Payment of municipal bills can lead to better services

Selby Bokaba

In the early 1980s, then South African apartheid president PW Botha created what was known as “black local authorities” in the black townships. These authorities became the extension of the apartheid machinery controlled at national government level by the National Party regime.

Those authorities were rejected by the people they were meant to serve for they lacked political legitimacy.

According to then anti-apartheid movement United Democratic Front (UDF),  the black local authorities raised the costs of rent, electricity, water, and transport in many townships where they were governing – a move that was roundly rejected by the communities.

Rebellious communities, led by  the UDF, among others, organised protests, which rejected apartheid-imposed black local authorities. They declared in their protestations “no to community councils, no to the black local councillors, no to the Bantu administration system”.

The people’s power revolted against the payment of rent, electricity, water and other services. The culture of non-payment of services among some black communities was thus spawned.

After the fall of apartheid and the establishment of a democratic order in 1994, two years later, in 1996, South Africa held its first local government elections – a new era of democratically elected municipal councils was ushered in. This marked the beginning of the dawn of a new era.

This meant that local government became a new entity to be embraced.

A new way of doing things, so to speak, needed to be infused. But this was not done. This was a missed golden opportunity.

Unlike the provincial and national governments that receive their budget allocation from the national Treasury, municipalities are 86% self-funded, and the remaining 14% is made up of grants from the national fiscus. This, therefore, means that municipalities are required to generate their own revenue by collecting at least 96% from services consumed by the residents and customers.

This is the only way that municipalities can stay afloat.

Many municipalities are in the red due to non-collection of revenue, and this has led to service delivery breakdowns and indebtedness to creditors such as Eskom and Rand Water. The city of Tshwane is no exception and finds itself in the same quagmire as the majority of the 257 municipalities.

As a starting point, Tshwane intends rolling out an education and awareness campaign across all seven regions of the city from the beginning of the new year to make communities aware of how municipalities function and the importance of paying for services.

As of the end of October 2023, Tshwane’s debtors’ book stood at over R22-billion, the bulk of which is made up of residential customers who account for more than R12.5-billion. The residents who owe the city the most are in Mamelodi, Mabopane, Garankuwa, Atteridgeville, Kudube Unit in Hammanskraal, Ekangala and Saulsville.

Ironically, these are areas whose residents complain the most about the alleged lack of service delivery but they don’t pay for the services they so desperately want.

Payment of the municipal account leads to better and improved services.  Other debtors include businesses, government departments and embassies. While it is understandable that the economy is sluggish, people have lost jobs and are struggling to eke out a living.

However, the payment of a municipal account is at the bottom rung of people’s list of priorities. In certain areas, the weekend starts early with a boozing craze called “Phuza Thursday”.

On Tsamaya Road in  Mamelodi East, almost all the shacks have a satellite dish but payment for services is not prioritised. In that township, and many others in Tshwane, pubs are full of patrons boozing the entire weekend. Nothing wrong with partying but first, let’s get our priorities right.

The law gives municipalities recourse in the event of non-payment of the account in the form of enforcement of credit control. This means that Tshwane is legally entitled to disconnect defaulting customers unless they come forward to make a payment arrangement.

The city is reviving its most successful revenue collection campaign which was colloquially known as #TshwaneYaTima. It’s coming back, this time in a more aggressive and targeted approach and will no longer be a campaign but a way of life.

Communities should know that payment of a municipal bill on time and in full enables the city to build more reservoirs, new surfaced roads, substations, establish new landfill sites, get land for cemeteries, and improve other services.

  • Bokaba is a spokesperson for the Tshwane metro

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