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Service delivery failures spark anger

26 Nov 2010

There’s a woman in Illovo Beach called Arleen Swart who has unilaterally set herself up as the spokesperson for the whole of the town. She wasn’t voted into power and certainly she wasn’t chosen. She appointed herself.

Paddy Hartdegen writes a regular column for Property24.com

Swart has been writing letters to newspapers, electronic publications and magazines and so far, I suspect, I am the only one who has considered her predicament.

In her letter she writes: “I am now the mouthpiece for all in Illovo Beach, as I have property here. (Her reasoning there is somewhat suspect). The unsightly, dirty pavements, streets, refuse lying all around and just the general look of the suburb is beyond appalling.

“I have started a petition on which I am getting a lot of support NOT to pay rates and taxes any more as we can use this money to create real jobs for willing and able people that can indeed do maintenance, thereby improving property values, boosting the self-respect and general portay (no idea what that word means) of the residents, as well as improving the health issues and the most important issue, create development opportunities!” (That sentence needs some unravelling but you get the gist).

She goes on to rant and rave about how overseas visitors must be discouraged from coming to the country and even suggest that all inland tourists should stay away too. Her reasoning is not too sound here either because all that does is provide even less money for essential services.

What Ms Swart is advocating is that all the people of Illovo Beach must break the law, so they can unilaterally take control of municipal services such as maintenance and then provide them to the people.

What is evident from her letter – apart from its vitriolic tone – is that she is frustrated because the council is no longer mowing the pavements, picking up litter in the parks or trimming the over-grown trees along the roadside.

I share her frustration with councils throughout the country because there has been a general collapse of certain of these services that people used to take for granted in years gone by. However, I also must balance the needs of the people with those of the broader community.

Whether it’s cutting the grass on the pavement or building new homes for the indigent people living in slums, the principle remains the same: there is a lack of service delivery.

We all know that and the angry protests that have unfolded throughout the country are evidence of this.

Just this week, there were more violent protests in Soweto because people in Orlando East didn't want the council officials to install prepaid electricity meters.

On the one hand a woman is whining about how the pavements and parks are unkempt in Illovo Beach and on the other residents are stoning police officers because they don’t want to pay for electricity in advance. They probably don’t want to pay for it at all.

And both disparate groups are advocating, and doing, the identical thing: breaking the law and taking the law into their own hands.

I also draw a very distinct line between the two degrees of protests. You see my attitude is that if the parks and grounds of Illovo Beach are unsightly then why are the residents not doing something to clean them up?

Instead of calling for a rates-and-taxes boycott you should be mobilising your own community to get involved and to keep Illovo Beach clean and neat. Sure, you might feel aggrieved because the council used to do it and now no longer does. But really mowing the lawns on the pavements is not such a big deal is it?

While that might be true, the troubling thing for me is that even if it’s just mowing pavement lawns, it remains a reflection of the inability of the councils in South Africa to deliver services to the people.

That’s the conundrum.

And on that front, I completely agree with you Ms Swart. But don’t break the law – or advocate that other people break the law either – because if you do you are just proving that respect for law and order is symptomatic of widespread moral decay.

If you choose to participate in such moral decay then that’s your choice. I don't.

I would much rather see you leading by example and the first thing to do is to abide by the laws of our country. Then if you like, you and your neighbours can get out onto Illovo Beach's pavements and start tidying them up.

Spread the word by example: encourage people to pick up litter and if they are too proud to do so then you, and a squadron of mates, can go out into the streets and do it for them. It's in your interests to keep your own home town clean and, in time, others will realise it's in theirs too.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t expect all residents to start taking over the tasks of local councils. I’m saying, though, that you can lead by example and you can mobilise people to create change – even if it is change through a ballot box.

In much the same vein, the people of Orlando East must wake up to the fact that electricity is not free and that they don’t have a right to use as much of it as they want to and never pay for what's been used.

We all pay for the electricity we consume and we are all being hurt by the almost 30% price rise that we've endured so far this year.

But what troubles me most of all is the way that people – from different walks of life and with entirely different agendas – encourage others to break the law. Whether it is by throwing stones at council officials and police officers or whether it is by withholding rates and taxes owed to municipal authorities.

That’s the really sad part about our country at the moment – and one that I don’t see changing anytime soon because it’s as though almost every person in this land feels that they have a right to break any laws anyway.

That sentiment is mirrored in the corruption levels, the lack of service delivery, our poor healthcare, our abysmal education system and the appalling behaviour of so many drivers on our roads.

*Hartdegen writes a regular column for Property24.com. The content of his columns constitutes his personal opinion and doesn’t pretend to be facts or advice. Contact him at paddy@neomail.co.za.

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About the Author
Paddy Hartdegen

Paddy Hartdegen

Freelance columnist at property24.com.

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