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OPINION | Kerushun Pillay: The DA faces a tough test in turning around its first KZN municipality

By Kerushun Pillay

Under ANC rule, the Umgeni municipality lost its shine. Kerushun Pillay writes that it isn’t going to be an easy ride for the DA who gained control of the municipality, its first in KZN, in the recent elections.

Public schools with no functioning toilets, a battered local tourism industry, financial mismanagement, potholes, pollution of water sources, and a graveyard where vagrants grow their vegetables alongside tombstones.

These are just some of the severe problems facing KwaZulu-Natal’s beleaguered uMngeni municipality, after years of rule by the ANC.

This week, the DA secured uMngeni’s council, making it the party’s first-ever KwaZulu-Natal municipality to hold majority seats. 

And it is a telling victory; uMngeni’s residents have sent a clear message to the previous incumbents, which have consistently failed the sleepy towns of Howick, Mpophomeni and Hilton.

Residents took on shortcomings 

Residents have in recent years taken it upon themselves to make up for the municipality’s shortcomings and have done everything from filling potholes to refurbishing road signs to maintaining public parks.

The DA has long trumpeted the need for a change in uMngeni, and now it faces arguably its sternest test.

So deep is the rot that the local tourism – once a crown jewel of the province – has all but died, with many restaurants, tourist attractions and novelty stores closing down in recent years.

Civil organisations that once gave tourist tours and captured vital data on tourism have all closed after the financially troubled municipality pulled funding a few years ago.

The Howick Falls – a stunning natural waterfall right in the centre of town – has become the site of petty crime and vagrancy. A lack of proper security has seen the once-popular picnic destination near the falls descend into scenes of extreme revelry on Friday nights. 

The Midmar Dam, outside Howick, which hosts an annual swimming event, has been flagged by environmentalists on several occasions for having raw sewage flowing into it. This has also been part of a criminal complaint laid by concerned people against the government’s lapses. 

Qualified audit 

And then there’s the council. 

The municipality has been on the brink financially for at least four years, and in May, the municipality received its second consecutive qualified audit opinion. Irregular expenditure amounted to R24.74 million, while unauthorised expenditure saw the municipality bleed R182.60 million.

The DA, it has to be said, has an impressive track record in managing municipalities. But it is yet to face a test like uMngeni – one where the party will have to turn around the fortunes of an ailing municipality serving disillusioned residents. 

The DA has also for the first time won over voters in an area that is relatively diverse: Howick and Hilton are made up in large part by poorer areas. The victory is owed to the party’s initiative in extending its hand to people at grassroots level – something that the complacent ANC failed to do. 

But now, the true test awaits. It will be interesting to see whether the DA can give back the shine to KwaZulu-Natal’s crown jewel. 

Kerushun Pillay is a content producer for News24. He is formerly a journalist at The Witness in KZN. 



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