to build an inclusive economy.

We can and must consider how to strengthen the social safety net for those locked out of the economy. But a job is the best guarantee of social protection, so job-creating economic growth must be our top priority.

Over 60% of South Africans are urbanized and if our economy is to grow in a way that creates mass employment, this can only happen in our cities. We need better-run cities, that attract investment for being safe, clean and functional. The upcoming local government election is the best and most immediate way for voters to make this happen.

On Monday I announced the DA’s mayoral candidates for Cape Town, Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay. Each of these candidates was chosen on merit for their ability and will to deliver tangible results.

The story of Nelson Mandela Bay Metro over the past five years shows that achieving the best possible outcome for these cities in the next five years requires an outright DA majority. A DA-led coalition is very much second prize, because it comes with the risk that the government could collapse at any time.

The DA is the biggest political party in NMB, but with 57 seats out of 120 in council, it is 4 seats short of a full majority. Those four seats have cost residents dearly in terms of interrupted progress on service delivery and job creation.

When the DA-led coalition took over the running of NMB in August 2016, they inherited a truly broken city, destroyed by state capture and corruption as set out in Crispin Olver’s book How to Steal a City.

Over the next two years till August 2018 when the coalition lost its majority, they racked up some incredible delivery successes, creating attractive conditions for investment and job creation.

Finances: They turned an inherited R2 billion of debt into a R650 million surplus, cancelling R615 million worth of corrupt contracts, receiving a AAA credit rating, and taking NMB from the second least trusted to the second most trusted metro in SA (after Cape Town). They achieved this while still ensuring the lowest basket of tariff increases in 20 years and the lowest across all metros.

Safety: Unbelievably when they took over there was no metro police force at all. They established a metro police force with 135 fully trained officers who attended to over 25 000 crime fighting interactions. They installed shot-spotter technology in the areas most prone to gang violence, reducing gunshots in some areas by 90%.

Transport: They resurfaced over 55 000 square metres of road, put Integrated Public Transport System buses on the road for the first time, and completed the Clearly Park Bus Depot.

Sanitation: They reduced the number of bucket toilets by 60%, from around 16 000 to around 6 000.

Infrastructure: They achieved the best Urban Settlements Development Grant spending performance in the country and were therefore awarded an extra R178 million.

Jobs: As a result of the above-mentioned successes, they attracted millions in private investment and were also able to triple the annual number of EPWP jobs.

But after 24 months of tangible growth and delivery under this jobs-friendly administration, the ANC-EFF coalition of corruption ousted the DA-led coalition in a council coup. The city then fell back to economic-destruction-mode during the 28 months from August 2018 to December 2020 that the ANC-EFF coalition ran the council.

When the DA-run coalition under DA mayor Nqaba Banga returned to government in December 2020, they set about picking up the pieces once again. In just the last 8 months they have ramped up delivery considerably. Some examples:

Finance: Capital budget expenditure is forecast at 82% for the financial year, up from a dismal 16% by December 2020 (should have been 40-50% by then). And the average turnaround time to pay creditors has been reduced from 64 days to 43 days.

Safety: 307 previously unlicensed and unserviced metro police vehicles were returned to the city’s roads by March. The shot-spotter system was reactivated and has led to emergency response deployment at 244 shootings this year.

Housing: Grant allocations have been reinstated for housing developments, and 6200 title deeds are being processed.

Transport: The backlog of 1100 municipal vehicles with expired license disks has been reduced to zero.

Governance: Mayco meetings have been live-streamed since February to promote transparency. Council adopted an Anti-fraud and Anti-corruption Strategy in March which have led to arrests for corruption.

Sanitation: the average number of leaks repaired per week has tripled from Jan from 300 then to 900 now and average number of sewerage complaints resolved has doubled from 230 then to 490 now.

They are starting to build momentum again towards delivering a city that attracts job-creating investment. But sadly NMB is nowhere near where it would have been had they run council uninterrupted for five full years.

The other challenge with coalition government is that progress tends to be slower the more hands on the steering wheel. This is why a full majority will make for the best possible outcomes. And why the DA will only go into coalition with parties that share our core values which are a commitment to the rule of law, nonracialism, a social market economy, and a capable state that delivers to all.

NMB’s experience these past five years is a cautionary tale to voters hoping to turn the tide on South Africa’s jobs bloodbath. In the upcoming local government elections, a vote for the DA will be a vote for jobs.