For more than 13 years, Elias Mpholo (66) and his wife Annie (70) had to get up at 3am to join thousands of other residents of Tseki near Phuthaditjhaba in the Free State and queue for water at one of the two wells in the residential area – 25 litres at a time.
Under the ANC, the local Maluti-a-Phofung municipality was unable to do anything to alleviate their plight.
Now, barely eight months after the MAP16 community organisation, together with other parties, kicked out the ANC in the municipal election, the coalition government has managed to change the situation. There is water in the Mpholos’ taps again, and they now get up “whenever we want to”.
Maluti is notorious for being one of the worst-run municipalities in the country. It is Eskom’s largest debtor, with R6.7 billion in arrears. The 100 largest companies in the area sought legal help a few years ago when Eskom wanted to cut off the power and obtained a court order to pay their electricity bills directly to Eskom. It was the only way to keep the lights on.
The streets are full of potholes and the taps are often dry.
Paratlane Motloung (55), spokesperson for MAP16 and now Speaker in the council, says his party’s slogan is: “Ke ga borona [It’s our home].” Community interests come first for MAP16.
MAP16 leader Paratlane Motloung says the party’s top priorities are to improve electricity and water supply. Photo: Deon Raath
On several occasions, the ANC has tried to lure Motloung and his party back, but they are resolute and are looking forward. There is a lot of work to be done.
We now have peace. I can’t go back and fight the battles within the ANC. It’s getting worse by the day.
The coalition between MAP16 now has 31 seats in the council. These include MAP16’s 20, the EFF’s seven, three from the Dikwankwetla Party of SA and one from the African Transformation Party, compared with the ANC’s 28. With the informal support of the DA (five) and the Freedom Front Plus (one), the coalition can make the decisions needed to alleviate the community’s hardships.
Motloung says it expected the council’s affairs to be in a big mess – “and they were”. The top priorities were to improve the supply of water and electricity, as “there were interruptions every week”.
Getting residents to pay for electricity was a challenge: “Between 70% and 80% of the residents had illegal connections and the council only collected about R15 million per month. The monthly Eskom account amounts to at least R54 million in summer and up to R100 million in winter.”
After embarking on a programme to seal the meters and normalise things, the coalition made history in March by paying the current account to Eskom for the first time in years.
However, the joy was short-lived, as the power tripped in April and Eskom refused to rectify it, due to the fact that money was still owed. The residents were in darkness for seven days.
The town’s leaders travelled to Durban to meet Eskom’s manager for the region and it was agreed that if Maluti paid its current bill for six consecutive months, Eskom would help install the necessary protection of the power network to prevent similar incidents from occurring.
In general, the town’s relationship with Eskom is now better. There is already a court order in terms of which Eskom must take over power distribution in the municipality, but the previous council resisted this, resulting in a deadlock.
However, the new council has accepted the agreement and is in the process of ironing out its finer points. Eskom will upgrade the infrastructure and collect the money.
The power provider has also indicated that it could waive fines and interest if the deal goes smoothly. That alone is worth about R2 billion, says Motloung.
As far as water is concerned, the minister of water and sanitation announced in April that Maluti was one of three Free State municipalities in which his department was intervening. He has appointed Bloemwater as an agent and it is already on the site.
“Things also aren’t right in our own entity,” says Motloung about Maluti water.
There was no board of directors and the top management acted in their posts for a long time. We’ve replaced them and there’s now new willingness and energy. The very officials who previously couldn’t make any progress have now fixed the pumps and done what was necessary for people like the Mpholos to have water in their taps again.
However, the challenge is still huge. None of the seven sewage plants is working and the sewage is spilling “everywhere”. This contaminated waste eventually lands up in the Vaal River system, which serves Gauteng.
The council’s new budget, which was presented last week, provides for a fixed levy of R100 to R150 per month for residents in communities in Phuthaditjhaba. They do not have title deeds and therefore the council cannot derive income from property taxes in that area.
If that revenue starts to flow, the council could expand other services such as garbage removal – particularly in the rural areas – and pothole repairs on the roads, as “our roads look terrible.
He says the feedback from residents has been encouraging: “They realise that there’s hope with this coalition government.”
2024 elections: Here comes MAP16!
It is ironic that, now that the ANC has lost control of the Maluti-a-Phofung municipality in the Free State, national government is intervening to improve water supply. Also, the electricity distribution and billing agreement that government, under the leadership of Deputy President David Mabuza, struggled to negotiate between the ANC-led municipal council and Eskom has become a reality.
“They [the ANC] know they will be hurt in 2024 [at the national and provincial elections] if the people here vote again as [they did] in last year’s municipal election,” says MAP16 spokesperson Paratlang Motlaung.
Maluti is the third-largest municipality in the Free State in terms of population and the ANC majority can be seriously dented if the voting pattern in the municipal elections repeats itself.
New political party MAP16 has decided to participate in the provincial election and could, according to election analyst Dawie Scholtz, provide a home not only for its own voters, but also those of other small parties and community groups who previously supported the ANC.
Scholtz says according to current projections, the ANC could still get a little more than 50% of the vote, but if the trend continues to grow away from the party, a coalition may lie ahead.
Professor Theo Venter, political commentator at the University of Johannesburg, says the participation of MAP16 in 2024’s elections could make a significant difference in cutting into the ANC’s share of the Free State.
“If the opposition parties stand together, the ANC could even lose its majority,” Venter said.
In the past, the ANC’s position was virtually assured in the Free State, the Eastern Cape, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. But Venter sees a turnaround in the Free State and North West in particular, after years of provincial government mismanagement under former premiers Ace Magashule and Supra Mahumapelo, respectively.